Saratoga Horses in Focus for Sunday, July 31


This optional claimer is incredibly wide open, as you can make some kind of case for just about every runner in the field. #5 Soldier Rising could go favored for Christophe Clement off his runner-up finish to Channel Maker in the Grand Couturier last time. His form makes him pretty logical in this spot, but he’s not the most reliable win candidate. This gelding definitely has some hang in him, often coming out of the losing side of close decisions. Chad Brown has entered a pair in here, both of whom are contenders. I prefer #10 Flop Shot, who has the tactical speed to work out a favorable trip in this spot. He’s another who had some trouble breaking through with a victory when he first arrived in Chad Brown’s barn, but he’s gradually improved and was best against allowance company back in April. I’m going in a different direction with #4 Ocala Dream. This NY-bred put in a huge effort second off the layoff to win the Kingston quite convincingly two back at Belmont. He beat some high quality rivals that day, powering away from the field at a big price. He subsequently tried this allowance level against open company last time and the result was the polar opposite, as he never traveled well, checking in last. However, the pace of that one-mile affair may have been too quick for him, as he had to be asked to keep up from a long way out. He’s never gone 1 3/16 miles, but I think he could appreciate this stretch-out, as he figures to get a more comfortable trip stalking a moderate early tempo.


This Bowling Green bring together a group of turf marathoners who all seem to struggle with consistency. Leading that charge is #2 Arklow, who has been a mainstay in these turf stakes for several years. However, he’s coming off a somewhat lackluster season last year and it feels like he may be losing a step or two with age. He’s run well off layoffs in the past, but he also tends to take money and that figures to be the case again with Irad Ortiz aboard. I wouldn’t want him at any kind of short price. #3 Highland Chief is arguably the one to beat after winning the Grade 1 Man O’ War at Belmont, defeating Gufo and Yibir. Some may assert that he regressed last time in the Manhattan, but I actually thought he ran pretty well to be fourth there against the best group of American turf horses assembled anywhere this year. The slight stretch-out will only help, and he figures to work out a favorable stalking trip. Chad Brown has entered a pair of runners, and I think they’re both contenders. Most will view #6 Rockemperor as the stronger of his two participants, and he’s certainly good enough to win a race like this when he’s on his game. However, he’s just not that reliable to show up from race to race. I’m actually more interested in #1 L’Imperator at a better price. He was aided by a boggy, speed-favoring turf course when he won the Fort Marcy two back. Yet I don’t want to just overlook his effort in the Manhattan where he ran deceptively well despite encountering traffic in the lane. I believe he wants the added ground, and he figures to go back to front-running tactics in this paceless affair.


The headliner in this Grade 2 Amsterdam is last year’s two-year-old champion #7 Corniche, who is seeking to keep his undefeated record intact as he makes his sophomore debut. However, this colt has many questions to answer off the layoff. He’s been transferred away from Bob Baffert into Todd Pletcher’s barn, and has gotten an awfully late start to his season with little explanation. He clearly had talent last year, but he took advantage of an unusually weak Breeders’ Cup Juvenile field. This is an appropriate distance at which to return, but I just don’t like the way he’s training into this race. He was decidedly second best in a workout with Next on July 16 and continued to look a little dull in that most recent July 24 work. I much prefer the other ex-Baffert trainee in this field. #1 Pinehurst has recently joined the John Terranova stable, but he’s done almost all of his training for this in California under Sean McCarthy, and recently Bob Baffert, who had him for all of his prior races. He showed ability sprinting as a 2-year-old, winning the G1 Del Mar Futurity last summer. I don’t care so much about his races overseas, but he’s trained forwardly at Santa Anita, and looked best in company with older allowance type Three Jokers in that recent Saratoga drill. The other horse that I want to use prominently is recent debut winner #5 Accretive. This is a big step up in class, but he ran a speed figure that makes him competitive here and appears to be training very well out of that victory. #8 My Prankster is also a little interesting as a late threat if this pace comes apart, which seems like a possibility. 

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