Saratoga Horses in Focus for Friday, August 20

RACE 3: THREE OUTLAWS (#2)

Scuttlebuzz is obviously the horse to beat as he turns back to a more appropriate distance after trying his hand at a mile last time. He actually didn’t run badly in that race but couldn’t produce the same potent late kick that we see from him in his turf sprints. He had really come to hand at Belmont this spring since the claim by Rudy Rodriguez. A repeat of his effort two back, in which he defeated today’s rival Scocciatore, would make him pretty tough for this group to handle. Scocciatore will also appreciate the cutback in distance after not handling the two turns as well as Scuttlebuzz in that common July 29 race. He has the tactical speed to get the jump on his main rival in a race that features a pretty murky pace scenario. I would use both of them, but my top pick is Three Outlaws. This gelding needs to rebound off a poor effort at this level last time, but I thought he had legitimate excuses that day. The turf came up yielding, which might not be his preference, and he got hung out 5-wide all the way around the far turn. That kind of trip is just never going to work going this 5 1/2 furlong distance and he understandably tired late. His prior form had been strong, and he even defeated Scuttlebuzz when they met back in May at Belmont. Furthermore, he’s performed well over this course and distance in the past and the Rob Atras barn has been sending out live runners in recent weeks.

RACE 5: WHISKEY GENT (#1)

Achilles Heel arguably ran the best race in that July 28 maiden event that a few of these have in common. He was behind a dawdling early pace and closed fastest of all at the end to just miss. He clearly took a big step forward on the turf. However, he’s switched barns since then and now goes out for Brad Cox, who is 7 for 35 (20%, $1.50 ROI) first off a trainer switch with maidens on turf over 5 years. He likely has to work out a trip from off the pace again but he’s shown the most of any of those with experience, and is the horse to beat. I prefer him to the others with turf experience. However there are a few intriguing runners trying this surface for the first time. One of those is Sundaeswithsandy. This colt gave futile chase on the far turn in his debut before fading through the stretch while hanging on his left lead. Now he switches surfaces as a son of freshman sire Keen Ice, who has yet to have a turf winner. Yet the unraced dam has produced 2 turf winners from 3 foals to try it, and all were best on grass, the best being Crack Shot. The main drawback is that Rudy Rodriguez is 1 for 25 (4%, $0.30 ROI) with maiden second time starters going from dirt to turf over 5 years. My top pick at a bigger price is Whiskey Gent. He didn’t take any money in his debut in an auction maiden race, and showed decent early speed breaking before tiring badly in the late stages. Jack Sisterson is 0 for 6 with maidens going from dirt to turf in their second starts, but 3 of the runners in that sample finished second. Mr Speaker is a 14% turf route sire. Though there isn’t much dam’s side pedigree, he looked to be striding much more comfortably over the turf in that Aug. 8 drill.

RACE 8: WICKED INDEED (#1)

Two of the main players in this starter allowance affair exit the July 17 race at this level won by Baby Yoda. Jake Rocks got closest to that impressive winner at the end, but I think he has some things working against him this time at a much shorter price. He got a perfect trip last time, stalking a slow pace before taking a run at the leader. Yet that was six furlongs, and he hasn’t been quite as effective over this longer 7-furlong trip. Furthermore, he’s sometimes struggled over wet tracks in the past and there is some rain in the forecast. I prefer Repo Rocks out of that July 17 race. He was off slowly, which badly compromised his chances considering the moderate early tempo. Prior to that he had run a series of excellent speed figures against maiden company. Now he returns as a new gelding and shouldn’t mind the slight stretch-out to 7 furlongs. If he can rebound to his best form he’s arguably the one to beat. I’m taking a shot against them with Wicked Indeed. There isn’t much pace signed on in here and I think this gelding could get an aggressive ride from the rail. He has to prove that he fits here from a class standpoint, but he’s run some nice races against claimers at Belmont and handles the distance. Furthermore, Rudy Rodriguez has great stats in this situation. He’s 23 for 71 (32%, $2.16 ROI) first off the claim with last-out winners in dirt sprints over 5 years. He’s also 7 for 32 (22%, $2.68 ROI) first off the claim on dirt at Saratoga over 5 years, and 10 horses in that sample finished second.

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