Speaker's Corner, seen here after winning the Carter in April, heads west today for the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar. Garrity doesn't like him.
Speaker's Corner, seen here after winning the Carter in April, heads west today for the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar. Garrity doesn't like him.NYRA | Joe Labozzetta

Garrity's Saturday Stakes Picks Monmouth's Sapling, Saratoga's Sword Dancer & Travers, Del Mar's Pat O'Brien

Garrity's first post is at 4;11 pm EDT.

The Travers is the big race today, and deservedly so, as it headlines the biggest day of the meet at Saratoga. But it is not the only race on the docket: there is a rich lineup of stakes races on this afternoon’s simulcast lineup, and we have plays in four of them, in New York, New Jersey, and out West in California. Three of today’s selected races are on dirt, which should be fast; the lone turf race, at Saratoga, should be on grass rated good. Let’s go.

Monmouth Park, Race 9, 4:11 pm ET

$200,000 Sapling Stakes, 1 mile, Dirt, 2-Year-Olds

Eight juveniles line up at the Jersey Shore for the Sapling. There is a lot of speed in the group, which we think is going to produce an early pace swift enough that it cooks any of the colts who are anywhere near the front early. That should play right into the hands of 6-American Blaze, who won his lone career start, an Ellis Park maiden race on July 30, by an eye-popping 17 lengths, but what we like even more than the margin was how he ran that day, finishing very strongly in the race’s latter stages. We see American Blaze sitting mid-pack early, behind the speed, moving to the front at the top of the stretch, and pulling away when the pacesetters begin to tire. His recent morning workouts have been brilliant, and another plus is that trainer Ben Colebrook, who is based in Kentucky and is excellent with 2-year-olds, has made a rare trip to New Jersey just so American Blaze could run in the Sapling. We don’t think they came to lose, and will consequently bet him to win at 5-1. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 9, $40 to win on 6-American Blaze.

Saratoga Race Course, Race 10, 5:05 pm ET

Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes, 1 ⅛ Miles, Turf, 4 & Up

The Sword Dancer came up a strong race, even by Grade 1 standards, with a deep and accomplished field of ten going to the gate. After a surprise monsoon Friday morning in Upstate New York, which forced all of yesterday afternoon’s races off the grass, it will be run on soft turf, which changes the complexion of the race enormously, as several of the logical contenders seem unlikely to run their best race over the squishy going.

One who will thrive on it, we think, is long shot 8-Soldier Rising, a 4-year-old English-bred gelding with a very good European turf pedigree, who has done very well on soft grass, including back in June, when he won an allowance at Belmont Park on a course rated yielding. Soldier Rising has been rounding into form, and might have been worth considering had the turf stayed firm, but we move him way up on the softer going, and at 15-1, that makes him a very enticing play. We will bet him to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 10, $40 to win on 8-Soldier Rising.

Saratoga Race Course, Race 11, 5:44 pm ET

Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes, 1 ¼ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

We have never been able to figure out why they call the Travers the Midsummer Derby when it is run a week before Labor Day (we also don’t understand why we drive on parkways, and park on driveways). That said, the 2020 edition of Saratoga’s biggest race looks to be a good one, with a competitive field lining up for one of the year’s biggest races for 3-year-olds.

The headliner is 2-Rich Strike, who will be a Kentucky Derby winner forever, but whose lone race since his win at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, when he was trounced in the Belmont Stakes, reinforced the notion that his Derby win was a pace-aided fluke. We'd like to find a way to make a case for him, especially at 10-1 odds, but we think he has absolutely no chance today.

We think the mile and a quarter distance is key, as it seems a bit farther than most of the eight entrants want to run. One who will relish the distance is favored 6-Epicenter, who ran second to Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, and who has a first and a second at the very slightly shorter mile and three-sixteenths distance, winning the Louisiana Derby in April, and finishing a length and a quarter behind 7-Early Voting in the Preakness. Since then, Epicenter won the Jim Dandy very impressively, which means he should be in peak form today. Taking the favorite is never exciting, but Epicenter looks to be much the best of this group, and that makes us comfortable backing him at the relatively short price of 7/5. We will bet Epicenter to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 11, $50 to win on 6-Epicenter.

Del Mar, Race 9, 9:02 pm ET
Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up

A field of ten lines up for the Pat O’Brien. We’re against East Coast shipper, and morning line favorite, 8-Speaker’s Corner, who could win, but who is going to find California speed tough to handle. We are salivating at the opportunity to bet against him at a price around even money.

The pick is 7-Laurel River, a 4-year-old who has never won a race of this magnitude, but who won an allowance race in very fast time in his last start. That was his first race last September, and he seems ready to take another step forward, which makes him a major contender. He also has the kind of running style that we think will work here: he has enough speed to be able to stalk what should be very swift early fractions, taking over when the pacesetters begin to tire down the stretch. We doubt that we will get his 5-1 morning line price, but at something like 7/2 or 3-1, he is a solid play. We will bet him to win. The bet: Del Mar, Race 9, $40 to win on 7-Laurel River.

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

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