Saratoga Horses in Focus for Wednesday, September 1


Clara Peeters is obviously the horse to beat based on her races from last year. She earned her lone U.S. victory going 7 furlongs around one turn, but she ran admirably in both starts going a mile at Saratoga last summer. She stretches out a bit this time but she certainly has the class to overcome that minor obstacle. The big issue is the layoff. Brad Cox is 11 for 58 (19%, $1.57 ROI) off layoffs of 240 days or more in turf routes over the past 5 years, though he’s 0 for 6 at NYRA within that sample. She’s trained forwardly for her return and is a deserving favorite. I just wouldn’t want to take a very a short price on her. Main rival Sun Summers put in a solid effort to finish third at this level last time out. She got a good trip through the early stages, only losing a bit of ground when having to swing wide at the quarter pole. The second and fourth place finishers from that race returned to finish sixth and fifth (of 6), respectively, in last weekend’s G2 Ballston Spa. I prefer In a Hurry as the best alternative at a better price. Like many runners from this barn, this filly has been steadily improving throughout her career. She appears to be in career form now as a 4-year-old, coming off her best effort yet. Racing in blinkers for the first time, she was more aggressive in the early stages before getting outkicked in upper stretch. It briefly looked like she might finish off the board before she surged for second. She has worked well since then and now lands in a spot where that newfound early speed could come in handy.


Recent maiden winner Vindictive and last-out starter allowance winner Runnin’ Ray figures to vie for favoritism here. The former Pletcher-trained runner seems like the most likely winner off his game win going this distance last time. That July 28 maiden event was easily one of the strongest of the meet, as this well-bred colt earned a strong 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure in victory. He had been mildly supported in his debut when finishing behind Travers third-place finisher Miles D, and he significantly improved on that form last time. He has more upside than Runnin’ Ray, who was game to win going this distance on July 30. He backed up that blowout victory against cheaper foes at Churchill two back, and will be a factor once again with a similar speed figure. The runner-up from that last race, Winter Pool, did return to win his next start. And this runner’s early speed should make him dangerous in a race that doesn’t feature a clear front-runner. I respect them, but my top pick at a better price is Business Model. This Godolphin homebred returned from a lengthy layoff two back with a powerful maiden victory, rallying boldly from off the pace to get the job done. He disappointed when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles at this level last time, but I thought he had legitimate excuses. It wasn’t easy to close over that opening day track when the dirt was deep and demanding. Furthermore, the all of the fractions for that race are color-coded blue in TimeformUS PPs, indicating a very slow pace. He figures to work out a better trip in his smaller field this time, and I still think he has upside for Brendan Walsh.


Acushla is one of the logical contenders as she makes her second start as a 3-year-old after getting rained off the turf a few times prior to this. She ran pretty well in her debut, overcoming a sluggish start. However, she showed many of the same tendencies in her return at Belmont last time, again getting away slowly before making a middle move. She still has some room for improvement, but she just looks a little unfocused and one-paced. There are a few intriguing new faces like first time turfers La Victoria and Tapple Cider, but neither one has enough turf pedigree for him. I want to go in a different direction with Lady Thornhill, who drew the far outside post position. This filly showed nothing in her debut, but took a big step forward when David Donk put her on turf and stretched her out in her second start. Breaking from the rail, she got way too aggressive running into the first turn, opening up a sizable advantage while drifting out around the bend. Pablo Morales had a tough time settling her down, as she continued to race keenly into the backstretch. While the pace wasn’t exceptionally fast, she was setting those fractions the wrong way, fighting her rider. Most horses who run the first half of the race in such a manner will have nothing left for the stretch drive, but she actually battled on admirably when the closers came to her in the lane. I thought it was a strong effort, and I like that she’s being moved up in class into a protected spot for her return from the layoff. She has to cross over from this wide draw, but I think her speed could be dangerous as long as she settles a bit better this time.

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