Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, July 22

RACE 2: RUDY ROD (#5)

I expect Wicked Mad and Pregame to vie for favoritism in this $50k maiden claimer. The former goes out for Steve Asmussen, who is the early leading trainer at Saratoga with 4 victories during the first week. He faced talented runners Happymac and Beau Liam in his first couple of starts at the maiden special weight level before dropping in for a tag last time. While he finished fifth that day, he was down inside racing in traffic through upper stretch before altering out late. He’s a player here, but I slightly prefer the Rusty Arnold-trained Pregame. This runner is switching back to dirt after finishing off the board in a couple of turf starts at Churchill Downs. He figures to be tough if able to repeat his last dirt effort from Keeneland in April. He was sitting right on top of a slow pace that day, but nevertheless did well to hang with next-out winner Snow House until the late stages. Rudy Rod also switches back to dirt after trying turf a few times, and I think he’s clearly getting back on his preferred surface here. He wasn’t quite ready for his career debut, but he ran very well in both subsequent dirt starts last winter. He was wide against a rail bias on Feb. 26, and then had to chase a fast pace going a mile in March. I’m not sure why the connections were so committed to transforming him into a turf horse, but now he’s cutting back to an appropriate distance on dirt and returning as a new gelding.

RACE 4: STUNNING MUNNINGS (#7)

I suppose Dancing Kiki is the horse to beat as she switches back to dirt and drops into this conditioned claimer. The last time she raced for a tag she broke her maiden decisively going this 7-furlong distance at Aqueduct. Since then she’s run some respectable races against winners, and even won at the starter allowance level. Yet the waters have gotten deeper at Belmont and Saratoga, so this drop in class seems appropriate. She’s never run particularly fast speed figures, but her steadiness and class do make her a strong contender. I could say many of the same things about Courageous Girl, who figures to be a better price. She’s just not good enough to compete at the N2X New York-bred level, so dropping in for a tag for the first time in her career makes sense. Over the past 5 years, David Donk is 6 for 26 (23%, $2.15 ROI) first time for a tag with non-maidens. I still think she needs to improve a bit on her recent efforts to win, but she’s somewhat appealing as the second or third choice. My top pick is Stunning Munnings, who makes her first start off the claim for Natalia Lynch. This barn hasn’t had much success with that move, but she is getting this filly from a low-percentage outfit. Stunning Munnings has actually been in decent form recently but hasn’t gotten ideal trips in her last two starts. She got an indecisive ride two back when wrangled back early before making a mid-race move. And last time she had no chance trying to close into a slow pace that held together up front. She handles 7 furlongs and is drawn well on the outside.

RACE 9: LOVE AND LOVE (#6)

Ice Princess is clearly the one to beat as she returns to dirt. Trying grass made a certain amount of sense, since she does have plenty of turf pedigree. However, she didn’t show any improvement on that surface, so now she’s back in the right kind of spot. She ran well over this course and distance last year when just missing in the Fleet Indian. Yet she’s been twice beaten since then at odds-on prices at this same level, so I’m a little reluctant to take her as the obvious favorite once again. Furthermore, while the Danny Gargan barn did get two wins on Sunday, he’s also had some runners disappoint at short prices so it remains to be seen if he’s on the road back to his typical high win rates. There are some intriguing Kentucky shippers in this race, led by Played Hard, who impressively broke her maiden going two turns last month. Yet I’m not convinced that she was beating the toughest field that day. She also had everything her own way on the front end, and here she may have to duel with Subsidiary early, though it’s possible that she’s just heading in the right direction. My top pick is the more familiar face Love and Love. This 5-year-old mare has tried this level a few times in the past without much success. However, she appeared to get back in top form through the early spring at Aqueduct. She put in a strong effort two back on Apr. 18 when getting within two lengths of Altaf, who returned to win the Ladys Secret with a 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Love and Love was off for two months after that, and disappointed slightly in her return. However, 7 furlongs is on the short side for her. Now she’s stretching out to 1 1/8 miles, a distance over which she broke her maiden at Saratoga a couple of seasons ago. Her best effort is nearly on par with that of Ice Princess, and she won’t be favored for an underrated trainer.

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