RACE 6: WATERVILLE (#6)
If this competitive NY-bred allowance stays on the grass, Whatlovelookslike (#1) could go off as the slight favorite as part of an entry. She improved significantly to break her maiden early in the meet, and ran up to a similar level in her first try against winners last time. However, she did work out a great trip, saving ground early on a day when the inside path was the best place to be. She angled out for the stretch drive and just missed after making a late rush. She’s an obvious contender, but I prefer the horse who finished right behind her last time. Waterville (#6) had the slightly tougher trip, as she was never on the inside path while racing 2 to 3-wide throughout. She made a good run to reach contention in the final furlong before flattening out. Though she’s never crossed the wire first, she’s run well in each of her last three starts, with layoffs in between all of them. I like that she’s finally putting races back to back and think she has a right to take a step forward. She also possesses better tactical speed than a few others in here, and there isn’t much pace in this affair. New Ginya (#2) also makes some sense for the Christophe Clement barn, though I thought she should have gotten the job done last time. I do prefer her from that race, though I could also use I’m Fine (#3), who had a bit of a trip finishing sixth behind her.
RACE 8: WAR STOPPER (#5)
This $50k claimer has attracted a highly competitive field, featuring a few runners dropping down with plenty of back class. Among those are Grade 3 stakes winner Night Ops (#3), as well as Pletcher trainees Portos (#7) and Bal Harbour (#9). I’m against both Pletcher runners, but I do think Night Ops is a little interesting. The drop is just realistic for a horse who has seen better days, and he was in against much tougher last time. Gentleman Joe (#1) might be the horse to beat as he drops slightly off the claim for Rob Atras. He was meeting better rivals last time when finishing behind Stage Raider and The Reds, the latter of which came back to win at the same level. Atras has had a quiet Saratoga meet, but he’s usually dangerous in these situations and this horse has speed from the inside. Air Attack (#2) also makes some sense as he makes his first start off the claim for Phil Bauer. This barn isn’t known for their claiming prowess, but Bauer has had a very strong meet and this horse certainly has the prior speed figures to contend. My top pick is War Stopper (#5), who is yet another making his first start off the claim. This one goes out for Mertkan Kantarmaci, who is 14 for 65 (22%, $2.14 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at NYRA over the past 5 years. I thought he ran a nice race at Keeneland two back, and he was never beating impressive winner Zoomer last time. That was his first start in 3 months and he has a right to be fitter second off the layoff. I also like that he can be forward in a race that features a murky pace scenario. The presence of Eric Cancel will inflate the price, but Kantarmaci has used him on some live runners.
RACE 11: FORTE (#2)
I imagine that Gulfport (#4) will once again get bet down to favoritism in this Hopeful even though he lost the Saratoga Special as the odds-on choice. Some may contend that he could have won that debut if not for the trouble on the far turn, but I thought he just didn’t possess the quickness to maintain position when Damon’s Mound made his move. He enjoyed an uncontested lead when he won the Bashford Manor so impressive two back, and I’m still waiting for him prove his quality against tougher rivals. Mo Strike (#5) seeks to make it three in a row after winning the Grade 3 Sanford early in the meet. I liked the way he finished that day as he responded to pressure late, drawing off from his main rival Andiamo a Firenze, who did come back to win off that performance. Mo Strike seems like one that should handle added ground, and he’s drawn well outside of his main pace rival. I actually think he’s the horse to beat in this spot. Some will be intrigued by Blazing Sevens (#6) off his impressive debut win for Chad Brown. However, Brown has poor stats off debut wins in dirt sprints and I’m not in love with the race this horse exits. My top pick is Forte (#2). He did finish well behind Mo Strike in the Sanford, but I thought he was compromised both by the moderate pace that race and the intense kickback on opening week of the meet. This colt had been impressive in his career debut, and I don’t think he’s going to have to deal with as much traffic in this smaller field. He galloped out strongly last time, and I think this 7-furlong distance is going to suit him well.