by Jerry Shottenkirk
September 2, 2017
Gun Runner is back and a heavy favorite in the G1 Woodward Stakes Saturday at Saratoga, and once again, he’s a single, at least on this ticket.
And why not? There are many observers who make a compelling case for Gun Runner as the best horse in training. Of course, Arrogate and Winx fans will put up an argument, but when it comes to running at Saratoga, Gun Runner is close to being free money. His propensity of getting to the front end without much effort makes him the one to beat in nearly every spot.
That being said, the Pick 4 is much more than Gun Runner, although he’s a standout in the 11th.
Pure Silver and Separationofpowers look like they’re in for a potential neck-and-neck thrown-down in the Spinster, but the two remaining races have a host of runners capable of winning.
The start of the Pick 4, there are five in the 9th race that have a legit chance to take home the prize.
Bricks and Mortar is unbeaten in four starts and carries the flag as the 8-to-5 favorite in the G3 Saranac. However, it won’t be easy and several upstarts are in the fold, including Mr Havercamp, in from Woodbine; Hall of Fame runner-up Yoshida; Mo Maverick, winner of the Lamplighter at Monmouth; and lightly raced Rocketry, winner of a local route race. They warrant consideration in this nine-furlong grass affair.
After the Spinaway and Woodward, the card ends with the 1 3-8-mile, G3 Glen Falls. Again, there are plenty of options, including the H. Graham Motion non-coupled and capable pair Happyness and Lottie, along with Monmouth winner War Flag, G3 Waya winner Estrechada and Sarandia, who was unplaced in Arlington’s Beverly D. in her 1st U.S. start. She had been based in Germany prior to her trip to Chicago.
Harmonize is among those with a great chance as she steps down from mostly Grade 1 and Grade 2 races. The Bill Mott charge was a closing 4th behind Lady Eli in the G1 Diana.
Here’s the suggested Pick 4 ticket:
Race 9: #2 Yoshida, #1 Mr Havercamp, #4 Bricks and Mortar, #7 Mo Maverick, #9 Rocketry (2-1-4-7-9).
Race 10: #4 Pure Silver, #1 Separationofpowers. (4-1).
Race 11: #2 Gun Runner (2).
Race 12: #8 Harmonize, #1 Happyness, #2 Lottie, #4 War Flag, #6 Estrechada, #7 Sarandia (8-1-2-4-6-7).
50-cent Pick 4: 2-1-4-7-9 with 4-1 with 2 with 8-1-2-4-6-7. ($30)
Prior to 2006, the Woodward was one of the staples of Belmont’s Fall Championship Meet. Now that it has been moved upstate, it’s a far more bittersweet event. On one hand, it’s exciting to watch the area’s top horses compete at New York’s premier racing venue. On the other hand, it’s held Labor Day Weekend, making it a stark reminder that Saratoga is shutting down and summer is coming to an end. On the plus side, this year’s Woodward attracted the impressive Gun Runner, a winner in 3-of-4 starts this year, including the prestigious Whitney earlier in the meet. The card also includes the Grade 1 Spinaway for freshman fillies, and NYRA is offering an All-Stakes Pick 4 on the card (Races 8 – 11), as well as a Special ‘Middle’ Pick 4 (Races 6 – 9). Hit that Middle Pick 4 with your Xpressbet account to Split 1 Million Points. Here’s how I’m playing Saturday’s races. First post is 1PM ET. Race 9 (5:36PM ET) – Saranac Stakes (Gr 3; 300k) – 1 1/8 Miles Turf The first stakes race on the card is the Grade 3 Saranac, and I think you can bet this one like a repeat of the last month’s Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes, where Chad Brown’s Bricks and Mortar (Rosario) and Bill Mott’s Yoshida (Ortiz Jr.) were separated by ¾-length at the wire. Speedier horses like Voodoo Song (Lezcano), Caviar Czar (Velazquez) and Mo Maverick (Franco) should ensure a quick pace, which will open things up to the closers’ kicks. The best of the laterunners are my top two picks, and I’ll also include Rocketry (Ortiz), who has won 2-of-3 but is making his first stakes start. 1) Bricks and Mortar, 2) Yoshida, 3) Rocketry, 4) Makarios Exacta Box: BRICKS AND MORTAR and YOSHIDATrifecta: BRICKS AND MORTAR, YOSHIDA over BRICKS AND MORTAR, YOSHIDA, ROCKETRY over BRICKS AND MORTAR, YOSHIDA, ROCKETRY, MAKARIOS Race 10 (6:11PM ET) – Spinaway Stakes (Gr 1; 350k) – 7 Furlongs DirtTalk about a microcosm of the meet – Todd Pletcher vs Chad Brown. They’ve gone head-to-head for the trainer’s title since Day 1, and they go head-to-head in the Spinaway, as Pletcher’s impressive Pure Silver (Velazquez) squares off against Brown’s Separationofpowers (Ortiz). Both have won earlier this meet, Separationofpowers taking a maiden race by almost 12-lengths and Pure Silver winning the Adirondack by 9 ½. The only concern is if the two big fillies lock up on the front end and pave the way for Lady Ivanka (Ortiz Jr.) or Maya Malibu (Castellano) to reel them in. That sometimes happens in perceived two-horse races. Pure Silver drew best and should be the top pick, but I’ll use some others beneath her to try and find a price. 1) Pure Silver, 2) Lady Ivanka, 3) Separationofpowers, 4) Maya Malibu Exacta Key: PURE SILVER over SEPARATIONOFPOWERS, LADY IVANKA and MAYA MALIBU Trifecta Key: PURE SILVER over SEPARATIONOFPOWERS, LADY IVANKA and MAYA MALIBURace 11 (6:46PM ET) – Woodward Stakes (Gr 1; 750k) – 1 1/8 Miles DirtOn the other hand, the Grade 1 Woodward looks an awful lot like a one-horse affair. And that one horse is Gun Runner (Geroux). As a result of Arrogate’s issues, Gun Runner has assumed the role of the best older dirt horse in North America, and his 5 ¼-length win in the Whitney evidenced why. He can sit just about any trip and punch away at the head of the lane. The only blemish in his last five races was a defeat in the Dubai World Cup, but that’s it. Nobody else in the field appears on his level. Rally Cry (Velazquez) notched a big Beyer last time out but that was a breakout race I’m not sure he can repeat. War Story (Ortiz Jr.) was beaten 13 ½-lengths in the Whitney and Neolithic (Ortiz), who was a distant 3rd in both the Dubai World Cup and Pegasus World Cup, has earned a lot of money picking up the pieces. He didn’t look great in an allowance race earlier in the meet and it’s worth noting that his regular rider, John Velazquez, opted to go with Pletcher’s other horse. 1) Gun Runner, 2) Rally Cry, 3) Neolithic, 4) War Story Exacta Key: GUN RUNNER over NEOLITHIC and RALLY CRYTrifecta Key: GUN RUNNER over NEOLITHIC, RALLY CRY and WAR STORY Race 12 (7:17PM ET) – Glens Falls Stakes (Gr 3; 200k) – 1 3/8 Miles Turf The deepest of the day’s stakes races is likely the Glens Falls, where nine fillies and mares are set for this 1 3/8-mile turf event. My top pick is Shug McGaughey’s War Flag (Ortiz), who cut her teeth in France before coming to the US. She was 2nd last out in the Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth, defeating Miss Temple City in the process. Another European import worth watching is the German mare, Sarandia (Alvarado). She was my top pick in the Beverly D (she ran an ok 6th at 21/1), but may appreciate the added trip. Harmonize (Velazquez) is a Grade 1 winner, but she’s 0-for-4 this year and hasn’t been closer than 4th. Happyness (Ortiz Jr.) seems to be rounding back into her best form. 1) War Flag, 2) Sarandia, 3) Harmonize, 4) Happyness Exacta Box: WAR FLAG, HAPPYNESS, SARANDIA and HARMONIZE Other Bets‘Middle’ Pick 4 – 2, 7, 9 / 1, 4, 6, 8 / 4, 5, 6 / 2, 4 = $36.00Late Pick 4 – 2, 4 / 1, 3, 4, 5 / 2 / 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 = $36.00
There's time for one last big Saturday at Saratoga and the folks at NYRA have pulled out all the stops to make Woodward Day one to remember. This year's Woodward isn't loaded with top-end talent, but it is deep as can be. 14 runners are signed on. The star power comes a bit earlier on the card, as a loaded field is assembled for the best Spinaway Stakes in years. For those looking to watch the races on TV, coverage starts at 2:30PM ET on Fox Sports 2 and transfers over to the NBC Sports Network at 5:30PM ET. NBCSN coverage includes the Saranac, Spinaway and Woodward (at least all three races are in the slot). Plus, for those betting on Xpressbet (and why wouldn't you be?), we've got a 1 Million XB Reward Point Split on Saturday at Saratoga. Hit Exactas ($2 base minimum) on four different races to win your share of the Points! Here are my picks for Saturday at Saratoga, including my Pick 4 horses from each race. Use all of my choices in the Late Pick 4 for a $72 ticket. Race 9 - Saranac Stakes Storyline: Three-year-old turfers take center stage in the Saranac, and despite the best in this division (Analyze It, Catholic Boy) having opted for larger prizes elsewhere, this field turned out pretty solid. Intriguing storylines include Free Drop Billy's first try on the lawn (despite questionable turf breeding) and a big jump in class for Therapist, who was incredibly impressive against NY-breds in his latest two starts. Key Contenders: There are nine horses entered for the Saranac and, depending on how you look at it, there are plenty of potential winners. This is not an easy race to pick a winner in, despite the presence of a Chad Brown-trained, low-priced favorite. Raging Bull (FR) (2/1) - Brown/Rosario - He won the G2 Hall of Fame Stakes by a nose, but was beaten 3+ lengths as the heavy favorite in the Manila Stakes at Belmont on July 4. He needs a pace to run at and is a likely winner, but he's tough to endorse as a single when trip and internal fractions are that important to him. Up the Ante (7/2) - Clement/Castellano - Took 'em wire-to-wire in winning the aforementioned Manila and will try to do the same thing here from a cozy rail draw. There is other speed in the race, so it's hard to envision he'll have things to his own devices up front. Therapist (8/1) - Clement/Velazquez - He's looked awfully impressive beating NY-breds in his last two at sub-even money, but this is a huge step in class and you don't have to go far back to see he flopped in both prior graded stakes tries, despite being well bet. Like him, but can't love him. Golden Brown (12/1) - McBurney/Rendon - Parlayed a dream trip into victory in the G3 Kent Stakes at Delaware on July 14, defeating eventual Secretariat Stakes winner Carrick in the process. Also beat Untamed Domain that day. Couldn't ask for much more in either of his turf races and 12/1 is a big price on a nice horse. How I'm Betting: I'll use Golden Brown on top of a number of bets as I think he gets the jump on the closers. Raging Bull and Therapist are also on my ticket. I'll try to beat Free Drop Billy and Maraud, unless the turf comes up wet. Pick 4 Horses I'm Using: Up the Ante, Raging Bull, Golden Brown, Therapist. Race 10 - Spinaway Stakes Storyline: The Spinaway is Saratoga's signature race for 2YO fillies but, with the exception of Rachel's Valentina, the recent list of winners would not be confused with a Hall of Fame ballot (and even she's more famous for her breeding than her resume). That could change this year as Bob Baffert has shipped American Pharoah's half-sister, Chasing Yesterday, cross-country for this and Mark Casse sends out Catherinethegreat, who won the G3 Schuylerville earlier in the meet. Key Contenders: With Baffert, Pletcher, Casse and Desormeaux among the entrants, there really is something for everyone. Here are the top four fillies in the race: Chasing Yesterday (5/2) - Baffert/Smith - Bob Baffert and Mike Smith won a pair of G1's at Saratoga on Travers Day and they're back for Round 2 here. She easily dispatched a maiden field at Del Mar on July 28 and earned an 86 Beyer in the process. Plus, she's American Pharoah's sister. There's a lot to like and this race goes through her. Period. Restless Rider (6/1) - McPeek/Hernandez - She had a bizarre trip in the Debutante Stakes at Churchill on June 30 where she checked hard on the turn to avoid another horse. But she still ended up winning by 11+ lengths. Seriously, if you haven't seen that race, check out the replay on your Xpressbet account. It's amazing to think that her trouble may have cost her four or five lengths that day. Catherinethegreat (7/2) - Casse/Ortiz - She took the field in the G3 Schuylerville wire-to-wire here on July 20, clipping off a fast opening quarter and half (21.78 and 44.64) en route to a 4 1/4-length win in 1:09.98. That field wasn't as good as this one, though, but she still appears to be controlling speed. Sippican Harbor (10/1) - Contessa/Rosario - She earned a big Beyer (77) when breaking her maiden by 17-lengths in an off-the-turf race on August 12. Even if we take the win margin with a grain of salt, she was dominant that day and she appears to be a regarded filly. How I'm Betting: Chasing Yesterday is my top horse in here and I'm going to key her on top of some of the logical other horses - Catherinethegreat, Restless Rider - in Exactas and Trifectas. I'll also play a few bets with Restless Rider on top and my hope is to beat Catherinethegreat, despite her strong credentials. It would be great to get a horse like Cassies Dreamer (30/1), Virginia Eloise (10/1) or Love My Honey (12/1) to run third. Pick 4 Horses I'm Using: Chasing Yesterday (primary), Restless Rider (secondary). Race 11 - Woodward Stakes Storyline: The Woodward is one of the premier horse races in New York and its history dates to the 1950's. The initial winners included Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser and Damascus, and later horses like Spectacular Bid, Forego, Affirmed and Seattle Slew staked their claim. Most recently stars like Ghostzapper, Curlin, Easy Goer, Alysheba, Holy Bull and Cigar took home the Woodward trophy. This year's Woodward isn't loaded with top-end talent - nobody in this bunch is as good as the horses I listed - but it is loaded with depth. This field has 14 runners and it won't be hard to make a case for most of them. Hit the Trifecta or Superfecta and you might pad your bankroll through the Breeders' Cup! Key Contenders: Despite the 14 entrants, there are just three US Grade 1 winners in the bunch. That's alright, though. This field has combined to win 70 races, including top events like the Belmont Stakes, Turf Classic, Charles Town Classic, Fountain of Youth and Clark. Here's a look at my top five: Gunnevera (4/1) - Sano/Zayas - This horse is as lukewarm a favorite as it gets, but he loves Saratoga, as evidenced by his victory in the 2016 G2 Saratoga Special and his runner-up performance in the 2017 Travers. He was third in the Pegasus World Cup in January and got exactly what he needed out of a prep race on August 10. The price is low, but he's a nice horse. Seeking the Soul (9/2) - Stewart/Castellano - He upset the field in the G1 Clark last fall at Churchill, scoring at 7/1 odds. He validated that with a decent effort in the Pegasus World Cup (fifth) and came off the pine to just miss in an ungraded stake at Indiana Grand on July 14. Just three horses in this field have earned more than one 100 Beyer Speed Figure. He's done it in his last four starts. Discreet Lover (8/1) - St. Lewis/Franco - One of my favorite horses in training if for no other reason than value. His 8/1 morning line kind of eliminates that, but this is a horse that finished in the Superfecta of the G1 Whitney (38/1), G2 Suburban (41/1), G1 Met Mile (79/1) and G3 Pimlico Special (20/1) in his last four starts. Key him to finish underneath and cross your fingers. He always brings his rally. Yoshida (JPN) (5/1) - Mott/Rosario - Won the G1 Turf Classic on a yielding course at Churchill on May 5 and was a solid fifth in the G1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 19. This is his dirt debut, though, so anything is possible. His dam, Hilda's Passion, was a star sprinter for Todd Pletcher so dirt isn't outside the realm of possibilities. Tapwrit (6/1) - Pletcher/Velazquez - The '17 Belmont winner hasn't won since and his defeats in the G1 Whitney and G2 Suburban by a combined 20-lengths are not encouraging. On the bright side, Diversify isn't here. His local record (3-0-0-0) isn't encouraging, nor is his mark at the distance (2-0-0-0). As a bettor, I'll let him beat me. Kurilov (CHI) (10/1) - Brown/Oritz - Sneaky Chad Brown runner gets the rider switch to Jose from Irad, who opts for Sunny Ridge. Kurilov looked like a sure winner of the restricted Alydar Stakes on August 5, but got caught late by longshot Realm. He could be in the mix as this field just doesn't have a lot of depth. How I'm Betting: I'm going to take a hard stand against Tapwrit and tab Seeking the Soul and Yoshida for the top spots, with Gunnevera, Sunny Ridge, Kurilov, Discreet Lover, Leofric and Zanotti underneath. The payouts here will be huge if you're lucky enough to have the winner. Pick 4 Horses I'm Using: Yoshida, Kurilov, Gunnevera, Seeking the Soul, Sunny Ridge, Term of Art. Race 12 - Glens Falls Stakes Storyline: The last race on the card is the Grade 2 Glens Falls and, amazingly, this might be the one turf stakes race in North America that Chad Brown has yet to win. No lie. Well, maybe that's a little overstated. The winners list of the Glens Falls includes Bill Mott (five times), Christophe Clement (four times), Todd Pletcher (twice), Graham Motion (twice), Shug McGaughey and Jonathan Sheppard, but there still is a goose egg next to Chad Brown's name. And not for lack of trying. He's sent out five starters in the last four years. Key Contenders: Brown's losing streak in the Glens Falls should probably come to an end this year as he sends out three runners - the top three choices on the morning line, nonetheless - and all have a big chance of sealing the deal. Here's a look at the top runners: Santa Monica (GB) - 6/5 - Brown/Ortiz - She exits a victory in the G2 Dance Smartly Stakes at Woodbine and previously was beaten just 1/2-length in the Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont on May 5. This is her first trip to Saratoga. At just 4-for-25 lifetime, she's far from a win machine. Onthemoonagain (FR) - 3/1 - Brown/Castellano - She showed some rust in her US debut and was unable to seal the deal and close into dawdling fractions here on August 2. Plus, she ran into some traffic in that race and hopefully Javier Castellano can find her clean running this time. She should be ready to roll. Homeland Security (9/2) - Brown/Ortiz Jr. - Was a bit of a surprise in winning the River Memories Stakes at Belmont on July 8, paying $10 to win, which is an avalanche for a Brown filly on the lawn. Like her stablemates, she's pace dependent. Lady Montdore (8/1) - Albertrani/Franco - She turned her US debut here on August 6 into a runaway, blitzing a first-level allowance field by 4 1/2-lengths in her first start since last September. She comes from great bloodlines (Medaglia d'Oro x Hystericalady) and has what it takes to give the Brown-trainees fits. How I'm Betting: Santa Monica is the best of the Brown runners and Lady Montdore appears to have a ton of talent. Play those two on top and fill in the other Brown runners, along with Danceland, who loves Saratoga, underneath. Pick 4 Horses I'm Using: Santa Monica, Onthemoonagain, Lady Montdore.