Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, August 5

RACE 4: PANSTER (#1)

Turn of Events is the horse to beat as he moves up in class off a victory at the $35k claiming level. He had apparently recaptured top form off the claim for Mertkan Kantarmaci, but now he’s going out for yet another new barn. George Weaver is 4 for 10 (40%, $2.36 ROI) first off the claim this year, and 4 for 8 with today’s owner. He’s obviously a contender if he maintains his current form, but he’s likely to get a different trip today. He’s drawn inside of the very fast Bar Fourteen, so he’s unlikely to control the tempo on the front end, as he did in victory last time. Bar Fourteen is also a contender in this spot after breaking his maiden against New York-breds in very fast time. That 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure is the highest number in this field, and the effort was flattered when runner-up Neuro came back to win. I have some concerns about him getting a two-turn mile given his tendency to get aggressive early, but he is clearly talented enough to win. My top pick is Panster. This 3-year-old has something to prove on the rise in class. However, he was a visually impressive winner when he broke his maiden two back, and last time just got the wrong trip. That was a decent field of starter allowance horses, and Panster just got completely shuffled out of the race on the backstretch, winding up last. The pace held together on the front end, and he was the only horse to make a significant impact from the back of the pack. I don’t mind the added distance for him and he’s supposed to get an honest pace ahead of him. He feels like one with upside in a race where I think we’ve already seen the best of a few of this rivals.

RACE 8: IRISH VALOR (#4)

The two likely favorites Our Man Mike and Bingo John met at this level and distance two back. Our Man Mike would obviously be pretty tough if able to repeat that 100 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned when breaking his maiden going a mile on Apr. 2. While he was well beaten in third in that common race with Bingo John, they ran into a couple of superior rivals that day. He’s now facing a much weaker field for the level. DePaz already has a couple of winners at the meet, and this horse is reunited with successful pilot Jose Ortiz. I prefer him to Bingo John, who has just been a bit of a disappointment since starting his career in promising fashion. He had no answer when bet down to 5-2 in that May 6 event going this distance and he the turnback did little to wake him up last time. He may do well here because it’s a weak field, but his recent form isn’t encouraging. My top pick is Irish Valor. The first inclination of many might be to dismiss a Finger Lakes shipper at Saratoga, but this guy makes a lot of sense in this unusually weak New York-bred field. He knows how to win races and he appears to have gotten back into reasonably strong form this year after dipping into some very cheap claimers over the winter. Perhaps most notable is the fact that this guy has competed on the NYRA circuit before and been somewhat successful. He only lost by a nose in that lone prior Saratoga attempt, at this level going this distance. And his recent form is strong, as he was beaten by 24-time winner Our Caravan last time. 

RACE 10: ESCAPEWITHFRIENDS (#9)

Bella Principessa could go favored here as she switches back to her preferred surface and picks up Irad Ortiz. She put in a good effort going this distance in her turf debut on May 1 and got a clever trip and ride two back when overcoming a precarious early position to slick through the pack. She had her chance that day and was just turned away late by a superior rival. A repeat of that performance may be good enough, but there are some intriguing new faces in this lineup. I’m a little skeptical of Lookin to Fly, who has done her best work in sprint races. She is a daughter of good route influence Lookin at Lucky, but I generally shy away from experienced runners trying something new for the first time. My top pick is the second time starter Escapewithfriends. This filly is also stretching out, but she has a right to appreciate the added distance after getting a good education in her debut. She was off a step slowly and shuffled back to last immediately after the start. While the winner did come from just off the pace, the early fractions were on the slow side, so Escapewithfriends as a distinct disadvantage being so far back. All things considered, she did very well to close for second after getting spun very wide to launch her rally at the top of the stretch. George Weaver has merely mediocre statistics with this stretch-out move, but this filly is bred to get at least this far.

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