TIMEFORMUS HIGHLIGHT HORSE (coverage below)
Race 5: Dauphine Russe (#2)
Race 3: Allowance N1X at 6 furlongs
There are some trainers that just seem to step up their game at Saratoga every year, and the statistics will often support that notion. Barclay Tagg is one of those guys. He gets a 68 trainer rating overall, but a 91 trainer rating with all runners at Saratoga. HOMESPUN HERO (#2) has a great running style for this race, since he should be able to let the outside speed go and fall into a great stalking position. Tagg gets a 100 trainer rating when he rides Javier Castellano, so I love to see that these two are reunited here. Homespun Hero showed improvement at Gulfstream, and carried that through to his stakes debut last time, running better than it appears after rushing up on the backstretch.
Bird Song (#4) is likely to go off as one of the favorites here. His pair of 103 speed figures make him a player, but this is a step up in class as he comes out of a maiden field of suspect quality. Portando (#6) makes plenty of sense after dueling through fast fractions last time in a race that otherwise collapsed. Given a bigger price, I could also include Delta Outlaw (#3), whose last race feels like a prep for Saratoga.
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 3,4,6
Pick-3: 2 with 2,6,7,8 with 2
Race 5: Claiming $40,000 at 5.5 furlongs on turf
She’s not going to be that big of a price, but I’m not trying to beat DAUPHINE RUSSE (#2). This mare is best as a turf sprinter, and the claim by Jason Servis is significant. He gets a 100 trainer rating with turf sprinters and a 100 trainer rating off the claim. His numbers when both of those factors are in play at once are off the charts. This filly lost at this level last time, but that race is worth watching. She was stymied in traffic and bumped between horses late. She would have clearly won that day if she had ever gotten into the clear.
If Dauphine Russe shows up with the kind of effort that I am expecting, I believe that the others are running for second. Those that I could use behind her include Sweet Nkosi (#1), who shows up with a strong effort on turf every now and then, but can be hard to predict, and Angie’s Prim Lady (#3), who drops in class for Al Stall. Katie O. (#4) also gets some needed class relief, but will likely have to come from off the pace today.
Exacta: 2 with 1,3,4,7
This also looks like a good spot in which to launch some Pick-3s. In the middle leg (Race 6), I would use Church Social (#2), who stepped forward nicely for Shug last time, Llanita (#3), who found running room too late after encountering traffic in upper stretch, firster Bluegrass Sunset (#5), and Sassy Little Lila (#6), who was done in by a wide trip in her debut.
Pick-3: 2 with 2,3,5,6 with 1,4,12 (starting in Race 5)
Race 7: Claiming $40,000 at 8.5 furlongs on turf
This might be one of the toughest races I’ve had to handicap all year. There are many valid perspectives in races like this, so if you have an angle, go with it! My main suggestion is to look past Coalport (#2). This is a horse that you have to use in some capacity, but he is difficult to trust at a short price, coming off a lengthy layoff while dropping in for a tag. I prefer a few others, including Captain’s Affair (#4), who has faced some decent fields in the mid-Atlantic region and is drawn well down towards the inside, and Old Time Hockey (#12), who is not drawn nearly as well, but has run plenty of races that can beat this field.
My angle in here is to give a shot to MIDNIGHT NOTES (#1), who should be a square price in such a competitive field. This horse has broken sharply in recent starts, and Jose Lezcano decided to use that to his advantage last time, sending this horse to the lead. He set an honest pace and was run down, but that versatility should serve him well here. He’s drawn the rail, and Irad would be well-advised to play the break and get a forward position in a race that lacks confirmed frontrunners. Additionally, John Toscano does well in situations when he is moving up his claimers, getting a 97 trainer rating with horses moving up in claiming price by 50% or more.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 2,4,12
Race 8: NY-bred Allowance N1X at 6 furlongs
With so much speed signed on in this 14-horse field, it should be an all-out cavalry charge out of the gate. Indeed, the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. The horse that I think is most likely to benefit from that situation is EVEN BETTE (#4), who is a one-run dead closer. She got a fast pace to close into last time, but that was her first start off the layoff, and David Cannizzo just does not have very strong numbers with runners coming off layoffs (34 trainer rating). I believe she’ll be fitter for this. She has races going back to last fall that make her competitive against this field.
Super Surprise (#2) comes off a layoff for Todd Pletcher, who gets a 99 trainer rating with runners returning from breaks of this length. She has rated successfully in the past and stacks up well against this field in terms of class—she just isn’t likely to offer much value. Sabrina Ballerina (#11) is another lightly raced runner that deserves consideration off her impressive maiden victory. However, she must avoid getting caught up in the hot pace. Given a bigger price, I could throw in Sing for Beauty (#3), who ran extremely well to survive a fast pace (color-coded in red) last time and has rated successfully in the past, as well as Gregorian Gold (#5), who has had some gate issues recently but may fall into the right trip here, if she’s good enough.
Exacta Key Box: 4 with 2,3,5,11
Pick-4: 2,4 with 9,11 with 1,2 with 3,4,5,7,9,11
Pick-4: 3,5,11 with 9,11 with 1 with 3,4,5,7,9,11
Race 9: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at 8 furlongs on turf
This is another Saratoga allowance race that features horses coming from a multitude of directions. I feel that Kitzys Rocket and Off Limits are coming out of the strongest race. Kitzys Rocket (#9) has run well over this course in the past and has signaled that she’s in good form with two encouraging performances to kick off 2016.
While I will certainly include the Barclay Tagg runner in my wagers, my top pick is OFF LIMITS (#11). That June 10 allowance race turned into a sprint to the wire, with the winner, All in Fun, traveling the final three-eighths in 34.05 seconds, according to Trakus. I believe that Off Limits was most compromised by the pace as she made the final move in the stretch. This filly was hampered by traffic in her U.S. debut at Gulfstream and then may not have liked the rain-softened turf course at Aqueduct in April. She has real ability and will be tough to hold off here if Javier Castellano can save ground from this outside post position.
Exacta Box: 9,11
Race 10: The G1 CCA Oaks at 10 furlongs
As a racing fan, this is a race I’m looking forward to, even though it’s not the most attractive wagering proposition, to say the least. If SONGBIRD (#1) runs her race, she is supposed to control the pace and beat Carina Mia (#2). I certainly respect the Bill Mott-trained filly, but she’s in a difficult position under Julien Leparoux. Does he take it to Songbird early, or sit back and hope that she comes back to him? Based on Leparoux’s typical tendencies, I expect him to try the latter strategy, and I believe that could put Songbird in the winner’s circle. I’ll use both, but will push Songbird in the late Pick-4.