First race, the $55,000 Michelle G. Walsh Novice Stakes at Saratoga, posts at 12:50 pm
There’s an odd feeling being a racing fan right now. This is normally the time of year when the summer meetings are entering their final stages, and when we start to look forward to fall racing, which is the best of the year. But this year, on this day in the middle of August, we’re looking forward to…. the Kentucky Derby?
Yes, the Kentucky Derby, which the coronavirus pandemic moved to September 5, is in just over two weeks. It’s far from the strangest thing that has happened in this upside-down year, but it is nevertheless still jarring to have one’s body rhythms thinking pumpkins, and Belmont Park and the Breeders Cup, and instead to be reminded that the Run for the Roses is on Labor Day weekend. It’s weird.
We’ll save that for later, however, as today it is still summer, and we have a good nine race card at Saratoga, which features a little bit of everything: long races, short races, grass races, dirt races, and even a race over the jumps. We have four plays, and expect fast dirt and firm turf in each of them. Let’s go.
Nine jumpers go in the opener at Saratoga, a hurdle at 2 ⅜ miles. The race is restricted to horses who did not win a jump race prior to March 1, 2019, and we mention that because the morning line favorite, 1-Snap Decision, is taking good advantage of the conditions: he didn’t win his first race until July of last year, but since then, has won six in a row, the last four of them stakes. He’s going to be plenty tough, but at something like 2/5 odds, we are taking a shot against him, not because there’s anything wrong with his form, but because taking 40 cents on the dollar in a race that will last four and a half minutes, and during which so much can go wrong, is a lousy betting proposition.
The pick is 4-Galway Kid. He’s a lightly raced Irish-bred 5-year-old who is trained by Jonathan Sheppard, the maestro of American jump racing. He’s run four times, every one of them a good one, and though he finished second to Snap Decision in a stakes race in his last, we think he can turn the tables today. He looks to us like a young horse on the come, and we will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 1, $25 to win on 4-Galway Kid.
Eight females line up to run a mile on Saratoga’s inner turf course in this first-level allowance. We like 9-Balon Rose, who comes from the Chad Brown barn. She’s got as good a turf pedigree as we’ve seen this week, by superstar stallion War Front and out of a Galileo mare, and while she finished fourth in her last start, at this allowance level, we think that effort was better than it looks on paper: she was bottled up behind horses until very late in the race, and when she got room to run, she moved forward quite nicely, finishing only a half length behind the winner. We think she will improve today, and that will send her to the winner’s circle to get her picture taken. We will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 6, $40 to win on 9-Balon Rose.
Eight line up for this first-level allowance dirt sprint. We pick 7-Big Thicket, who brings to the table a few things we like: competitive speed figures, early speed and a pace-pressing running style, and a favorable draw outside his main rivals. We think that last bit is key, as his outside post will give rider Luis Saez tactical flexibility: he can either go for the lead, if no one else wants it, or stalk the pace if a horse inside him goes. We think Big Thicket wins either way, and will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 7, $40 to win on 7-Big Thicket.
The Bolton Landing drew a field of eight juvenile fillies. 6-Tobys Heart is the even-money morning line favorite off her very fast maiden win at Churchill Downs on June 4, which was on turf and at this 5 ½ furlong distance, but we are playing against her, and we are doing so with a pure speed play: 5/2 second choice 2-Joy’s Rocket is by far the fastest filly in the race, so fast, in fact, that we think she will get the lead comfortably, and the rest of the field isn’t going to be able to catch her. We’ll bet that Joy’s Rocket can run the rest of them off their feet, and win the Bolton Landing in wire-to-wire fashion, and will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 8, $40 to win on 2-Joy’s Rocket.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.