For this summer’s Saratoga season, Emily White suggested a friendly contest. We all handicap Fridays at Saratoga, pick a horse in each race, and see who has the best ROI. It’s interesting because it’s different: I am quite familiar with the Chicago-area circuit, but far less so with New York racing. Hopefully this contest will give me a bit better insight into a few more horses.
As this contest goes on, I’m going to discuss a few interesting races from each Friday’s card here at Blinkers Off. This could be any race I find interesting for some reason. That could be because of a promising long shot, a vulnerable favourite, or any combination of factors. It won’t be the whole card, just a couple of interesting spots. However, in true Blinkers Off style, these spot plays will include race analysis…after all, our teachers always told us to show our work!
If there are any races I don’t cover in here that you’d like to ask about, feel free to leave a comment or send me a message on Twitter, and I would be happy to discuss my thoughts on other Friday races at Saratoga. Good luck!
Race 4: Allowance optional claiming ($78,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, New York-bred, non-winners of $13,000 twice other than maiden, claiming, or starter OR N3L OR $40,000 claiming price, six and a half furlongs on the dirt
Selections: Horatio (6), Noble Cornerstone (2), Jeter (3)
At one point, Horatio had looked like he was going to become a Career Maiden™. He finally broke through in his thirteenth start, in a $35,000 state-bred maiden claimer at six and a half furlongs over the Belmont dirt. It took Horatio a much shorter time to clear the N2L condition: three starts later he romped in state-bred N1X company, also at this distance. He has been in the best form of his career in his last two starts, since moving into the James Toner barn. In addition to his speed, he has shown versatility in form; he has won once from very near the early pace, and once from several lengths off. This makes him a solid contender all-around. Noble Cornerstone was briefly on the Triple Crown trail, but has dialed back to allowance company in New York, a class which fits him better. Last out, in his second start for the Thomas Morley barn, he won a state-bred N1X against older at a mile. He cuts back here: but he broke his maiden at six furlongs, and his breeding (by Noble Causeway out of a Polish Numbers mare) suggests sprinting as something right up his alley. He is another one with versatility in pace, and has done well either stalking the pace or making a run from midpack if the situation requires. Jeter comes in here both second off the lay and second off the claim for trainer David Jacobson, who hits at about a quarter of the time in both of those circumstances. He is a six-to-seven furlong specialist, and strong sprint jockey John Velazquez rides. He moves up from a $20,000 AOC at Monmouth last out, but his speed fits the field well. The biggest drawback to Jeter is his name. Around the Chicago circuit any horse named after (or owned by!) a Blackhawks connection is destined to be bet down below fair value, and a similar underlay on a horse in New York who is named after a Yankee seems a risk.
Race 9: Curlin Stakes, three-year-olds, non-winners of a graded stakes over a mile in 2014, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt
Selections: Viva Majorca (2), V. E. Day (7), Protonico (3)
The name of the game in this race is speed, speed, and more speed. Although all of the speed horses in this race have shown some ability to rate, at least a short distance off the pace, there are enough who prefer to be close to the front end that the fractions might. With that being the case, we look at a horse who can come from off the pace as the top selection: Viva Majorca. Pacewise, he should be in it no matter how the front end turns out. In his maiden race he stalked fairly close to the pace early, just a couple lengths off early, but came from more of a midpack spot in his last win. Even in his second-place finish two starts back, when he was bumped at the start, he was able to charge back into it after being farther back than he liked. His workouts over the Saratoga dirt since his last race have been repeatedly strong. The biggest question comes from the distance: Viva Majorca is stretching out to a route for the first time. He does have a half sister named Bird County who has won at a mile and a sixteenth, the only one of his half-siblings who has run. With Viva Majorca’s speed and adaptability combined with the pace setup, anything near his 12/1 morning line makes him impossible to ignore. Another one to look at who could come in from off the pace is V. E. Day. Most of his races have been on the turf, but he did break his maiden on the Belmont dirt in May, third out. His speeds have been steadily rising: not jumping in a way that he looks to bounce, but progressing nicely like an improving three-year-old’s should. He has tried nine furlongs once: last out, he cleared the N1X condition by two lengths, albeit over the turf. Trainer James Jerkens has won turf-to-dirt moves at a 25% rate, with an +1.65 ROI. Even though V. E. Day probably won’t be his 20/1 morning line with Commanding Curve out of the field, he should still go off at a nice price. Finally, if someone closer to the front end succeeds in this race, Protonico seems the most likely candidate. He is on a class rise, but ran well first back to win an allowance optional claimer at Belmont last month. If he progresses at all in his second start at three, he will fit right in with this field. He has not run past a mile, but distance is less a worry for him than any of the other horses in this field who have not tried nine furlongs yet: but being by Giant’s Causeway out of an A.P. Indy mare, stamina flows in his blood. The only major drawback to Protonico is the same drawback to most of the field: he’s a speed horse, and there looks to be too much on the front end for a race of this length.
Commanding Curve was originally the second selection. However, he is expected to run in the Jim Dandy on Saturday, instead of the Curlin Stakes. In the Curlin, his advantages were the likely pace scenario as well as his off-the-pace style, but his likely status as a low-priced favourite made him a play-against with much better value out there in Viva Majorca. If his connections change their plans at the last minute and run him in the Curlin instead, consider using him instead of or in addition to V. E. Day.