Bet Saratoga Thursday! Garrity picks the Smithwick Steeplechase, a stakes race for 3-year-old fillies and more
Divine Fortune in the 2011 Smithwick Steeplechase at Saratoga.NYRA

Bet Saratoga Thursday! Garrity picks the Smithwick Steeplechase, a stakes race for 3-year-old fillies and more

Garrity's first post is 12:50 pm EDT.

We’re all about Saratoga today. There’s a good card with a couple of stakes races, one on the flat and one over jumps. It’s going to be an interesting afternoon at the Spa: a cold front will be moving through, and showers and thunderstorms are likely. As of late Thursday morning, conditions were fast and firm, and our plays are based on them staying that way. We always recommend checking conditions right before the races, but that is especially important today, as a heavy downpour may change things very quickly. With that out of the way, let’s go.

Saratoga, Race 1, 12:50 pm ET

Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase, 2 1/16 miles (Hurdle), Turf, 4 & Up

The Smithwick drew a talented and deep field of nine, which is not surprising, as it’s about as important a jump race as there is in this country.

We like a filly running against the boys: it’s 2-Pravalaguna, a French-bred who competed in jump races in England and Ireland, and who made here North American debut at the Fair Hill steeplechase course in Maryland in October. She won very impressively that day, in wire-to-wire fashion, and though she’s coming into this off a layoff, we think she is very, very live, and a decent price of 5-1. We like her over any going, but a bit of rain would probably help her, as she’s run well on softer turf in Europe. We will bet her to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 1, $35 to win on 1-Pravalaguna.

Saratoga, Race 4, 2:29 pm ET

$100,000 New York Stallion Series Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, New York-bred 3-Year-Old FIllies

Like yesterday, there’s a stakes race for state-breds on the card at Saratoga, and like yesterday, the racing director at the Spa has scheduled it early in the card, presumably because of the presence of a heavy favorite. In this race, it’s 1-Fresco, who is even money for trainer Christophe Clement, due to having run three races that on paper look pretty clearly superior to the other six fillies in the race.

But there’s an issue with Fresco’s race record: While she’s run well in all three of her starts, she hasn’t actually won any: She is a maiden. There’s an old racetrack axiom that one should never take a short price on a horse trying something for the first time, and while we are generally dismissive of these kinds of weatherbeaten chestnuts, we think it fits here: it seems nuts to us to take miserly odds in a stakes race on a filly who has been unable to beat maidens in three tries. At odds-on, Fresco is a mammoth underlay, and a play-against.

We like 2-Dixie Cannon. She has speed and a decent closing kick, and in her second start off a layoff, she should be primed for a top effort. Look for her to be on or near the early lead, to squirt clear at the the top of the stretch, and hold on late. We like her chances at 9/2, and will bet her to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 4, $25 to win on 2-Dixie Cannon.

Saratoga, Race 7, 4:12 pm ET

Allowance, 6 ½ furlongs, Dirt, New York-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

After scratches, a field of eight goes in this state-bred allowance sprint on the dirt, and it’s an absolutely wide open race. We like a mare at a price, 13-Cartwheel, who runs for Mark Hennig. Her pace and speed figures mark her as a contender here, and we think that she will thrive cutting back from a route to a sprint. She gets the coveted outside post, and from it, she get a good stalking trip, which is another advantage, as there’s a lot of cheap speed in the field. We will bet her to win at 15-1. The bet: Saratoga, Race 7, $30 to win on 13-Cartwheel.

Saratoga, Race 9, 5:17 pm ET

Allowance, 6 ½ furlongs, Dirt, 3 & Up

This very tough non-winners-of-three allowance drew a field of six. The pick is the horse on the outside, 6-Captain Scotty. He’s a Peter Miller trainee whose last two races were duds, but one was in a $1.5 million stakes race in Saudi Arabia, and the other was on the turf, which is not his preferred surface. We’re drawing a line through both of those. Captain Scotty has speed to burn, an outside position, and he’s been breathing fire in the morning: we think he’s going to go right to the front, and stay there all the way around the track. We think he wires this group, and will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 9, $50 to win on 6-Captain Scotty.

That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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