Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, July 16

RACE 7: PANDAMOM (#8)

Astoria Kitten and Summer At the Spa are the deserving favorites after hitting the wire together in a photo for second at this level last time. At first glance, it might appear that Astoria Kitten has the upper hand this time, since she has the speed to make the lead here in a race that doesn’t feature an abundance of early zip. However, I’m a little concerned about this filly stretching back out to the two-turn 1 1/16 miles. She’s bred to be better going shorter, and she hasn’t shown much staying power in her prior two-turn attempts. She’s the horse to beat, but she’s likely to be overbet with Irad Ortiz Jr. named to ride, and the Danny Gargan barn has been a little cold over the past three months or so. I prefer Summer At the Spa out of that June 18 affair. She got plenty of pace to close into, but she made a strong run from the back of the pack in her first start in nearly seven months. She has a right to move forward second off the layoff for trainer Jonathan Thomas. They’ll both feature prominently in my plays, but I’m most interested recent maiden winner Pandamom. She was far more professional than in her lone start as a 2-year-old when she won last time, breaking sharply from the gate and turning away all challengers. While she has to run a bit faster to beat this field, she has the right running style for this race and should sit a great trip stalking Astoria Kitten. Christophe Clement notably has encouraging statistics (21 for 105, 20%, $3.18 ROI) with last-out maiden winners in turf routes over the past five years. I think she can take another step forward as the likely third choice in the wagering.

RACE 8: QUEEN ARELLA (#6)

The two fillies who won their debuts at Churchill are likely to dominate the wagering in this Schuylerville. I strongly prefer Beautiful Memories of that pair. This John Oxley homebred was highly touted prior to her debut and drew off to win impressively while never being asked for her best. It wasn’t the fastest heat, but horses who finished behind her have since run back to validate the speed figure and confirm the quality of her performance. I think she’s the most likely winner, but she will have to overcome some obstacles. She never faced a challenge when leading throughout in her debut, and there are plenty of other fillies in this affair who want to be forwardly placed. One of those is her main rival Hopeful Princess, who wore down rival Mad Maddy to prevail in her debut. She was only going 4 1/2 furlongs that day, but she showed plenty of grit and is certainly bred to handle more ground. I’m using both of them, but there are some other runners to consider. I’m intrigued by Queen Arella, who ran a remarkable race to win her debut at Gulfstream in late May. This filly had significant trouble at the start as she was bumped and steadied back to last. Typically it would be impossible for an inexperienced 2-year-old to win from such a position, but this daughter of Speightster unleashed a wild rally on the far turn to loop the field. She easily inhaled the leaders and was geared down in the late stages. TimeformUS assigned that race a strong speed figure of 90, which makes her one of the fastest horses in this field. The owners obviously think highly of her as they set a reserve price of $475,000 when she was a buyback recently at a Keeneland horses of racing age sale. The connections won this race in 2015 with Off the Tracks, and I think they can pull it off again.

RACE 9: MYSTIC GUIDE (#6)

The Peter Pan isn’t residing at its usual spot on the calendar, having this year been transferred to Saratoga, but it has nevertheless attracted a solid group of improving 3-year-olds. I’m not trying to beat the likely favorite Mystic Guide, who I believe is just a bit better than his rivals. I’m still of the opinion that this horse could have a strong campaign in stakes during the second half of the season, having done little wrong through his first three starts. He was no match for the enigmatic Tapit to Win in his first start against winners at Belmont, but he put in a deceptively strong effort that day. After attaining a good spot in midpack down the backstretch, Brian Hernandez Jr. attempted to send him through between horses around the far turn and Mystic Guide just never looked comfortable in that precarious position, ultimately having to back out of there before awkwardly altering course at the quarter pole. All things considered, he stayed on well to be second, easily getting the better of today’s rival Country Grammer. If he continues progressing at this rate, this son of Saratoga Grade 1 winner Music Note can notch his first stakes victory in this Peter Pan. I’m not against rival Country Grammer, but I just think he’s going to be overbet in this spot as the only Chad Brown entrant with Irad Ortiz Jr. named to ride. The most intriguing new face in this bunch may be Caracaro, who comes off a fast maiden win at Gulfstream back in January. He’s clearly good enough to win a race like this if he’s ready off the layoff, but going nine furlongs in a stakes after being off for so long is a tall order.​

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