Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, July 23

RACE 2: TAKE IT TO SCALE (#2)

Potential favorite Wonder In won for a higher price tag when racing for the N2L condition at Gulfstream last time, but this is nevertheless a subtle step up in class. He was claimed out of that last race by Jorge Navarro, and is now with Rob Atras due to a trainer switch. They’re running him at the level where he belongs, but I’m just not thrilled with any of his dirt races and think others are more intriguing. Carthon is another horse who could attract some support, and he’s a difficult runner to assess. He has primarily been competing against tougher foes at the New York-bred N2X level, but he does his best work over longer distances. He’s also a runner who likes to be forwardly placed and he could be outrun in the early portion of this sprint event. I won’t be shocked when he does well here, but I’m expecting some sort of regression. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring runners on or near the lead, and Take It to Scale is depicted with a clear early advantage. One would imagine that David Cohen will try to get aggressive with this horse, and I think he’s a real threat to take them all the way up front. He finished off the board in his first start off the claim for Gary Gullo, but he was returning from a layoff and was in for the claiming tag waiver. Furthermore, that was an unsually tougher $20,000 conditioned claimer, as each of the top three finishers are former allowance-type runners. I think he’s going to move forward from that start and he’s fast enough to contend here if able to produce his best effort.

RACE 5: INSTINCTIVE RHYTHM (#7)

Ahead of Plan has had trouble putting starts together, and he again returns from a lengthy layoff as he makes just his fourth career appearance as a 4-year-old. This will also be his first start as a new gelding after a turf experiment failed last summer. Getting back to dirt seems like the right move, and he merely has to repeat the performance he put forth in his debut as a 2-year-old to beat this field. However, one has to wonder if he’s still capable of producing top efforts after enduring so many setbacks. O’Trouble arguably has more upside as a 3-year-old making his second start off a layoff. He was unfortunate to run into a very promising first time starter in his return last time, as Happy Saver dominated that affair. However, I was a little disappointed that O’Trouble couldn’t hang on for second given the relatively moderate early pace. He has a right to step forward in his second start off the layoff, but I suspect that he’s run into yet another first time starter with limitless potential. Instinctive Rhythm makes his debut George Weaver, and this horse appears to have ability. He sold for $350,000 as the OBS March sale as a 2-year-old following a dazzling 10-flat workout, in which he displayed a massive stride. Since then it’s taken a while to get him to the races, but he appears to be working extremely well for his unveiling. Notably, that June 19 bullet drill was in company with this barn’s stakes runner Majestic Dunhill. Furthermore, George Weaver is a strong 6 for 24 (25%, $2.75 ROI) with 3-year-old and older first time starters in dirt sprints over 5 years. I’m expecting this one to be live on the board and deliver.

RACE 8: ETHOS (#8)

French Reef is a bit of an enigma as he returns from a layoff for his 4-year-old debut. This gelding came into his Aqueduct debut with some hype based on a series of headstrong drills. Yet, to his detriment, that aggressive tendency that he displayed in his morning workouts also showed up in the afternoon. He was uncontrollable through the early stages of that race as he attempted to run off under Javier Castellano. He eventually settled down around the far turn, but he had already exerted too much energy and was swallowed up by late runners in the stretch. Given those character flaws, Chad Brown is probably making a wise decision to turn him all the way back to 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. However, this is not a typical move for the barn. Only one horse in the past 5 years has gone from a route to a sprint in its second start for Chad Brown, and while that horse won, it was a 7-furlong sprint at Belmont. I expect French Reef to run well, but I’m not interested in betting him at a short price. Its a Wrap makes plenty of sense as an alternative after running well in his turf debut. He got a pretty good trip from off the pace and just wasn’t quite good enough, but he makes sense in a spot like this. I’ll use both of these, but my top pick is a first time turfer. Ethos returns from a layoff after making one start on dirt last year. He took some money to get bet down to 5-1, and showed brief speed before fading. Jimmy Jerkens doesn’t have the best numbers off layoffs, but this horse is clearly bred to improve with this surface switch. He’s a half-brother to turf winner Four Knights, and his second dam is the excellent broodmare Meghan’s Joy, who has foaled top turf runners Ironicus and On Leave, among others.

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