Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, August 19


Smooth Pebble figures to go favored here as she drops in class after failing at the starter allowance level last time. She’s arguably the horse to beat with her best race and her early speed should make her particularly dangerous given the lack of pace signed on. Yet I think there are other more interesting contenders at better prices. Wicked Amber is a difficult horse to assess in this spot as she drops in for a tag for the first time since last fall. She’s been placed over her head in most of her prior turf starts, but she has run well the few times that Randi Persaud has dropped her in for a tag, including a romp over claiming foes at Belmont last September at 24-1 odds. The major concern for me is the distance, since she doesn’t have much early speed and may prefer more ground. My top pick is Corey Scores. This filly made my Horses to Watch list two back when she got stuck behind a slow pace on June 11. She actually was finishing best of all at the end but couldn’t get close to the two leaders, who finished first and second. I can throw out her last race since 1 1/16 miles has always been too far for her. Now she’s cutting back to a more appropriate distance and I’m hopeful that she can work out a trip from just off the pace.


Shamrocket may just be better than this field, and he will surely win if he repeats either of his last two speed figures, both 119 TimeformUS numbers earned for stakes placings against better company. That recent third-place finish in the Grade 2 Bowling Green would make him particularly formidable against this group. That said, he was never a serious threat to the top two finishers that day, just merely picking up pieces through the lane in a race that featured a very honest pace. In fact he has earned all of his best speed figures when stepped up against stakes foes, having earned much lower numbers in allowance and optional claiming races like today’s event. Perhaps he’s just a horse who runs to the level of his competition. I’m reluctant to take such runners at short prices since they usually have very slight margins for error when dropped in class. The problem with this race is finding the right alternative. I’m not the biggest fan of horses like Olympico, Opry, or Dynadrive, all of whom could take money. I’m instead taking a shot with Fortuity off the claim by Joe Sharp. This barn is getting this 4-year-old colt from Mike Maker, so improving him may be a tall order. Yet Joe Sharp is one of the most underrated trainers at Saratoga, compiling a positive ROI at this meet over the past 5 years. He’s already racked up an impressive tally at this meet, and I think he has something to work with in Fortuity. Both of this colt’s prior trainers tried to stretch him out to marathon distances but it just didn’t work out. Now he’s in better form and this time he figures to play out as the main speed. With Luis Saez aboard, I expect him to go to the front and secure that precious footing down near the hedge. As long as he can control the pace, he may take them a long way up front at a generous price.


I’m not a fan of morning line favorite Marvelous Maude, who didn’t have much speed in her debut and just plodded along for a minor award, passing tiring foes late. I suppose she has a right to move forward in her second start for Chad Brown, but horses like this are routinely overbet at Saratoga. The most interesting horse in the race is probably Hit the Nail, who moves up in class following a true “nightmare journey,” as described by the chart caller, in her career debut. She broke on top in that race and appeared as if she’d secure the lead before her rider took her under a strong hold, restraining her until others passed him. Yet in doing so he let rivals put him and the filly in tight quarters, setting off a series of mishaps. She eventually got shuffled all the way to the back of the pack before he could ride her again, at which point she passed some tired rivals. She’s clearly better than that, but it remains to be seen where she fits at this level. My top pick is Pop the Bubby. This filly only managed one turf start last year, and I thought she put in a pretty strong effort considering her age. 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 gave her a run over the dirt last time when she was intended to return in late July, and that 9-furlong effort should have at least gotten her fit. Now she gets back to the right surface and picks up leading rider Luis Saez.

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