RACE 1: OPENTHEGATE (#3)
The fillies with experience could go favored in this seemingly weaker division of the split Sunday maiden events. Trade Secret has shown speed in both starts. She set the pace before fading behind subsequent Debutante winner Behave Virginia two back. Then last time she won the battle with her favored Asmussen stablemate, but lost the war as both were run down late. The Asmussen barn has come out firing at this Saratoga meet, but I wonder if we’ve already seen the best of this filly. Tap N Glo got a good trip in her debut, a race marred by an incident at the top of the stretch. All things considered she stayed on well, but she needs to do better to win here. Brad Cox tends to get somewhat overbet with these types. Some may go to the Chad Brown first time starter as an alternative, but I’m most interested in a different debut runner. Openthegate is by Arrogate, who has yet to sire a debut winner from 3 foals to start. The dam was a two-time dirt route winner, and her only foal to race is minor dirt route winner Smoking Gun. However, she is a half-sister to multiple dirt stakes winner Theskyhasnolimit. Bill Mott is 7 for 30 (23%, $2.65 ROI) with 2-year-old firsters in dirt sprints over the past year, a major improvement from his numbers in that category in prior seasons. This filly broke much better than a stablemate in that recent gate drill, and traveled well before opening up a big margin on the gallop-out. I get the sense she can run a little.
RACE 3: POP THE BUBBLY (#7)
I’m not particularly fond of the likely short prices in this New York-bred maiden special weight event. Marvelous Maude figures to attract support as she makes her second start for Chad Brown with Irad Ortiz taking over the mount. However, she was just picking up pieces in her debut and may not get as much pace here. Dancing Firefly was second in a cheaper spot in her first start, but I think she’d have to improve significantly to factor against tougher company this time. I’m most interested in some bigger prices. Caumsett seems dangerous as she stretches back out around two turns. She’s the clear speed in a race that doesn’t exactly feature a ton of early pace. Some may question her ability to go the distance, but note that she’s encountered fast paces in most of her prior turf starts. Acushla is also a horse that I think has a right to move forward. She ran deceptively well in her debut, making a mid-race move into contention after a poor start. She ran a similar race in her return last time, again flattening out late after a poor start. I think she’s capable of better, and Jorge Abreu and Jose Lezcano have been a potent team at the Spa. My top pick is the returning Pop the Bubby. This filly only managed one turf start last year, and I thought she put in a pretty strong effort for the level. That race was dominated by runners who rode the rail, and this filly was 3-wide around both turns after breaking a step slowly. She has a big turf pedigree, so it’s probably a good sign that she continued to move forward on dirt after that. Michelle Nevin’s runners sometimes need a start off layoffs, but this one figures to be a square price.
RACE 9: GOLD SPIRIT (#2)
I believe this Shuvee will be decided by the Chad Brown runners, as I’ve never been the biggest fan of Antoinette, and Crystall Ball has been defeating weaker company. That said, I’m most skeptical of the entrant of his who could be the shortest price. Dunbar Road reportedly came out of the La Troinne with a minor excuse, so perhaps there’s a reason why she didn’t show up with her top effort that day. However, that’s not the only time she’s disappointed recently, as she also lost the Beldame last fall with an inexplicably dull effort. She may bounce back again, as she did in the Breeders’ Cup, but I don’t need her at a short price. I prefer Chad’s two other runners. Royal Flag is very logical as she makes her second start of the year. She ran well in the Doubledogdare, and has since been flattered by how well Bonny South and Graceful Princess have won out of that race. She also should appreciate the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles, at which she’s run some of her best races. Yet I’m most interested in Chad Brown’s new face, Gold Spirit. This Chilean import really came to hand late last year in her native country, improving markedly once she was stretched out in distance beyond a mile. She easily took over from a pacesetter to win that Group 2 in October, and then she made a sweeping move from mid-pack to win the Group 1 Aberto Solari Magnasco. That’s the one of the races that Chad Brown’s Breeders’ Cup runner-up Wow Cat won before embarking on U.S. campaign. Wow Cat also won the St. Leger, a race that Gold Spirit lost last time, but Gold Spirit didn’t get the best ride that day, making a premature move into a quick pace. She’s been training well and may have this kind of ability.