Saratoga Horses in Focus for Wednesday, August 19

RACE 5: MCERIN (#5)

Financial System will probably win this race if he merely repeats his last effort, in which he defeated $50,000 claimers. The pace was moderate and he made a strong run to take over in deep stretch before just holding off a late charge from venerable rival Sentry. He’s now dropping slightly off that victory while returning exactly one month later. The move doesn’t seem particularly aggressive given the fact that he’s a 6-year-old gelding with limited opportunities. I think he’s the most likely winner, but I think he’s going to be a very short price. I pegged him at a conservative 8-5 on the morning line, but I could see him going as low as odds-on against this field. While all of the alternatives are solid runners, they each need to improve to take down this favorite. A logical possibility is Go Poke the Bear, who has prior speed figures that put him in the mix. However, I find him difficult to trust after bolting last time, and it’s also been a while since he’s put in a competitive performance. I want to go in a different direction with McErin. This 5-year-old gelding clearly handles the turf, but he’s only sprinted over that surface. When he was transferred to Todd Pletcher’s barn earlier this year, he was curiously stretched out to route distances on the dirt. Yet, despite seeming ill-suited to such races based on his past performances, he actually ran well going 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 2 at Gulfstream. Ultimately those dirt routes proved too much for him to handle, but now he’s switching back to turf. It’s often easier for horses to carry their speed on the grass, and I think it’s pretty interesting that Pletcher is sticking with longer races for this horse. He has to navigate a tricky pace scenario with other speeds signed on, but I expect him to run well.

RACE 6: RIVENDELL (#1)

My primary opinion in this race is that I don’t want anyone out of that 6th race on July 23. That appeared to be a weak race for the level coming in, and that was confirmed when foreign shipper Simplicity bested that group despite possessing mediocre form overseas. Horses like Balon Rose and Kitten by the Sea were narrowly defeated that day and figure to attract support once again, but I think there are more interesting alternatives, particularly in the form of the two horses coming off maiden victories. One of those is In Front, who broke her maiden in her sixth career start last time out going this distance. She ran down a well-regarded Chad Brown runner, but got a perfect trip in doing so, saving ground every step of the way while only leaving the rail in the stretch. She can obviously continue her progression for Shug McGaughey, but I prefer the other recent maiden breaker. Rivendell won her debut at Belmont Park last month in what appeared to be a very slow pace. However, the pedestrian final time was significantly impacted by a slow early pace, which should have worked against this filly. She was reserved in midpack through the early portions of the race, but unleashed an eye-catching turn of foot once Junior Alvarado turned her loose in the stretch. She finished up with excellent speed over that 7-furlong distance, but she’s certainly bred to go farther as a full-sister to 10-furlong stakes winner Lemoona. Bill Mott has solid statistics with turf routers coming off maiden victories and I expect her to stack up well against this field despite her inferior debut speed figure.

RACE 7: BLACKJACK DAVEY (#2)

There are approximately four main contenders in this intriguing N1X allowance for the New York-breds. Quickflash and Big Thicket exit the same race at this level on July 5. Big Thicket edged out Quickflash for second that day, but the latter horse appeared to run the better race. Quickflash was off in a tangle and squeezed back at the start, forcing him to make a run from farther off the pace than he would have preferred. He reached contention at the eighth pole but was turned away by a talented horse who worked out a perfect trip. Big Thicket just picked up pieces for second and returned with a lackluster effort over this track 12 days later. I’ll use Quickflash, but there are a couple of lightly raced runners drawn down towards the rail who merit respect. One of those is Golani Brigade, who returns from a lengthy layoff from Chad Brown. He was visually impressive in breaking his maiden going this distance 13 months ago and he appears to be training well for his return. Yet it’s hard to know exactly what we’re going to get from a horse who has been off for so long, and he figures to attract support due to the connections. My top pick is Blackjack Davey. This gelding broke his maiden at Belmont going 1 1/16 miles, displaying an impressive turn of foot at the head of the stretch. Linda Rice understandably stretched him out to 1 1/8 miles in his first start against winners, but Blackjack Davey didn’t appear to relish that more demanding route distance around two turns. He’s bred to be a sprinter, and I think he’s ultimately going to prove best as a one-turn horse. Furthermore, over the past 5 years Linda Rice is 6 for 15 (40%, $4.64 ROI) with horses turning back from routes to sprints on dirt while adding blinkers.

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