Saratoga Horses in Focus for Wednesday, July 29

RACE 2: BIG AL’S GAL (#1)

I have no major knocks against the likely favorites Belleza and Cross Keys other than the fact that they’re both expected to be short prices. The former actually ran quite well of the layoff last time as she turned back to a sprint for the first time in her career. Belleza displayed improved early speed while stalking a fast pace and made what appeared to be a winning move to the lead at the quarter pole. Yet she was reeled in late by a longshot first time starter. A repeat of that performance makes her the horse to beat, but I’m certainly afraid of her main rival Cross Keys. This filly has a right to improve in her second start after being asked to go a mile against maiden special weight company first time out. She showed good speed in the early stages of that affair and actually put up a good fight down the lane to hang on for fourth against some superior rivals. The drop in class is realistic and less distance should suit her. I’m using them both, but my top pick is Big Al’s Gal. This filly also debuted at the maiden special weight level, but did so on turf. While she is a daughter of turf specialist Al Khali, her damside family is all dirt influences, and she is a half-sister to decent dirt sprinter Wushu Warrior. She broke slowly first time out and never seemed to handle the grass. Her trainer Chris Englehart has fantastic numbers with this move. Over the past 5 years, he is 7 for 18 (39%, $4.03 ROI) with maidens going from turf to dirt in sprints at NYRA. She has to step up against two legitimate rivals, but she figures to be a square price.

RACE 4: LUCKY ASSET (#4)

The Shadwell entry is likely to attract plenty of support, primarily due to the presence of Ashiham. This horse showed promise early on and got his first chance around two turns in May. While he lost as the favorite in that May 30 affair, he nevertheless earned a solid 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which is certainly good enough to beat this field. He then tried a longer route last time but was compromised when he leapt up at the start. He still put in a strong late run to get up for second in a race that was wired on the front end. He obviously makes sense in here, but the value probably lies elsewhere. A couple of horses exit the same race at Churchill Downs on June 20. Hometown was making his debut that day and put in an encouraging effort. After getting away a little slowly he made a long, sustained run into contention before flattening out. He clearly has a right to improve for a trainer that does well with second time starter, but I’m a little concerned about the added distance. Constitution has imparted more precocity than stamina to his progeny thus far, and this colt is a half-brother to Coup de Grace, who won the Grade 2 Amsterdam sprinting. I actually prefer the other horse coming out of Kentucky. Lucky Asset has yet to run a bad race in three starts sprinting. He looked uncomfortable racing down inside on the far turn of that June 20 maiden at Churchill, but put in a strong stretch rally once clear, passing Hometown in the late stages. He used a similar strategy last time, but ran into some traffic at the quarter pole and then had to alter course again a furlong out. This gelding is unmistakably bred to go longer. Honor Code wins with an impressive 18% of his dirt route starters, and Lucky Asset is a half-brother to Grade 1-winning turf marathoner Twilight Eclipse.

RACE 9: WISSAHICKON (#1)

Devamani is the horse to beat as he drops out of graded stakes company. Chad Brown has done a fantastic job with a horse who at one time was an underachiever. He couldn’t match strides with a tough group in the Grade 1 Manhattan last time, but his prior two efforts going shorter were solid. The cutback in distance here should help. The one flaw is that he’s never been much of a winning type, often content to settle for minor awards. His main rival among those with recent form is Breaking the Rules. This horse appeared to be bound for graded stakes success in early 2019 before his form left him. He returned from a yearlong layoff last time and it appeared that the time away had done him well. He got a great trip, but came with a strong stretch bid to win, holding off next-out Saratoga winner Digital Age. If he continues progressing, he’ll be tough to beat. Yet I’m most interested in a new face. Wissahickon makes his first start in this country after winning 8 of 12 races in England for trainer John Gosden. While he’s primarily raced on synthetic, he has run very well on a turf a number of times, including a dazzling win in the 33-horse Cambridgeshire Handicap in 2018. Timeform dubbed that effort “one of the great handicap performances of modern times” (from Foreign Comments in TimeformUS PPs). He went off form in early 2019 and hasn’t been seen since, but now this American-bred son of Tapit makes his stateside debut for Jonathan Thomas. He looks like one that should be well suited to American racing, and his Timeform Ratings suggest that he may be the best horse in the field.

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