RACE 2: EASY SHOT (#6)
I have no major argument against #4 Chris and Dave, other than the fact that he’s likely to be a short price and is fairly obvious. Rob Atras is a decent 5 for 21 (24%, $2.25 ROI) with horses first off the claim who are moving up in claiming price by 50% or more. It was encouraging to see him wake up last time as his form had been on the decline since late last year. He battled gamely when challenged by winner Crypto Cash in the stretch, and that one came back to win, as did the third and fourth-place finishers. The one major issue for this horse is that there is other speed signed on, and he could sustain early challenges from runners like Auburn Hills and Liam’s Fire. I’m trying to beat the favorite with #6 Easy Shot. He would be aided by a swift pace up front, as he tends to run his best races when he’s held up early. He got the right setup to win for a higher claiming tag in the slop two back. He lost at this level last time, but that was a pretty tough field for the level, as winner Its All Relevant has improved in his last few starts. Easy Shot also got the wrong trip, as she was used too aggressively to get early position after a slow start, and then launched another middle move to challenge the leader on the turn before fading. Notably, he’s been claimed out of that race by Jeffrey Englehart, who is 10 for 23 (43%, $4.69 ROI) first off the claim over the past 4 months.
RACE 3: LADY THORNHILL (#3)
I expect the 3-year-olds in this lineup to attract plenty of support, and that group is led by #8 She’s a Mia. This filly showed turf ability for trainer Cleveland Johnson last year, outrunning massive odds to win her debut and finish second in the Tepin Stakes. As well as she did for that barn, one has to consider a trainer switch to Christophe Clement to be an upgrade. Yet she’s likely to get bet in accordance with that popular view, and it’s no guarantee that she’ll be ready to fire her best shot off the bench. #6 Solib has a recency edge on that rival, and I take it as a good sign that she ran so well in her dirt sprint prep last time. That wasn’t the strongest field for the level, but her performance was consistent with the narrative that she’s just improved a great deal since her career debut last summer. She figures to be suited by the surface switch, but she wants to be forward and there is plenty of other speed in this field. I considered both Linda Rice trained runners, but #9 Kannon Fire didn’t beat much on debut, and Rice has poor numbers off the kind of layoff from which #7 Tales of Makenna is returning. I’m going in a different direction with #3 Lady Thornhill. She’s also returning from a layoff, but should at least be a generous price. She also ran arguably the best race of her career off a similar layoff last summer at Saratoga. Since then she’s been tough to ride at times, but it seemed like Donk got her figured out towards the end of 2021. She finally learned to rate and produced strong finishes in those two Aqueduct starts last fall. She needs to improve slightly from a speed figure standpoint, but it’s not like anyone in this field is a standout in that department.
RACE 9: SARATOGA SKY (#12)
If this race manages to stay on the turf, I want to go for some bigger prices. I wouldn’t say that I’m against likely favorite #1 Nikostratos, but his form is totally exposed and he figures to attract plenty of support coming off the layoff for a hot barn. There is no shortage of new faces who will be better prices. The most logical of those is #2 Joint Resolution, who was intended for turf first time out and will now get a chance on that surface for Christophe Clement. He’s by good turf influence Declaration of War and the dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 Manhattan winner Spring Quality, so the pedigree for grass is there. He also showed some ability in the debut and would be dangerous with expected improvement. Yet there are two others with turf experience who I think are interesting at bigger prices. One of those is #5 Whistler’s Honor. This colt debuted going 6 furlongs last fall, but ran like one that wants to travel much farther than that. He broke slowly and lagged at the back of the pack early before unleashing a strong rally through the lane. He only passed about half the field by the time they hit the wire, but he was moving quickest of all and quickly ran by the leaders on the gallop out. This son of Tonalist now gets to stretch out for Jorge Abreu, who doesn’t have the best stats off layoffs. Still, I think he’s interesting at a square price. My top pick at even longer odds is #12 Saratoga Sky. This horse wanted no part of dirt in his debut so I don’t care about that race. He took a big step forward on turf next time, but got a nightmare trip. He was squeezed between horses coming out of the chute, and proceeded to get extremely rank, fighting his rider for the first few furlongs of the race. He had every right to quit after that early trouble, but stayed on decently until the last sixteenth. Now James Ferraro takes the blinkers off, which should help him settle better. He’s a half-brother to stakes-placed Sanctuary City, so there’s obviously turf potential here. And he’s going to get ignored with Jackie Davis named to ride.