Saratoga Horses in Focus for Sunday, August 22

RACE 3: EAGLE PASS (#1)

Clench may go favored here as he drops significantly in class after running against much tougher fields in his two prior starts for Rudy Rodriguez. He was never going to be competitive against a stakes-quality rival like Town Classic two back, but he was somewhat disappointing against a slightly softer field last time. That said, he’s dropping back down to a level at which he should be formidable. It’s not a great sign that Rudy Rodriguez claimed him for $40k and is willing to part with him for half that price, but we do tend to see some aggressive dropdowns at this meet, and they aren’t necessarily negative. He’s the one to beat, but there are other contenders to consider. Strolling comes off a victory, but I think he’s stepping into a slightly tougher spot despite racing for a lower claiming tag. Storm Advisory has back races that would make him a serious player, but I’m skeptical that he can recapture the form he displayed for Rob Atras. My top pick is Eagle Pass. This gelding had been a fairly reliable horse at other circuits before coming to New York this spring. He reeled off two victories for Ray Handal, including a visually impressive score on May 13, before racing at this level for Wayne Potts last time. He finished fifth as the favorite in that most recent start, but he was badly compromised at the start. He broke with the field but was bumped and squeezed back soon after the break, putting him a couple of lengths behind the field. From there, he made a premature move into contention on the far turn before flattening out. I think he’s better than that and now he makes his first start off the claim for John Toscano. This barn has been quiet lately, but Toscano is 7 for 26 (27%, $2.32 ROI) first off the claim on dirt over the past two years.

RACE 5: BABA (#2)

I suppose Miss Peppina is the horse to beat as she returns from the layoff for new trainer Gary Sciacca. However, this filly definitely has some questions to answer after failing to win for a capable conditioner like Todd Pletcher earlier this year. She faced better company at Gulfstream Park over the winter, but she was supposed to get the job done as the heavy favorite last time at Aqueduct. She was inside that day on a day when the rail appeared to be an advantage, her performance might actually need to be downgraded. I don’t mind her turning back in distance but she does have to show up with a decent effort to beat this field. Cazilda Fortytales may also attract support after finishing second at this level last time. However, she was the lone speed in that spot and just couldn’t quite get the 7 furlongs while run down by the camera shy favorite Quasar. She was in a speed duel two back at Belmont and faded badly, and I prefer a different filly exiting that June 26 race. Baba pressed the pace from the outside in that last Belmont start before going on with it, and she finished well ahead of the other fillies with whom she was dueling on the front end. I think this filly has subtly improved over her last few starts. She was setting a fast pace two back in a race dominated by a closer, and prior to that ran into the vastly superior duo of Make Mischief and Ice Princess. Michelle Nevin hasn’t had any success at this meet, but she’s still a sharp trainer, and I think this filly could get an aggressive ride from Ricardo Santana.

RACE 7: MUD PIE (#3)

Box N Score figures to attract support after finishing just a neck behind the classy Shamrocket in a 10-furlong race at this level at Belmont. This Jonathan Thomas trainee put in a solid effort, and Shamrocket returned from that race to place in a couple of stakes, including the Grade 2 Bowling Green. However, this runner’s lack of early speed always puts him at a disadvantage, and there isn’t a clear pace scenario in this race. We could see some early speed form Rhythm Section and Mister Winston. I’m afraid of the former runner, who goes out for the dangerous Mike Maker barn. His prior efforts don’t suggest he’s quite good enough to win at this level, but that hasn’t stopped other runners going out for this barn from stepping forward at the meet. My top pick is Mud Pie. This Kentucky shipper was a little too keen in his return from the layoff last time, as he was tough for Julien Leparoux to handle for much of the race. He was wide without cover while tugging at the bit all the way, and couldn’t make a late impact in a race dominated by the early leader. He was very impressive going a marathon distance when he broke his maiden at Kentucky Downs last fall, so I like him stretching out and the rider switch to Luis Saez doesn’t hurt. I also wouldn’t totally discount Actuary. He had to be ridden very hard last time and made little headway, but he should have gotten something out of that race and will appreciate the stretch-out in distance.

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