Saturday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt, for older horses over six furlongs, offers up an interesting matchup between a pair of streaking sprinters in #2 Salutos Amigos and #3 Rock Fall. Together, they have won 10 straight races in this country, with the former’s trip to the Middle East back in March the lone blemish on either of their records dating back to last year.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector for the Vanderbilt favors runners with early speed, which gives an edge to Rock Fall. He projects to be forwardly placed, tracking just behind #7 Favorite Tale early. Based on his win in the Grade 2 True North last month, where he was similarly stalking that horse early before going on to post an easy victory, his first in stakes company, with a TFUS Speed Figure of 120, that appears to be an advantageous position for Rock Fall to be in. Not that Favorite Tale is a push-over. He is a fast horse; one who went down to Gulfstream to wire the Grade 2 Smile Sprint in his most recent start with a figure of 118. But he was no match for Rock Fall in the True North, despite getting to the early lead on a pace that was not fast (note Pace figures/fractions shaded blue).
Rock Fall is, in our estimation, the horse to beat on Saturday. But he is also facing the toughest field of horses he has yet faced, and we expect him to be tested as he has never been tested before in this spot.
Salutos Amigos is a seasoned and rock-solid racehorse, one who has managed to hold his good form over a long series of races. Since joining trainer David Jacobson in NY, he has seven times equaled or topped the 120 TFUS Speed Figure Rock Fall earned in that True North win last month. A versatile runner who can keep close when needed, and finish up at the end, he features a nice balance between his Early and Late TimeformUS Pace Ratings (90 early/95 late), and he is very clearly the best horse Rock Fall has yet had to deal with on the race track.
The other major player in this race is #6 The Big Beast. A Grade 1 winner over this track as a 3yo, he has had trouble getting his 2015 campaign started and will be hitting the track for just the third time as a 4yo on Saturday. The time off is a concern, but this is a talented runner, one who can be expected to break through to a faster race soon, assuming he can start putting races together. He was last seen finishing 4th as the favorite in a weak renewal of the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct 119 days ago, but, to our way of thinking, The Big Beast was the horse you wanted out of that race. Unable to get forward position from an inside post in that spot, he wound up having to take back out of traffic before coming wide late and closing ground to no avail . He was the only one doing any late running at all in that race, and it seemed to be a race that he could build upon going forward. Perhaps he will start doing that on Saturday, but we are concerned that we haven’t seen him since early April (he was entered and scratched from Rock Fall’s True North last month).
The Play: We respect Rock Fall as an up-and-comer in this division right now, and have to use him in any multi-race wagers we play, but Salutos Amigos is the best horse he has yet had to run against. Salutos Amigos is our top pick in the Vanderbilt.