RACE 7: MOPOLKA (#4)
A few contenders in this New York-bred allowance race are exiting a similar race at this level from July 24. My Lips Are Sealed was a prohibitive favorite that day after finishing a strong third in her prior race at this level behind the talented pair of Runaway Rumour and Spungie. However, race dynamics didn’t work in this filly’s favor. The early pace was extremely fast and she was pressed every step of the way. She faded badly through the lane and is probably capable of better than that. She may bounce back here, but I actually prefer another runner out of that race who was also involved in the pace. Mopolka may look like she’s been off form since the claim by Linda Rice, but the results don’t tell the whole story. She got the wrong trip two back when forced to chase wide at this level in a race that was dominated by horses on the rail. Then last time, in the common race with My Lips Are Sealed, she was sent forward to contest the lead before chasing just in behind that blazing pace. My Lips Are Sealed faded to lose by 9 lengths, and the other horse involved in the pace lost by 30 lengths. Mopolka, on the other hand, did well to battle on through the stretch and hang on for fourth. She was entered in a tougher starter allowance race last week, but Linda Rice wisely scratched and entered here instead. She’s a threat if she encounters a more moderate pace this time. The other horse that I want to use is Masterof the Tunes. She’s yet to run a competitive speed figure, but she encountered trouble in her turf debut last year, and ran better than it seems off the layoff last time to break her maiden.
RACE 8: DURESS (#2)
Shekky Shebaz is the one to beat as he tries to get back to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2019. While he’s not the stakes-caliber sprinter that he once was, he’s gotten back into pretty good form recently for Christophe Clement. He put in a solid effort when simply second-best to Battle Station two back. And last time he set an honest pace going this trip during the first week of the Saratoga meet before succumbing to Gear Jockey late. This gelding was flattered when Gear Jockey returned to finish a strong third in the Grade 3 Troy last week, and he’s a deserving favorite. However, this is a strong field with several major contenders. Noble Emotion steps up in class following an impressive victory earlier in the meet, but he’s getting a real class test here. Joker On Jack hasn’t yet won on the turf, but he faced some talented rivals when third in that allowance at Keeneland back in April. I ultimately went to a different horse exiting that July 17 race in which Shekky Shebaz was second. Duress took some money that day and lost all chance soon after the start. He broke last in the field and tried to rush up into position. However, he got sawed off in traffic less than a furlong into the race and could never get involved thereafter. His prior form had been strong, as he was competitive at this level in his seasonal debut at Belmont two back. Some might argue that he’s a little better going 6 furlongs at Belmont than 5 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga, but he’s going to be a square price here and gets Joel Rosario aboard this time.
RACE 9: BON RAISON (#3)
There is a concentration of early speed drawn towards the outside in this Tale of the Cat Stakes. It’s probably wishful thinking to predict that all of these speedsters will hook up in the early going, but Wind of Change, Wondrwherecraigis, and Foolish Ghost all seem to do their best running when they get to the lead. Among that group, I’m most afraid of Wondrwherecraigis. The Brittany Russell barn wins at a high rate and this gelding appears to be in career form right now. He got away with a moderate pace last time but ran a legitimately fast final time. Wind of Change has improved for Saffie Joseph, but the barn has been cold at this meet. And Foolish Ghost is getting a class test here after beating slightly weaker company in the Morrissey last time out. I am going to hope for an honest pace here, but I’m most interested in one of the closers. Bon Raison has long been a favorite horse of mine, but I was encouraged when he was claimed back by his breeder, Calumet Farm, last year and transferred over to Jack Sisterson. After taking a shot in a tough turf stakes, he delivered an upset victory back on dirt at Keeneland going this distance. A repeat of that performance would obviously make him tough to beat here, but he’s been uncompetitive in three starts since then. However, two of those came against Grade 1 company, including an ambitious shot at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I won’t hold his return from the layoff against him, as he had a right to need that race. He’s reportedly been working well since then, and I think he’s going to take a step forward here in his second start off the layoff.