RACE 2: WICKED AMBER (#5)
Keota is likely to go off as a heavy favorite once again despite losing as the 3-5 choice at this same condition last month at Belmont. This mare was clearly capable of dominating a field like this as recently as this past spring, but all of those superior performances came for the Jason Servis barn. She had been merely ordinary for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin before coming into Jason Servis’s care, and she apparently reverted to her prior form in her first start for Chad Brown last time. She may still win this race if she merely repeats her last effort, but she hardly deserves to be a prohibitive favorite based solely on that performance. I want to search for an alternative, and the one that intrigues me most is Wicked Amber. I understand that it’s difficult to support these connections, especially in a turf race at Saratoga. Yet Wicked Amber has nevertheless run quite well on the turf at very big prices before. She surprised a maiden field at 10-1 at Aqueduct last year, and has obviously taken a step forward since then. She didn’t get the savviest ride in her return from the layoff in June and then had issues in two subsequent starts. Yet she appeared to benefit from the rider switch to Luis Cardenas last time, as she outran her 67-1 odds to get up for fourth in a much tougher spot. Not only was she closing fastest of all at the end of that race, but she did so into a pace that was slow and mostly held together on the front end. If she repeats that performance, she’s a serious threat to beat this field.
RACE 5: GUARDIAN MOON (#6)
Among those with experience, Lollygag is clearly the horse to beat. She made her debut against open company at Keeneland and put in a respectable effort to close for fourth going today’s distance. That may not have been the toughest open company heat, but the form should translate well to this New York-bred race. Furthermore, she could have more tactical speed in her second start, as she was actually closer to the pace immediately after the start last time before dropping out of position on the backstretch. I’m using her prominently, but there is a first time starter in this field who could be difficult to get past. Guardian Moon debuts for trainer Jorge Abreu, who is as dangerous as any trainer on the grounds with first time starters. Over the past 5 years he is 17 for 72 (24%, $3.84 ROI) with first time starters overall and 8 for 52 (15%, $3.50 ROI) with firsters on turf. This filly has enough pedigree to handle grass, being by 20% turf sprint sire Declaration of War. Yet what really points her out as the horse to beat in this spot are her workouts leading into this race. Abeu gave her a spin over the turf on July 19 and she worked in company with 4-year-old turf stakes winner Atomic Blonde. Guardian Moon tugged along outside of her company early in that work and then ran away from her classy mate under light pressure in the late stages. Then most recently on August 1, she blew out three furlongs on dirt and showed off high speed. She began the work in company with an unraced stablemate but quickly proceeded to rocket away from that rival, opening up about 15 lengths under no pressure at all. This filly can run.
RACE 7: TIZAHRA (#2)
This 11-furlong optional claiming event has attracted an evenly matched field. Perhaps Dyna Passer will vie for favoritism based on her stakes form from last year. Yet you have to be a little concerned that she doesn’t appear to have taken a step forward as a 4-year-old. She had to work harder than expected to win an N1X race going 1 1/2 miles in March and then was never really a threat against a relatively soft stakes field in the River Memories last time. I won’t be shocked if she does better second off the layoff, but I didn’t want to take a short price on her. I think the horse to beat is probably Mighty Scarlett, who has kept better company in her recent races at this level in Kentucky. She’s yet to try this distance, but she has been competitive going 9.5 and 10 furlongs, I don’t view the stretch-out as a major issue. The biggest knock against her is that she hasn’t actually won a race since this meet in 2018. She’s been involved in some close decisions since then and just hasn’t been able to seal the deal. I’ll use her prominently in all slots, but I wanted to find more value in top my pick. Tizahra interests me as she seeks her third victory in a row. It seems like this 4-year-old filly has finally put it all together, especially since Ian Wilkes removed the blinkers two starts back. I liked her effort at Keeneland last time as she stayed on gamely in the late stages to get up over a mile. This will be her first time stretching out to a marathon distance, but she’s bred to go this far. Her dam won a 9-furlong stakes on dirt at Saratoga, and this filly is a half-sister to Curlin’s Pride, a solid allowance type who ran two of her best races going this distance on turf.