Saratoga Horses in Focus for Friday, August 27

RACE 4: DAUFUSKIE ISLAND (#8)

California shipper Montebello could go favored here. He made his debut against open company at Del Mar, and turned in a gritty performance to hang on by a head after setting the pace. He was obviously working well coming into that unveiling, as he was bet down to even-money and defeated a fellow Baffert stablemate. Baffert is 9 for 23 with 2-year-old last-out debut winners in dirt sprints over 5 years, but the ROI is just $1.34 ROI. He’s not exactly landing in an easy spot, and is no cinch at a short price. The only prior stakes winner in the field is Run Curtis Run. However, he was only beating three rivals in that Rick Violette victory, and his 91 TimeformUS Speed Figure isn’t going to scare anyone off. Mike Maker has been enjoying a strong meet, but it is fair to wonder if this colt has a ceiling on the dirt considering that he was entered for turf in his career debut. My top pick is Daufuskie Island. This son of Goldencents showed good early speed in his debut, and fended off a challenge from today’s rival Who Hoo Thats Me in upper stretch before drawing off late. His 88 TimeformUS Speed Figure stacks up well against the rest, and I like that his connections are being aggressive as they wheel him back in just 15 days. He has the pedigree to be a runner, since his dam Livermore Valley was a multiple stakes-winning dirt sprinter. Furthermore, Jeremiah Englehart is 7 for 18 (39%, $4.59 ROI) with 2-year-old debut winners making their second starts in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. I like the outside post for this speedster.

RACE 5: ESCAPEWITHFRIENDS (#6)

Caumsett and No Payne both figure to take money after finishing third and fourth, respectively, in a maiden race at this level on August. 8. Caumsett ran the more competitive race that day, as she issued a challenge in midstretch before getting turned away late, whereas No Payne was just picking up pieces through the lane. They both have prior efforts that make the major players in this spot and are the two horses to beat. However, there are a couple of more interesting lightly raced options. One of those is Baudi Moovan, who didn’t take much money in her debut here on July 16 and ran like a horse who needed the race. She broke a step slowly but was actually in touch with the chasers early before dropping back abruptly heading into the far turn. Jose Ortiz didn’t get overly aggressive with her after that, as she just passed some tired rivals late. She figures to be sharper for her second start and the rider switch to Luis Saez doesn’t hurt. My top pick is Escapewithfriends, who moves up in class out of the maiden claiming ranks. She ran an excellent race in her debut, as she was off slowly and bumped out of position at the start. From there she settled at the back of the pack before she swung extremely wide and making a wild late run from last at the head of the lane to get up for second. Her prior connections decided to stretch her out off that performance, but she wanted no part of two turns last time, as she was too keen early and raced wide without cover the entire way. Now she cuts back first off the claim for underrated trainer Mike Dini and gets a rider upgrade to Jose Lezcano.

RACE 7: A BIT O’IRISH SASS (#5)

Make Mischief is clearly the horse to beat in this Fleet Indian as she drops into the New York-bred ranks for the first time since winning the Maddie May Stakes back in February. Since then she’s placed in a couple of graded stakes, including a third in the Grade 1 Acorn behind Search Results. She’s the obvious class of the field, but now she has to stretch out around two turns, something she’s only tried once in her life, with poor results. She also has drawn the disadvantageous outside post position going this 1 1/8 miles distance. She may overcome all of that due to her quality, but I’m not eager to take a short price on her. Betsy Blue could be the second choice in the wagering if she indeed does run back on just 6 days’ rest after competing last Sunday. Her form has been solid at this meet, but I’m highly skeptical of her going this distance. She struggled to get a mile against inferior rivals back in April and I think she’s proven herself to be more of a sprinter since then. Coffee Bar makes a little more sense given her prior experience at the distance. I was somewhat disappointed in her loss as the 2-5 favorite last time, but perhaps she needed one more race for fitness. My top pick is the New York Oaks winner A Bit o’Irish Sass. I’m have no illusions that the Finger Lakes stakes she exits was a strong event. However, she has steadily been improving since they stretched her out in distance and was a fairly easy winner last time. There isn’t a ton of speed in this race and I would imagine that Luis Saez will send her to the front end, which has been a significant advantage in dirt routes at this meet.

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