“Ask Red Smith for the directions to Saratoga and here’s what he would say: `The way to Saratoga is easy. From New York City, you drive north on the Thruway for 150 miles, take a left at Exit 14 onto Union Avenue, and go back about 100 years.'” – William Nack, Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance
Opening day at the Spa is finally upon us, and though the actual directions to 267 Union Avenue may differ a bit, those making the pilgrimage to racing’s crown jewel will certainly be transported back in time over the next six weeks.
As is customary, the action kicks directly into high gear with a full 10-race card on Friday’s opening slate highlighted by the Grade 3 Schuylerville for two year old fillies and Grade 3 Lake George for three year old fillies. Without further ado, let’s dive right in:
Best Bet: #8 Takaful, Race 4 (7-2 morning line)
Value Play of the Day: #4 Chubby Star, Race 9 (15-1 morning line)
Race 1: 1-8-4-6
#1 INDYCOTT owns two wins over the local course and three at this 1 1/8 mile trip. Comes in with the field’s best last-out Beyer (90) and should work out a nice stalking trip. #8 PRAETEREO will come off the short layoff and hopefully catch dry ground for just the third time in his last five starts. #4 MARRIAGE FEVER always seems to be a lock to hit the money, but makes his second start for a low-percentage barn after a turf placing. #6 RIVER DATE should prove to be one of the main speeds and heads out first time for Rudy Rodriguez, who hits at 36% with new acquisitions. Must prove he can last the distance.
Race 2: 6-1-5-2
#6 BEAUX ARTS gets on the turf for her second career start after a placing down at Monmouth last month. Though trainer Cash has just one win on the year, the surface switch should be right in the wheelhouse of this daughter of Freud, who put in a bullet work earlier this month. #1WANDA FAY took a step forward last time when switched to the turf. Projects at the inside speed with blinkers added today, and could just jet away from these. #5 SCATBACK debuts for Carlos Martin, who has scored with 4 of 18 first-timers this year. #2 MISTY FOREST put in a solid workout late last month, and could factor in a questionable field.
Race 3: 1-3-6-4
#1 OFFLEE BRAWN may find himself alone on the front end in this event, a dangerous prospect for the competition with Paco Lopez aboard. #3 PLANET TRAILBLAZER paired up Beyers from his last two events and should be a threat in the lane today. #6 POINT HOPE looked like a new animal off the Diodoro claim last time out. Major threat if he’s able to repeat that effort. #4 SURTAP enters off the Jeremiah Englehart claim, an 18% win angle. Newly-gelded and returns to the dirt for this event.
Race 4: 8-3-2-5
#8 TAKAFUL returns to sprinting for the first time since his runaway debut. I believe he may be a different animal running short, and could offer some value after his dull efforts along the Triple Crown trail. Upbeat workouts show he’s ready to go. #3 PATTERNRECOGNITION has been impressive in both career starts, and could be a handful once again today. Castellano takes the mount for this likely favorite. #2 HOLLOW POINT can track a contested early pace. Was a few lengths behind Derby contender McCraken in his debut last year, and can improve second time off the winter layoff. #5 VIA EGNATIA enters his North American and dirt debut with a strong workout pattern, and will get lasix for the first time.
Race 5: 6-4-7-11-9
#6 CRIMSON CREED has worked exclusively on Arlington’s synthetic surface, but sire Jimmy Creed has had some early success, and this one did sell for 21 times his stud fee. #4 AMAZING BELLE owns experience on the field, and is the product of a solid pedigree. #7 HONEY GLOW is sure to get bet as a Pletcher debut runner. Daughter of Speightstown should have some run to her. #9 SUNNY’S FUNNY enters the gate for Asmussen, who typically improves his runners second time out. Caught wide in the debut and should have more to offer today.
Race 6: 6-11-10-2
#6 SWAYED adds lasix for the first time and should be more settled with the blinkers removed. Best career race came at the 5 1/2 furlong trip. #11 SAME KINDA CRAZY won over this course and distance last season and will hope to repeat that effort. #10 BUFFALO MISS projects as one of the main speeds, and won for fun here a year ago. #2 ITSINTHESTARS seems to be better sprinting over the turf, as her route effort came up dull, but wonder if she can get going early enough to factor at this distance. Castellano hops aboard and should guide her soundly.
Race 7: 2-6-10-3
#2 MESSI has run exclusively in graded stakes spots for some time now, and finally gets some class relief second time off the layoff for top turf trainer Motion. Owns a win from two local starts. #6 RED RIFLE has hit the exacta all three times over the local course and won his only try at this distance. Second off the layoff for Pletcher with Johnny V aboard. #10 HIGHLAND SKY adds some more ground from last time, which should be helpful with his late-running style. Broke his maiden locally two years ago. #3 KAIGUN should appreciate this distance, but owns two second place finishes from four starts at the trip. Experienced vs graded stakes company, should be a late threat at healthy odds today.
Race 8 (The Schuylerville – Grade 3): 8-3-4-6
#8 SNOWFIRE sold for half a million a year ago and enters this event with an upbeat work from last week. Trainer Casse has scored with 21% of his juveniles this year. #3 BEST PERFORMANCE placed in the Astoria last month during Belmont Stakes week despite a wide trip. Should benefit from that experience and tighter turns. #4 DREAM IT IS travels in from Woodbine, where she has captured her first two career starts, including a 101k event. Owns the field’s best Beyer, but must handle the dirt course. #6 PACIFIC GALE is one of the first runners from famed Belmont specialist Flat Out, and she made daddy proud breaking her maiden at Big Sandy last month. Adds lasix for this event, a move with which trainer Kimmel has won 3 of 5 starts this year.
Race 9 (The Lake George – Grade 3): 11-1-8-7-4
#11 DREAM DANCING has overcome traffic and trouble in the past. In the exacta all five times at this 1 1/16 trip, including three wins. Should be primed for a late run again today. #1 FIFTY FIVE ran second to New Money Honey last time out, and will head to the track second off the layoff for Chad Brown’s top turf outfit. #8 PROCTOR’S LEDGE adds lasix for the first time. Must turn the tables on a few of the rivals she meets today, but Castellano climbs aboard and trainer Walsh (21%) sees fit to ship her in. Look out for this one. #7 PARTY BOAT paired up Beyers from her last two events and should be able to sit just off the pace and get first run on the closers today. In the money all three times at this trip, with a pair of wins to her credit. #4 CHUBBY STAR is fit to include in this competitive field at 15-1 on the morning line. This miss has started from the far outside in her last two events (12/12 each time) yet remained competitive with today’s top choices. May be able to steal it at a price with a cleaner trip.
Race 10: 10-3-7-2
#10 VEIL enters this event with a string of strong workouts in tow. Should be primed with a late move for McGaughey. #3 SUBMIT makes her second start off the winter layoff and third career start overall for trainer Clement May have figured out what’s expected of her by now and come with her best effort today. #7 GRAND BANKS was less than a length off of Lake George contender Fifty Five last fall. Again tries an open field, and her turf efforts have been competitive. #2 FRENCH DRESSING drops to her lowest spot yet, but enters this event a 20-race maiden. Can certainly factor in the outcome, but not sure about the top spot.