Saratoga Horses in Focus for Thursday, July 21

RACE 2: PALACE COUP (#6)

I have no argument against #5 Perceived being the horse to beat in this starter handicap. He was a decisive winner at this level last time, closing well from off the pace to win going a mile at Belmont. However, he was 19-1 that day and could go off favored this time. Horses like this are often poor bets, especially with older horses whose form can be somewhat unreliable. Perceived will beat this field if repeating his last effort, but he’s never raced around two turns on dirt before, and he’s being asked to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles here. The horse he ran down last time, #4 No Burn, is back in this spot, but I have similar concerns about him getting the distance. He stopped going 9 furlongs at Aqueduct over the winter, though he was meeting a better field that day. I’m going in a different direction with #6 Palace Coup. It seemed like horses did best staying out of the kickback on the dirt last week, so I like that he’s a runner with tactical speed drawn outside. He’s run plenty of prior dirt routes that give him a big shot against this field, and even his recent form makes him a good fit. He put in a strong effort when elevated to victory two back, as unofficial winner Eastside Cool has been in great form and would be a short price in this spot. He regressed slightly off the layoff last time, but now he’s been claimed by Joe Sharp. Sharp is 17 for 53 (32%, $2.41 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes over the past 5 years. 

RACE 3: HATCH (#2)

I don’t want any part of morning line favorite #6 St. Joe Louis. This horse has been the public choice in all 9 of his career starts, and could extend that streak to 10, despite the fact that he’s lost 7 starts in a row. The combination of Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz is often irresistible to Saratoga bettors, and he’s likely to take money on that basis alone. I really didn’t care for his last performance when he hung badly and barely got up for second against a weak field at Monmouth. I much prefer his main rival #5 Icarus. This 3-year-old broke his maiden over synth at Turfway, but he’s since run well in a pair of turf starts against tougher company. He closed well for third at Keeneland two back, and even put in a good effort last time when setting the pace over a course that was not favorable to that running style. This is the drop in class that he probably needs and I think he’s a more likely winner than St. Joe Louis. Yet I’m going in a different direction for my top pick. #2 Hatch may get somewhat overlooked here despite the fact that he’s making his first start off the claim for Mike Maker. This gelding was clearly a work in progress early in his career, running greenly even when he broke his maiden at Turfway over the winter. Yet he’s been putting things together in recent starts. His last race at Churchill on dirt is a lot better than it looks, as he was making a winning move at the head of the lane, at which point he got completely sawed off in traffic. His dam was a Grade 2 winner on turf, so I love the surface switch for him.

RACE 7: MAXWELL ESQUIRE (#3)

#6 Big Package and #2 Principled Stand finished second and third at this level in a 6-furlong event at Belmont last month. I thought the former ran the better race that day, as he was motoring through the last quarter mile to just miss. Big Package is always dangerous when he gets some pace to close into and has handled this shorter trip in the past. I’m a little more skeptical of Principled Stand, who was trying a turf sprint for the first time in his last start. He showed good early speed, but was fading late, never really looking like a winner. I think this could be a tall order for him given the presence of #5 Artemus Citylimits, who also does his best work on the front end. I’m going in a different direction with #3 Maxwell Esquire. I know his recent form leaves something to be desired, but perhaps he just didn’t thrive in the Linda Rice barn. He’d hard be the first runner to not run well off the claim for her this year. This horse had been consistently running well for Christophe Clement last year and put in a very good effort first off the layoff back in May. He’s run some of his best races over this course, and got very unlucky when finishing off the board in the Lucky Coin up here last summer. Mike Maker isn’t known for doing well with turf sprint claims, but he’s a decent 8 for 33 (24%, $1.75 ROI) first off the claim in turf sprints over the past 2 years. I’d also use #4 It’s a Gamble. This colt hasn’t sprinted in a long time, but he was 2 for 2 over sprint distances as a 2-year-old, albeit against weaker competition. He’s interesting on the turnback if some pace develops up front.

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