RACE 5: RINGGOOD (#1)
Brunate is the horse to beat as he makes his third attempt to win at this level up at the Spa. He’s been improving gradually with each start this summer and a repeat of his last speed figure certainly gives him a chance against this crew. However, he’s going to attract plenty of support due to the success of the H. James Bond barn, especially as go-to rider Luis Saez climbs aboard. I won’t be shocked if he wins, but there are a couple of more interesting alternatives. The obvious one is Royal Suspect, who gets some needed class relief after putting in even efforts against tougher fields in his two prior starts for Bruce Levine. He should be fit to go this 7-furlong distance after fading in a route two back and then chasing the very fast Unrelenting Force, who ran them off their feet last time. His speed figures compare favorably to Brunate and I’d make the case that he’s a slightly more likely winner at a better price. Yet my top pick is the horse drawn just to his inside. Ringgood switches back to dirt after returning from the layoff on turf 10 days ago. He was never a major factor that day, but I’m intrigued by this surface switch. He last ran on the main track in December, when he put in a deceptively strong effort. He broke awkwardly and was last in the early stages. However, not happy with that position, Manny Franco asked him for run down the backstretch, and Ringgood commenced an eye-catching mid-race move that carried him up to third by the time the field reached the quarter pole. He faded thereafter, but that effort gives me hope that he’ll actually appreciate this elongated sprint distance.
RACE 7: COWTOWN (#6)
Tide of the Sea has improved since switching into the barn of Mike Maker, and is due to break through this N1X condition after finishing second at short prices in his last two appearances. He was game to just miss behind the talented Value Engineering two back, but his last effort was not quite as encouraging. He appeared to be one of the main players in a two-horse race along with winner Mr. Alec, but that horse dominated every step of the way as Tide of the Sea faded late. It’s unclear if he’s really best going this three-turn 1 3/8 miles distance and he’s going to need to show up with his best effort to defeat some improving rivals. One of those is Junkanoo, who makes his second start back off a 21-month layoff for Chad Brown. His return was pretty encouraging, as he closed well from last to be third behind the talented Colonel Liam, who arguably would have won the Saratoga Derby next time out if not for breaking slowly. Junkanoo doesn’t need to improve much on the speed figure he earned that day, but he will have to prove that he can handle this stretch-out to a marathon distance. I’m using him, but I sense that he may be overbet in a spot where he still has much to prove. I want to get a little more creative, and my top pick is Cowtown. This 3-year-old seems like one who has been crying out for more distance all along. Todd Pletcher acknowledged that by debuting him in that 1 1/8 miles maiden race for 2-year-olds at Saratoga last year. Since then he has improved since switching to turf, but hadn’t run fast enough to compete against a field like this when last seen. Yet I think he has room for improvement. Even 9 furlongs proved too short for him last time, as he only hit his best stride in the last quarter mile before rocketing away from the field on the gallop-out. I like that he’s reunited with Luis Saez, and I think we’re going to see his best effort yet going this 1 3/8 miles distance.
RACE 8: OUR LAST BUCK (#5)
It’s been foolish to try to beat Orlando Noda lately. He is a remarkable 9 for 21 (43%, $4.49 ROI) at this meet, and has won with 6 of his last 8 starters through Sunday. Like many runners from the stable, Control Group improved in his Saratoga start, which was also his first race off the claim for the barn. However, it’s not as if that effort came out of nowhere, as the horse had previously achieved a similar victory in July for Rudy Rodriguez, albeit against cheaper company. Perhaps it’s unwise to pick against this horse, but he’s landing in a tougher N2X optional claimer than last time, primarily due to the presence of main rival Our Last Buck. I prefer the Michelle Nevin trainee at what could be a better price. This 6-year-old has been a new horse since he was finally stretched out in distance on the dirt. He rewarded his connections with a pair of impressive victories against softer company before just missing at this level last time with a career-best 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure. While he lost as the 3-5 favorite, the horse who defeated him is a classy runner who simply regained his best form in the slop. Our Last Buck will be difficult for anyone in this field to handle if he merely maintains that form. The two-turn 9 furlongs may be a question mark for some, but he figures to sit a comfortable trip perched just off the two speeds, Yankee Division and Control Group.