Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, August 20

RACE 2: PAGO QUERIDO (#6)

Simply Sweet and Thankful should vie for favoritism in this 9-furlong maiden event. The former seems like a candidate to improve upon her debut. She was bumped at the start that day and just generally slow into stride. After lagging well back for four furlongs, she commenced a rally along the inside before angling out for the stretch drive, ultimately passing tired horses. That race should have served as a solid learning experience, and she figures to step forward out of it. She’s certainly bred to go longer as a daughter of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine. Yet she will have to improve to beat main rival Thankful. This filly indicated that dirt was her preferred surface by taking a step forward with the surface switch last time at Belmont. She was never a threat to the impressive winner, but closed well for second in a reasonably fast race for the level. I’m using both, but my top pick is Pago Querido. This filly chased the pace before dropping back on the turn in Delaware debut, but she didn’t completely throw in the towel, staying on through the lane to get up for fourth. She obviously has to run much faster to factor here, but she figures to improve with that experience under her belt. While there isn’t a ton of stamina in her pedigree, her only half-sibling was best over route distances. Furthermore, Mike Stidham is 7 for 27 (26%, $2.37 ROI) with maiden second-time starters going from sprints to dirt routes over the past 5 years. She could play out as the speed and may take them a long way up front with Jose Ortiz in the irons.

RACE 3: OUT OF TROUBLE (#1)

Five fillies and mare are entered for turf in this New York-bred claiming event. The potential favorite is Awesome Alana, who returns from a layoff and makes her first start off the claim for Linda Rice. When previously in the barn of Chad Brown she had one start on the turf, and ran quite well. She closed mildly to finish third in an allowance race over this course and distance last summer, earning a 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure that is superior to the numbers that her rivals have been achieving recently. She’s the horse to beat, and I prefer her to First Appeal, who could also attract some support in this spot. First Appeal is getting needed class relief after failing to make an impact in a tougher optional claiming race last time. Yet, while she is arguably the most consistent turf performer in this field, she’s always been best around one turn in sprint races. I believe she is likely to find this two-turn one-mile distance out of her ideal range and wouldn’t want to take her at a short price. I’m instead going in a different direction with Out of Trouble. She makes the same drop out of optional claimers, except her recent performances have been poor. Yet I think you can make some excuses for her, as she was allowed to drop too far off the pace two back, and then was hampered by a poor start and wide trip last time. I don’t think she’s as badly off form as her past performances would indicate. Furthermore, she has the tactical speed to be forwardly placed in this paceless affair, and could perhaps even find herself on the lead if she breaks cleanly.

RACE 7: READY TO ESCAPE (#3)

Stan the Man is a deserving favorite as he drops in class after finishing second to the accomplished Firenze Fire in the Grade 2 True North last time. Yet he does have some questions to answer. He looked like he was about to kick off a strong winter campaign when he won the Queens County last December, but his two subsequent performances at Aqueduct were disappointing. He did get back on track in the True North last time, but he benefited from a favorable pace scenario and only earned a 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which hardly makes invincible in this field. I’m using him prominently, but he’s going to have to show up with a top effort going a distance that may be short of his best. I do prefer him to the pair of horses exiting the John Morrissey. Both T Loves a Fight and My Boy Tate put in game efforts that day but they were no match for the vastly improved winner Funny Guy. They’re honest sorts who are capable of winning a race like this on their best day, but both had been off form prior to that last race and I want to see them repeat that effort before backing them. My top pick is the longshot in the field, Ready to Escape. The Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring horses on or near the lead, and I think Ready to Escape is the most likely pacesetter as long as he breaks cleanly. I did not like the ride he got last time, as apprentice Luis Cardenas was intent on rating this gelding despite the fact that he broke sharply in a field lacking any pace. He’s always most effective when he can flaunt his speed, as he did on Feb. 29 at Aqueduct en route to a career-best 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He gets tested for class here, but I like the rider switch to Kendrick Carmouche and I believe he’s going to outrun his odds.

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