by Brian Nadeau
July 29, 2017
While Saturday may not be at the top of the list during the seven Saturdays of the Saratoga meet, it is loaded with stakes that will go a long way in determining the major players later this summer on what will be a loaded Travers Day card. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a graded stakes quarter.
Race 5: The $200,000 GII Amsterdam for 3yos going 6 ½ furlongs
The prep for the GI King’s Bishop drew only six, and all eyes will be on #2 COAL FRONT, who enters unbeaten and untested for Todd Pletcher. And sure, while it’s never easy to make your graded stakes debut, he does just look too tough for a field that isn’t much. I am intrigued by #5 EXCITATIONS, who gets away from Churchill Downs and cuts back to one-turn, and if the favorite does get pressured, he’ll be the one to fear late, which is a likely spot where #6 TOGA CHALLENGER will make an appearance too, though I worry he’s not this good. You have to respect #3 MO CASH, who is a hard-knocker that has made the most of his talent, but there’s just too much speed here to think he can last.
Race 8: The $350,000 GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt for 3up at 6 furlongs
It’s tough to call a GI a prep, but this is a progression to the GI Forego, though that 7-furlong GI will test the limit of many of these. Obviously A.P. INDIAN wins this with ease on his best, but it’s safe to wonder if he can deliver it, especially since he’s lost three straight and nothing really has gone right for him this year. Sure, even if he’s 80% of the horse he was, he may still beat this field, but at a short price, I’ll make him prove it. I’ve always thought #5 BIRD SONG was a better one-turn horse, and while 6 furlongs might be a bit short, there seems to be enough speed to set up his late run, so he gets top billing. The class of #6 READY FOR RYE and #8 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL is always in question, but they also get a positive race flow and should be able to rally for shares, though how big remains in doubt.
Race 9: The $250,000 GII Bowling Green for 4up at 1 3/8 miles on the turf
The prep for the GI Sword Dancer drew a mixed bag, but one thing it didn’t draw was an ounce of speed, so this could turn into a jockey’s race, and a sprint in the lane. It’s tough to take 5-2 or so on #7 ASCEND, especially since I wasn’t even invited to the parking lot of the wedding when he won the GI Manhattan at 27-1 last time, so I’ll make him make me look foolish again, while knowing full well the lack of pace will play to his style. The horse I’m most interested is #3 CLOSING BELL, who chased a ridiculous pace in the GI United Nations last time yet held relatively well to be a close 6th and won’t have to run nearly as fast early this time. Conversely, #1 BIGGER PICTURE took advantage of the crazy U.N. splits to win it, but he’s in trouble here, as is #4 SADLER’S JOY, who has no speed and will be left with a lot to do late, at a distance that seems a bit short of his best.
Race 10: The $600,000 GII Jim Dandy for 3yos at 1 1/8 miles
The prep for the Travers may have drawn only five, but it’s a big race since it pits the Kentucky Derby winner, #1 ALWAYS DREAMING, against the Preakness winner, #2 CLOUD COMPUTING. And while the former has an edge on divisional honors, since he also annexed the GI Florida Derby, those days seems a long, long time ago based on his complete flop in the Preakness. Add in the fact that both of his derby wins were obtained under dream trips, and he’s just not the type you can play here off such a dreadful 8th in Baltimore, when he didn’t run an inch. On the other hand, Cloud Computing is every bit the definition of a “now” horse, and while Chad Brown desperately wants to win the Travers, he’s saddling a horse that is simply much better than the rest of these, and is a deserving single in any horizontal bet. The other three are complete guesses, as #3 GIUSEPPE THE GREAT has never been past a mile or two turns, #4 PAVEL is here off one (yes, one) 6 ½-furlong MSW win at Santa Anita, and #5 GOOD SAMARITAN has made all six of his career starts on turf and has no speed at all. I’m trying to split the classic winners and add value to the exacta with the former, who has run sneaky good in his last pair, is bred for the added turn and distance and is tactical enough to be up close to a track that can be tough to close over going two turns.