Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks Saratoga's Ballerina, Forego, Allen Jerkins, Personal Ensign, Travers, more
It’s a big day today, probably the biggest of the summer: it’s Travers day at Saratoga Race Course, and we have six plays there, all in stakes races. We are playing for fast dirt and firm turf, so let’s go.
Saratoga, Race 7, 3:02 pm ET
Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap, 7 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Filly and mare sprinters, seven of them, take the stage in the Ballerina. All eyes will be on heavy favorite 1-Gamine, who has won eight of her nine career starts, with her only defeat a third-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Oaks.
Despite the glittering record, especially in races around one turn, there are reasons to suspect that Gamine might be vulnerable today. Her speed figures this year have not been quite as good as they were last year, and while she is brilliantly fast, the main track at Saratoga has not been quite as speed-favoring the last week or so as it was earlier in the meet. Is Gamine the likeliest winner? Certainly. But might she be vulnerable, especially at miserly odds? We think so.
We like 7-Ce Ce. The Mike McCarthy-trained 5-year-old mare comes into the Ballerina off a win in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park on July 2. We like that good recent form, and we like that she is probably best at 7 furlongs, with two wins and a second in three career starts at the distance. We don’t particularly like the notion of “wagering value,” as we think every winner, irrespective of price, has value, but we do think that Ce Ce, at 4-1, is a much better wager than playing a vulnerable favorite at 1/5. We will bet Ce Ce to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 7, $25 to win on 7-Ce Ce.
Saratoga, Race 8, 3:37 pm ET
Grade 1 Forego Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up
A field of eight lines up for the Forego. Quite a few of them seem to have form that is tailing off, which makes the pick the surging 5-Yaupon. The Steve Asmussen trainee is coming off a fast win in a minor stakes at Pimlico, and he has enough natural early speed to be able to control this race on the front end. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 8, $40 to win on 5-Yaupon.
Saratoga, Race 9, 4:12 pm ET
Grade 1 Allen Jerkins Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
There’s a small field in the Jerkins, just six entered, but it is a fascinating race, with very talented speedball, and even money morning line favorite, 2-Jackie’s Warrior going up against undefeated 6-Life is Good, who was an early Kentucky Derby favorite before an injury knocked him off the Triple Crown trail in March.
We like Life is Good. Though he’s coming off a layoff, and making his first start for new trainer Todd Pletcher, we think the talent he showed in the spring was absolutely legitimate, and we also like that he drew the tactically advantageous outside post. We think Life is Good is a better horse than Jackie’s Warrior, and at 8/5, he’s a slightly better price. When you can get better odds on a superior animal, there’s only one thing to do: go to the windows. We will bet Life is Good to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 9, $40 to win on 6-Life is Good.
Saratoga, Race 10, 4:47 pm ET
Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The Personal Ensign is a corker of a race, a true Grade 1 with an excellent field of nine. Most of the attention will be focused on the two favorites, 6-Letruska, who has won her last three, all in sensationally fast time; and 4-Swiss Skydiver, who beat the boys in last year’s Preakness, and her own sex in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile earlier this year.
Either could win, but we like another entrant, 8-Harvey’s Lil Goil, who has been running on turf, but who began her career on dirt, and appears to us to have the ability and running style to win a race of this magnitude. She’s trained by Bill Mott, who has done this before: He trained Yoshida, who a few years ago won the Grade 1 Woodward on dirt after racing exclusively on turf. Look for Harvey’s Lil Goil to be rolling late; we will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Saratoga, Race 10, $35 to win on 8-Harvey’s Lil Goil.
Saratoga, Race 11, 5:25 pm ET
Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
Seven go in the Sword Dancer. We like 6-Japan, whom trainer Aidan O’Brien brings to Upstate New York from Ireland. He is one of the top 12-furlong turf horses in Europe, he thrives on the firm turf he will get at Saratoga today, and the six horses running against him are not the strongest group of American horses assembled for a Grade 1 race. Even during a pandemic, the top turf horses in Europe are, as a group, better than the top turf horses in North America, and Japan will prove that today. We will bet him to win at 9/2, and we will do so enthusiastically. We will also bet him in the Double (see below) that covers the Sword Dancer and the Travers. The bets: Saratoga, Race 11, $50 to win on 6-Japan; $50 double, 6 (Japan) with 2 (Essential Quality).
Saratoga, Race 12, 6:12 pm ET
Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes, 1 ¼ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The 2021 Travers Stakes drew a field of seven, and the key handicapping question that must be asked about the race is very simple: Can any of the other six beat 2-Essential Quality? We think the answer is no, as Essential Quality, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and won the Belmont Stakes, has in our eyes been the best 3-year-old all year. He should be razor-sharp today, as he comes off a win in the Jim Dandy, a race that will serve as an excellent prep for this spot, as he did not have to run overly hard in it. And Essential Quality might be at his very best at this mile and a quarter distance. He’s a short price, so he’s not going to make anyone rich, but there is value in every winner, so we will bet Essential Quality to win at 4/5. The bet: Saratoga, Race 12, $50 to win on 2-Essential Quality.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.