Saratoga Horses in Focus for Friday, August 28

RACE 4: STAGE LEFT (#2)

I’m not trying to beat the likely favorite Stage Left, who is getting some needed class relief after facing a tougher N1X field last time. Furthermore, he didn’t have the best trip that day as he was forced to go 4- to 5-wide all the way around the far turn and was out of position once the field turned into the stretch. This time he figures to be forwardly placed from the inside, and he ran well given a similar trip two back. Some may view that victory as an outlier in his past performances, but this horse even had excuses prior to that. He should have won when he encountered traffic on Jan. 25 and then blew the start last fall at Churchill Downs. Wesley Ward is known for his prowess with 2-year-olds, but he’s actually 7 for 20 (35%, $2.30 ROI) with 3-year-old and up runners on dirt at Saratoga over the past 4 years. One of his primary rivals is Cobble Hill, who ran a career-best speed figure first off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez last time. He probably has to improve again to beat this field and figures to be among the shorter prices. I’d be more interested in runners like Kentucky shipper Majestic West, who has races that put him in the mix, as well as Southern Bridge, who ran well on the turnback last time and now goes first off the claim for Joe Sharp.

RACE 6: BLACK MAGIC WOMAN (#3)

Dovima has earned a couple of superior speed figures on the turf, and her pedigree indicates that she should be able to transfer that form to dirt. She’s by negative turf influence Union Rags out of a half-sister to multiple stakes-winning dirt sprinter Secret Gypsy. Therefore, it was a little curious to see Chad Brown start her out on turf. She ran well in both of those starts, but she was supposed to win at 3-5 last time and couldn’t get the job done. That loss doesn’t look as disappointing in retrospect considering that In Front came back to win, but it still feels like this switch to dirt may be a move of desperation. She does appear to be working decently, most recently going in company with stakes-placed filly Center Aisle. However, I prefer those with dirt form. My top pick is Black Magic Woman. This filly took a ton of money first time out based on a sparkling worktab, but she was unable to live up to the hype. She was a little flat-footed away from the start, but rushed up to take the lead and looked like she was traveling well until she just came up empty in the last furlong. Perhaps asking her to go 7 furlongs was a little too demanding first time out. While this is a tougher spot, she’s likely to take a step forward. I’m going to guess that the hype she generated in the morning was somewhat justified, so I expect a better effort. The other major player is obviously Back Channel, who has run reasonably well in both starts. I thought she got pretty good trips each time and couldn’t really finish, but she obviously has the credentials to win this race.

RACE 8: BLINDWILLIE MCTELL (#4)

Likely favorite Irish Front showed some promise in his debut up here last summer but it took Todd Pletcher a long time to get him back to the races after that. He finally made his second start last month and it was worth the wait, as he impressively dominated a field of maidens in fast time. The third-place finisher Flatter Me lived up to his name by coming back to win his next start with a 102 TimeformUS Speed Figure. This colt won’t have to improve much to beat winners and his early speed makes him a gate-to-wire threat. He’s the horse to beat, but I slightly prefer his main rival Blindwillie Mc TellThis New York-bred has run a number of races that make him a win candidate against a field like this, including his return from the layoff last time, in which he finished 3rd behind the promising Yaupon. I thought Jose Ortiz rode him like he may have needed the start, as he didn’t get particularly aggressive early and was still sitting chilly in upper stretch before asking him to run for the last furlong. Six furlongs may be on the short side for Blindwillie McTell these days, so he figures to appreciate the slight stretch-out in distance. He’s come from off the pace in recent starts, but he has the tactical speed to sit relatively close to Irish Front early in a race that doesn’t feature that much early pace. Linda Rice is in the midst of a strong Spa meet, and I expect improvement.

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