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Five Horses to Bet on Saratoga Opening Day

by Dustin Fabian

July 18, 2018

Well, it’s back.  Saratoga opens Friday and along with it comes the opportunity for me to write what probably amounts to my favorite blog of the year – Five Horses I’m Betting on Saratoga Opening Day.  What makes this one so special?  Honestly, it’s my favorite meet of the year and is a true sign of summer for me.  Plus, no matter when you look at Saratoga, the next race is a great one.  Their stakes schedule is phenomenal and the entries are overloaded with names like Brown, Pletcher, Ortiz, Velazquez and Castellano. 

During last year’s Opening Day blog, my five ‘Horses to Bet’ compiled a solid record of 5-2-1-1.  I scored a pair of winners that paid $7.10 and $8.60 and had the runner-up in the Lake George.  Not terrible, but obviously I’ll look to do better this time around. 

This year’s Opening Day card is loaded with very evenly-matched and loaded with quality.  Here are the five horses I’m excited to put a couple of bucks on. 

Race 2 (1:33PM ET) - #5 Shady Shady Shady (8/1)

I think John Velazquez is poised to have a big Opening Day and Shady Shady Shady could be the start of it.  This is a relatively under-the-radar first-time-starter for Michelle Nevin, who doesn’t historically perform great with this type of horse.  Nevin’s horses often take a start or two.  But this filly has two gate workouts that jump off the page to me.  On July 7, she went 4f in :48 3/5 (3rd fastest of 94) and on June 24 she covered 3f in :36 4/5 (2nd fastest of 39).  That tells me this filly may be quick to break.  And that would make her very dangerous in this 5 ½-furlong turf dash.  Shady Shady Shady’s dam, Shea Darby, was quick to break and precocious, finishing 2nd in both her 2012 Saratoga debut and a subsequent stakes race at Finger Lakes.  Velazquez and Nevin have combined for a Positive ROI ($3.43) and 26% winners in 2017/18. 

Race 3 (2:06PM ET) - #6 Monteleone (5/2)

Wesley Ward seems well positioned to score in the third race with Monteleone, a class-dropper that has found the water just a little too deep in four starter allowance races this year.  He drops in for a $40K tag and faces non-winners of two lifetime, which is a pretty decent drop.  Monteleone has been running well (in the Trifecta in 5-of-8 career starts) and drew perfectly.  I expect Rosario to stalk the early pace – probably set by Comeoncomeoncat or Strong Side – and I think this one should have enough in the tank to finally get lifetime win number two. 

Race 4 (2:40PM ET) - #9 Teryn It Up (3/1)

The fourth race is a high-level ($75,000) maiden claiming race and five of the eight turf entrants drop in from Maiden Special Weight races.  They say this is the biggest class drop in racing, but when the entire field is doing it, does it matter?  Probably, but that’s worth noting.  Teryn It Up has faced really nice horses at Gulfstream, Keeneland and Belmont, but so far he’s 0-for-4 and hasn’t finished better than 3rd.  And with Saratoga maiden turf races almost always coming up contentious, this is the right time to target easier competition.  Brian Lynch has done well with horses taking this class drop and he puts blinkers on, which could help him focus down the stretch.  With questions around horses like Chad Brown’s Azzedine (who has failed in ‘easier’ maiden races at Monmouth and Tampa) and Dominant Strategy (who tries turf for the first time) and Graham Motion’s Top Czar (also making his first turf start), I’ll take a shot with a proven commodity on the drop.

Race 8 (5:02PM ET) - #7 Serengeti Empress (6/1)

The Grade 3 Schuylerville a field of ten two-year-old fillies, eight of which won their most recent start and nine of which have won once (but none have won twice).   That’s a lot of unknowns to navigate.  A filly that caught my eye is Tom Amoss’ Serengeti Empress, who broke her maiden in style at Indiana Grand.  She was bet like a sure thing that day and delivered.  There’s obviously a massive jump in class from Indiana to Saratoga, but visually she ran as well as any of these and Tom Amoss and Javier Castellano just know how to win races.  Check out the fractions in her last race – 22.03, 44.97, 57.39, 1:04.05.  Those are legitimate times for a firster and the Beyer (68) came back solid. 

Race 10 (6:17PM ET) - #8 County Court (5/2)

Friday’s nightcap is a pretty salty $40,000 claimer for older horses going 1 1/16-miles on the lawn.  A dozen horses are entered, and they represent all of the top barns – Chad Brown, Joe Sharp, Shug McGaughey, Rudy Rodriguez and more.  In most situations, I’d love Chad Brown’s Prognostication here, but I can’t get over the fact that he drew the 12 post and has been second in three tries at the distance.  On the other hand, County Court takes a big drop in class and fits great here.  He’s been racing against legitimate stakes-caliber horses – Red Knight, Gauguin and Shahroze, who won the G3 Singspiel Stakes last out at Woodbine.  There’s nobody here near that level.  Plus, with a decent amount of pace signed on, I think he’ll just mow ‘em down late. 

Good luck with your wagers!  Be sure to Tweet your best bets of the day to @Xpressbet.