Saratoga Horses in Focus for Friday, August 21

RACE 1: STRIKING CAUSEWAY (#4)

The two runners likely to attract the most support in this New York-bred maiden turf sprint are Advanced Strategy and Silver Token, who finished less than a length apart when they last met on July 26 at this level. Silver Token probably had the better trip, saving ground most of the way, though he was pretty game in the late stages. However, he’s also had more chances than most to break out of the maiden ranks, so it’s probably unreasonable to expect further improvement. There’s more upside with Advanced Strategy, who was making his first start off a layoff last time, and had to swing pretty wide on the far turn to find a clear path. He ultimately flattened out in the late stages, but has a right to make more of an impact this time as Jimmy Jerkens adds Lasix. I’m using both of these, but I think they’re going to have a tough time reeling in the likely speed Striking Causeway. This horse ran an excellent race two back at Belmont, as he set a fast pace and was game through the late stages, just failing to hang on. It appears that he fell apart last time, but some factor contributed to that disappointing effort. He acted up pretty badly in the gate prior to the start, though he broke running and was actually in front after a few jumps. However, for whatever reason, Joel Rosario seemed totally uninterested in securing the lead and took Striking Causeway in hand. From there he just allowed him to steadily drop back through the pack without ever asking for run. Perhaps something felt amiss, but it’s clear that Striking Causeway wasn’t asked to put forth his best effort that day. Now he gets a rider switch to Irad Ortiz, and he figures to be sent to the front.

RACE 2: TENDERFOOT (#1)

Ashiham is probably the horse to beat, but he’s starting to run out of chances. This impeccably bred son of top sire Tapit out of champion Azeri’s stakes-winning daughter Wine Princess obviously has the pedigree to be a good one, but he’s yet to live up to those bloodlines on the racetrack. He’s shown potential at times, but his performances just seem to be stuck at a plateau. It does seem like he’s picking it up in his morning workouts recently, as his last drill on August 14 was actually fairly impressive, going easier than his uncoupled mate Obsessed. That said, it’s not enough to make me want to take him at a short price. I do prefer him to the likely second choice The Angry Man, who has improved recently on the turf. While he’s handled route distances on that surface, it’s often more difficult to stretch out on the dirt, especially going this demanding 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga. This horse has dirt ability, but I’d prefer him going shorter. My top pick is Tenderfoot. I acknowledge that this horse needs to improve to take down the two favorites, but there are some reasons to think he can do so. He ran deceptively well in his return from the layoff at Churchill downs two back, making a long, sustained run from far back while never really getting steered into the clear at any point. His connections then dropped him in for a tag, presumably to get a win at Saratoga for the connections, but the trip didn’t quite work out for him that day either, as he got caught behind a slow pace and couldn’t quicken late. While the stretch-out might seem drastic, progeny of Graydar generally prefer more ground. Furthermore, Charlton Baker is 4 for 7 (57%, $5.02 ROI) first off the claim with maidens on dirt over the past 5 years.

RACE 9: MICROMILLION (#3)

Gaelic Gold and Kept Waiting finished third and second, respectively, in a race at this level on July 22. While I thought Kept Waiting ran quite well to nearly hang on for the victory after setting an honest pace, I would imagine that Gaelic Gold will attract more support once again. Christophe Clement and Joel Rosario have been a powerful combination so far at this Saratoga meet, and this filly has a right to improve in her second start off the layoff. Furthermore, she was held up in traffic for much of the run around the second turn and only hit her best stride in the last eighth of a mile when she finally found some daylight. I’m using both of them prominently, but I think there are some others to consider at better prices. The alternative who intrigues me most is Micromillion. This filly tried turf for the first time in her last start for Todd Pletcher and actually ran extremely well considering her trip. She was three-wide early and continued very wide down the backstretch before getting spun into the 4- to 5-path on her run around the far turn. Looking at Trakus data, she covered 61 more feet than the winner, who saved ground most of the way, which would account for far more than her 3 1/4 length margin of defeat. That was only a $40,000 maiden claiming race, but it’s not as if she has to improve that much from a speed figure standpoint to get on terms with the favorites. She was also coming off a layoff that day and she figures to step forward in her second star back.

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