Picks and Ponderings: Jim Dandy Day

Action at the Spa continues this weekend.  Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I dive into Saturday’s stakes races there.

I focus on the three-year-old dirt stakes on Saturday’s card, the Jim Dandy (GII) for routers and the Amsterdam (GIII) for sprinters.  Paul takes on the two races for older horses: the Vanderbilt (GI) for dirt sprinters, and the Bowling Green (GII) for turf routers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of Saturday’s big races at Saratoga, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Sanford and Diana Stakes Preview

The Spa gets underway this weekend, and Picks and Ponderings is there with a preview of Saturday’s pair of graded stakes races.

I take on the Sanford, the first graded event of the summer meet for two-year-old open company.  It drew a field of just five, but all are winners, and a few broke their maidens in eye-popping fashion.

Paul Mazur tackles the Diana, for older turf mares.  Unlike last year, Tepin is not contesting the Diana.  But, the race drew a contentious field of ten, including Makers 46 (GI) winner Miss Temple City and last-out New York Stakes (GII) winner Dacita.  Dacita also managed to conquer Tepin last year at Saratoga, nailing her by a head in the Ballston Spa (GII) last August.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the Sanford and the Diana, and let us know what you think in the comments!

The Tournament Edge: Once More into the Breach

Saratoga gets underway on Friday, which means the return of the Huddie contest.  In my latest piece for The Tournament Edge, I look back at my attempt in that contest last year, and look at a few things I could possibly do differently this year.

Maybe you’re playing Huddie, or curious about it.  Maybe you play another longer-duration contests such as Public Handicapper or the Rockin’ Ry contests on Facebook.  No matter what, my latest piece at The Tournament Edge has some questions to ask yourself, which may improve your play.

paint the canoe green and gold!

On September 6 of last year, a horse named Keen Ice had a improbable task ahead of him.  Turning for home, Starbound and Tiznow R J were in a race of their own.  Keen Ice had found his best stride, but may have left himself too much to do.

Yet, Keen Ice kept going.  He closed the gap, ran them down, and got his nose on the wire first.

Today, Keen Ice had another improbable task ahead.

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Picks and Ponderings: Travers Day!

The biggest day of the Saratoga meet is almost upon us: Travers Day.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, we dive into all the stakes on the card: six Grade I events and a Grade II.  I handicap the Travers Stakes (GI), the Forego Stakes (GI), the Personal Ensign (GI), and the Ballston Spa (GII).  Paul Mazur takes on the Sword Dancer (GI), the Ballerina (GI), and the King’s Bishop (GI).

(And, yes, I am taking a swing against American Pharoah in the Travers.)

In addition to the written previews, we also have a grid of all of our selections for all seven stakes.  If you have any questions about my logic on the Sword Dancer, the Ballerina, or the King’s Bishop, feel free to ask me in the comments either here or there.

Good luck on Travers Day!

“Jess’s Dream is a reality!”

Breeding the best to the best always requires that final step of hoping for the best.  Today, we found out that Curlin and Rachel Alexandra produced a real racehorse.

I overheard some chatter about Jess’s Dream yesterday, and my head instinctively turned.  Before I knew it, I found myself incoherently blathering about my thoughts on his impending debut.  I wanted to see Jess’s Dream do well, but expected to be disappointed.  No use getting carried away, right?

He has been working on and off since he was two: a few last June and July, a few more through the fall, then rumblings that he would debut before the end of last year.  Those never came to fruition.  He put together another string of works through the spring of this year, and then dropped off the tab after mid-May.  There were always the requisite sound bites about how he was progressing well, how he’d debut at this meet or that, but nothing conclusive.

Jess’s Dream returned to the worktab at Saratoga in mid-July, but I did not expect it to be any different.  In the meantime his half-sister, Rachel’s Valentina, made her debut a successful one.  It was nice to see one of Rachel Alexandra’s babies do well on the track, but I felt a bit sad that it was the Bernardini baby who had made it to the races with so few setbacks, and the Curlin baby who looked like he would never start.  After all…Rachel Alexandra was a very good racehorse, but I don’t love her the way I love Curlin and his progeny.

Then, Jess’s Dream showed up in the entries for today.  Still, I’d believe he was finally racing when I saw him walk into a starting gate, and not a moment before.  After all the gaps in his worktab, I would let myself think he could run as soon as he showed some talent on the track, and not a moment before.

He did not scratch.

He entered the starting gate.

He broke a step slow, and disappeared for seven furlongs.

My diligent efforts to keep my hopes at bay felt well warranted…until the quarter pole.

Fourteen months of fits and starts and works and gaps…but it was all worth it.  For once, what had seemed like sound bites proved to be on point: he just needed some time.  Kieran McLaughlin’s patience and training skill paid off.

Jess’s Dream can run.

Exaggerator proves Special

Going into this year’s Saratoga meet, Curlin had no juvenile graded stakes winners.

Now, he has two.

Off the Tracks got the meet off to a great start when she swept to victory in the Schuylerville Stakes (GIII) on opening day.  Today, Exaggerator joined her after a gritty, professional victory in the Saratoga Special (GII).

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Picks and Ponderings: Weekend Stakes Previews

We are T minus one week until the Million, but there is no summertime rest for followers of horse racing.  This weekend at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I split our attention between Arlington and Saratoga.

On the homefront, we take a look at the pair of turf route stakes on the Arlington card.  I tackle the Black Tie Affair; Paul looks at the Mike Spellman Memorial.

At Saratoga, we preview all five stakes on the Whitney Day card.  I turn my eyes toward the Test (GI) and the Waya (GIII); Paul handicaps the Whitney (GI), the De La Rose, and the Lure.

Saratoga spot plays: 8.2.15

All the talk about today’s 2nd race at Saratoga, a six-furlong dirt sprint for maiden juvenile fillies, centers around Rachel’s Valentina.  A daughter of champion Rachel Alexandra out of Bernardini, she certainly has the breeding to be a pretty good racehorse.  She certainly has the connections, as well, with high-flying Spa pair Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez behind her.

Of course, she will also be chalk.

Instead, I’m going to look to Renown (5).  15/1 on the morning line, Renown stands to fly under the radar with so many other high-flying babies for high-flying New York connections in the field.

This Street Cry daughter out of the Storm Cat mare Miss Kate has been working regularly through the spring and summer.  Most of her works have been four furlongs, though she has a recent five-furlong move as well.  Rider Kendrick Carmouche has a 21% win rate and a +$0.38 ROI with Brisnet “NA” types — suggesting some prowess as a rider of inexperienced maidens.

Though trainer George Arnold has been just two for his last 74 with first-time starters, he did get Renown’s half-sister Katerbug (Pulpit) home first-out at age two.  That is one of my favourite contrarian angles.  Half-brother Heron Lake (Bernardini) also got the job done at first asking, albeit in January of his three-year-old year for a different barn.  This further suggests precocity in the pedigree.

This is speculative — but, really, what pick in a two-year-old maiden race with so many first-time starters isn’t?  Rachel’s Valentina may be the buzz horse, but the value sits with Renown.

Picks and Ponderings: weekend stakes racing

Saturday’s card at Saratoga has four graded stakes races.  The card contains a pair of Grade II stakes races for three-year-olds: the Jim Dandy for two-turn types, and the Amsterdam for sprinters.  I preview both of those.  Of course, those aren’t the only stakes races at Saratoga this Saturday.  The card also features the Grade I Vanderbilt for older sprinters, and the Grade II Bowling Green for older turf route types.  Paul Mazur previews that pair of races.

Paul also previews the Addison Cammack Handicap and the Isaac Murphy Handicap, the pair of stakes races at Arlington this Saturday.  I will be previewing these races in this weekend’s Chicago Railbird, which is forthcoming.

For Sunday, I take a look at the Haskell Invitational (GI): American Pharoah’s first race since winning the Triple Crown on June 6.  The big purse drew seven other horses to face the champion…but can anyone beat him?

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, and get ready for a classy weekend of racing!

Curlin’s monster weekend

Sires rarely have better weekends than Curlin just had.

Curlin had nine runners hit the board, six of whom won their races.  He had a pair of graded stakes winners: his first fourth-crop stakes winners, as well as his second multiple Grade I winner.  From the claiming ranks to the highest level, and everywhere in between, Curlin babies were running well.

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Saratoga Spot Play: 7.26.15

Today’s Saratoga 2nd is an N1X turf mile for New York bred fillies and mares.  Ack Naughty (8) makes her first start since finishing second in the Chelsea Flower at Belmont last October.  She will be chalk, though: she races for ace turf trainer Chad Brown, gets Irad Ortiz back in the irons, and has been on the worktab since May.  Her best will be tough for anyone to beat.

However, between the layoff and the fact that she has unknown Saratoga form (both her starts have been at Belmont), it makes sense to look for an upset candidate.  Skinner Box (2) has a lot to offer at a square price.  She is the speed of the speed.  Last out she put on blinkers for the first time, and responded well at a similar level.  She ran her best race since her maiden win.  After stumbling at the start she got to the front, and handled constant pace pressure.  Skinner Box stayed on as the others who pressed her (particularly Jules N Rome) could not, and finished third beaten only a length.  She keeps the blinkers on here, and cuts back from a mile and a sixteenth last out to a mile.  Though Resolutely and Aesthetique have shown early speed, Skinner Box is the faster horse.

With Kelly’s Prize, English Minister, and Plainview all getting it done on the front end over the inner turf so far this meet — Skinner Box could, too.

Saratoga Spot Plays: 7.25.15

After going through the card, my top play of the day is one I’ve already written about in detail at Picks and Ponderings: Twirling Cinnamon (9) in the Sanford (GIII).  Even with the scratch of Paynes Prairie plenty of pace remains in the race, and he should get something to run at.  His professionalism in his maiden win impressed me, and he should be ready to roll in stakes company at a solid price.

Another interesting race is the 8th.  The race is a $65,000 N2X allowance optional at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass.  Two horses stand to take a lot of money in this race: Zambian Dream (4) and Taghleeb (3).  Both are deserving, to an extent.  Zambian Dream has back class from Chile (he was Il Campione’s punching back in the three-year-old stakes in Chile last year), and uses Lasix for the first time.  His works are good, but he has been off since October of last year.  If he fires first off the lay he could contend, but that’s a hard gamble to make at a short price.  Taghleeb looks the most likely winner of this race; he has been knocking on the door against similar in his last three starts, and trainer Kieran McLaughlin has been doing well lately.  The pace should be moderate here, and though Taghleeb is an off-pace type, he does not need a hot pace.  Classwise, he fits very well, and is a must-cover in multi-race bets and the top rung of intra-race exotics.

However, for a contest or a high-risk, high-reward win bet, Ocala Jim screams value at anywhere near his 20/1 morning line.  He has struggled a bit through the spring, but none of those races were at his best distance: 1 1/16 miles, the trip he gets today.  Furthermore, he racked up a first and a second in his two starts at the Spa last year, showing an affinity for the track.  The rider change also weighs positively.  He gets Jose Ortiz aboard.  Ortiz racked up a pair of wins at the Spa yesterday.  In five starts for trainer David Donk over the last two months, he has three wins and a +$9.90 ROI to show for it.  You could do far worse than this when swinging for the fences.

Saratoga Spot Plays: 7.24.15, 7th race

Last year, I handicapped Saratoga every Friday, and periodically posted my favourite spot plays throughout the summer.  This year I plan to do something similar, though it will not be restricted to Fridays.  Since I am playing Huddie, and that requires picking spots all through the weekend, descriptions of my favourite spots will be peppered throughout the weekends.

This evening, my fannish tendencies and my handicapping logic did not quite see eye-to-eye:

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