Saratoga Horses in Focus for Wednesday, July 28

RACE 2: MADISON’S LUNA (#3)

Yodel E. A. Who is the horse to beat as he drops down in class into this open claimer. He’s faced significantly better company in his recent starts at the optional claiming and graded stakes level. However, he didn’t perform particularly well in either of those races, so he does need to turn his form around against this softer field. Brittany Russell is adding blinkers today, likely in hopes of getting him closer to the early pace. He’s a horse who used to possess more tactical speed, and his propensity to get outrun early in his races has coincided with his drop off in form. I’m using him, but there are some intriguing alternative options in this small field. I’m most interested in the pair from Kentucky, Rocking the Boat and Madison’s Luna. Rocking the Boat figures to take more money here as he makes his second start off the claim for Robertino Diodoro. I thought he got a great trip last time stalking the pace and really had no excuse, other than the fact he was second best. That was not the case for Madison’s Luna, who was towards the back of the pack early behind a pace that was fairly moderate for six furlongs at Churchill. He raced willingly around the far turn but couldn’t find a clear path to advance towards the leaders until well into the stretch. He was finishing best of all once he finally got into the clear and ran a better race than Rocking the Boat. Now he’s making his second start off the layoff for hot trainer Phil Bauer, and I’m hopeful that he’s finally getting back to the top races he was once capable of producing at the start of his career. 

RACE 3: STEP DANCER (#6)

This New York Stallion Series Cab Calloway division boils down to a rematch of the Spectacular Bid division in this series run last month at Belmont. That event was held at 7 furlongs and it worked to the strengths of Ocala Dream, who has displayed vastly improved tactical speed in his recent outings. He always traveled well in that sprint contest, and got the jump on his main rivals through the lane. The horse who seemed to struggle most with the shorter trip last time was Step Dancer, who was outrun in the early stages. Dylan Davis did everything he could to get him into a proper position coming to the quarter pole, but the colt just didn’t possess the necessary turn of foot. He finally hit his best stride in the last furlong and was closing stoutly, but was too late to get to the winner. This time there is once again some pace signed on with the likes of Dreamer’s Disease and Devious Mo in the field, so I’m not too concerned about Step Dancer’s late-running style. The two-turn mile distance figures to suit him better, and I think he can turn the tables on his main rival. I also wouldn’t totally discount the chances of Spectacular Bid division third-place finisher Barrage. This maiden made a decent move to challenge the winner mid-stretch before flattening out. He has a right to move forward as he makes his first start for Danny Gargan. However, he was 52-1 last time and he’s going to be about a tenth of that price here.

RACE 7: PASSING OUT (#5)

Grade 1-placed Tamahere should go favored in this optional claiming affair. Chad Brown and the connections obviously had high hopes for this filly after her visually impressive score in the Grade 2 Sands Point last year, her first start in this country. In retrospect, that Sands Point field was on the weaker side, and she hasn’t been able to sufficiently step up her game to win Grade 1 events. She was no match for a loose-on-the-lead Juliet Foxtrot at Keeneland two back, and then last time she fell apart in the Just a Game after a 4-wide trip without cover. She’s clearly better than the last run, and now she’s getting appropriate class relief. She’s the horse to beat, but I prefer her main rival Passing Out. I’m not going to hold this mare’s dull effort at Kentucky Downs against her as she was always out of position that day while racing wide. She ran pretty well in the De La Rose here last year despite racing in traffic for much of the stretch drive. She was flattered when Viadera went on to win the Grade 1 Matriarch out of that race. Prior to that, she put in a solid late run in the Beaugay behind champion Rushing Fall. Passing Out clearly has the ability to win here. The layoff is a minor hurdle, but Shug McGaughey is a decent 8 for 48 (17%, $1.88 ROI) off 180+ day layoffs in turf routes over 5 years. I think she’s landed in a great spot and can work out the right trip. I prefer both of these to the likely front-runner Sweet Melania. This filly could have a pace advantage, as the TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates, but I’m just concerned that her recent form isn’t strong enough to compete with the aforementioned two.

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