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Johnny D: Del Mar & Saratoga Stakes Picks | Saturday, July 31

by Johnny D

July 30, 2021

It’s Week 3 of Xpressbet’s $10,000-added Fun in the Sun competition that combines racing action from Saratoga and Del Mar into an afternoon’s worth of enjoyment and profitability. According to current forecasts, it appears as if Mother Nature is likely to give Spa fans a break this weekend and keep the wet stuff to herself. That would be welcome relief to frustrated horseplayers who have struggled through an early meeting plagued by downpours resulting ‘off’ tracks and scratch-filled races vacating the turf course.

Below is one man’s analysis of all 10 Fun in the Sun competition races—the last 5 at Saratoga and the first 5 at Del Mar. Hopefully, there are a few bits of enlightenment included that can help you to land a Final Table seat in Fun in the Sun or, at least, to make a few bucks with whatever wagers you play.

Analysis is made before scratches and changes and is based on a ‘fast’ track and ‘firm’ turf course. 


#1 RIVENDELL (12/1) stretches out for the second time in her career—she was fifth second time out at Saratoga over this course. Had a decent recent prep. Trainer Mott still is searching for the key to this 4-year-old filly, but she’s fit and has an even sprinting style that suggests she may like a mile.

#2 INVINCIBLE GAL (3/1) adds blinkers and Lasix for trainer Graham Motion as she tries older foes for the first time. She just missed in the Gr. 3 Soar Softly going seven furlongs at Belmont against sophs. Before that she was a neck short in the Tepin in November. She has no speed and jockey Johnny V. is the only rider to have won with her first out of seven starts.

#4 SAY MOI (30/1) hasn’t fired a good one in a year and those were on dirt.

#6 SECRET TIME (5/1) moves to hot Spa trainer Danny Gargan and he’s a powerful 35% with runners first time in his barn. Jockey Gaffalione rides and he’s 26% with Gargan. Blinkers go on in here and the trainer is 21% with that move. The 4-year-old Group 3-placed filly in France tried a trio of US-based stakes before coming up short in a Keeneland allowance race. She’s deserves respect in here from off the pace.

#7 HIGH OPINION (4/1) finished second at this level going one mile and one-quarter last out for trainer Anthony Dutrow and top jock Irad Ortiz. This 4-year-old filly has been second at this level twice before that and has just one win out of 7 starts. She was second in the Winter Memories at 3. Her most recent races were a quarter of a mile longer than this one and she handled the distance fine. Here only win, however, came going seven furlongs on turf at Belmont, so one mile seems OK, too.

#8 LOVE AND THUNDER (2/1) has a pair of runner-up efforts in the US at this level since arriving from Great Britain where she didn’t fare well in a pair of Group 3 tries after winning an allowance race. Jose Ortiz rides for top trainer Chad Brown and the pair is 22%. She was favored in both stateside tries and figures to have that role again.

#9 PECATONICA (12/1) is a 5-year-old mare that just missed at this level last out in June at Belmont. She was 22-1 that afternoon. She has 4 wins—the most in the field and they have come in beaten claiming races and in state-bred allowance tries. These are tougher, but she likes Saratoga green with 2 wins in 4 start and a second and a third.

#10 DRAWN TO RACE (6/1) arrives from France and goes first-time Lasix for trainer Al Stall who is a fine trainer but doesn’t have a lot of experience with new US arrivals. This 3-year-old filly broke maiden on synthetic in her second career start and then was second and third in allowance races at one mile on turf. She’s truly a wild card in here and deserves a second glance based on the presence of jockey Joel Rosario.

BEST: #8
NEXT: #7
WILD CARDS: #6, #10


#1 LEXITONIAN (20/1) nearly rocked the world Derby Day when second by a head at nearly 50-1 in the Gr. 1 Churchill Downs at seven furlongs. A subsequent try in the Gr. 1 Met Mile at one mile was a disaster. The 5-year-old’s come close against Gr. 1 competition before, so he can’t be totally ignored, but it’s difficult to imagine him bouncing back quickly off that Met Mile drubbing.

#2 MISCHEVIOUS ALEX (2/1) won the Gr. 1 Carter in a romp in April at Aqueduct going seven furlongs. He returned to run well when a close third in the Gr. 1 Met Mile. He’s won 3 of his last 4 races and 6 of his last 9, mostly against graded competition. One of those defeats came in the Gr. 1 H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga last August. He’s fast, fit and ridden by top jock Irad Ortiz.

#3 FIRENZE FIRE (3/1) is a 6-year-old coming off some of the best races of his career…and he’s had a splendid career. 14 wins out of 34 races and $2.5 million in earnings is outstanding. However, he’s not quite as devastating at Saratoga where he’s just 1 for 7. Difficult to go against such a fiery competitor but this just hasn’t been his favorite track.

#4 STRIKE POWER (15/1) will add some pace to the race but probably won’t last until the end. He was fifth in this race in 2019 and the 6-year-old would need to improve a lot on his recent work to threaten in here.

#5 THREE TECHNIQUE (15/1) adds blinkers for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. This 4-year-old colt comes from just off the pace and he should have plenty of that to run at. He’s been third in his two most recent starts—an allowance mile and the Gr. 2 Nerud at seven furlongs, so he’s in decent form. He’s just never been quite this good and has only 3 wins in 14 starts.

#6 WHITMORE (4/1) is difficult not to love. At 8-years-old, he’s still adding to his awesome resume of 15 wins in 41 starts and nearly $4.5 in earnings. Last season’s Gr. 1 BC Sprint winner runs late and should find enough speed in here to give him an honest shot in the lane. He ran really well in this race last year to finish second, less than two lengths behind Volatile and has a win over the track in 3 starts. His recent form is solid enough. Note that he did not perform well over a sloppy surface in the Forego at the Spa last year, so if it rains, stay away. Has he lost a step? Probably. But you still need to buckle your chin strap before lining up against him.

#7 MILES AHEAD (12/1) moves to the barn of Rusty Arnold for his first Saratoga try. This 4-year-old got on a bit of a run at Gulfstream against weaker foes than this and then won the Gr. 3 Smile Sprint—his third tally in the last four starts. He’s got enough pace to be close early and jockey Luis Saez isn’t afraid to let his mounts run away from the gate. Still, it’s a stretch to see him winning this.

#8 MONTAUK TRAFFIC (15/1) comes off an allowance score and 2 wins in his last 3. He won the Jimmy Winkfield at three, but these are tougher.

#9 SPECIAL RESERVE (9/2) has fired a pair of big shots in his last two races—both wins, one in the Gr. 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico and the other in the Iowa Sprint at Praire Meadows. He’s a hot 5-year-old with wins in 4 of his last 5 races and Beyer Speed Figures that fit in here. Trainer Mike Maker has been firing live ammo this Spa summer (23%) and Joel Rosario rides from a comfortable outside post position. Claimed for $40k in February, this is not the kind of runner you’d be looking to play in a Gr. 1 Saratoga race but when sprinters get hot they can rattle off strong efforts and this guy seems sharp right now.

BEST: #2
LOOKOUT: #9   

SARATOGA // RACE 9 (5:39PM ET) // G2 JIM DANDY S. // 1 1/8 MILES (DIRT)

#1 DR JACK (15/1) won his first two starts and then was third in the Pegasus at Monmouth behind Mandaloun and #3 Weyburn. He’s an improving sophomore that need further development to handle all of these.

#2 MASQUEPARADE (4/1) held on to barely win the Gr. 3 Ohio Derby as lukewarm favorite over King Fury and #4 Keepmeinmind. That was his second consecutive win on top of an allowance romp at Churchill Downs. He broke maiden via disqualification at Fair Grounds. Guess here is that the Ohio Derby effort will have taken something out of this guy who must move forward again to win this.

#3 WEYBURN (6/1) has some speed and jockey Irad Ortiz figures to use it to maintain an inside trip. He just missed in the Pegasus after forcing the issue early. Before that he faded to fourth after pushing the pace and wide in the Gr. 2 Wood Memorial. He won the Gr. 3 Gotham going one mile at Aqueduct. It’s clear this guy needs to battle on the front end early and he should find a suitable early spot along with #1 Dr Jack. The rider switch to Irad Ortiz and a pair of bullet five-furlong Spa works—1:00 3/5  best of 18 and :59 2/5 best of 30--suggest this one will fire his best shot.

#4 KEEPMEINMIND (6/1) hasn’t missed much dancing since he began the season in March. He’s started in 5 graded stakes races, including the Gr. 1 Kentucky Derby and Gr. 1 Preakness Stakes. His best finish came last out in the Gr. 3 Ohio Derby when third, lapped on #2 Masqueparade and King Fury. Readers of this space know we’ve been on this one’s bandwagon for a while and he’s been a bit unlucky by breaking slowly and leaving himself too much to do. Today he gets a rider switch to Joel Rosario and that could make a difference. Three half-mile works—a bullet :46 1/5 best of 50, a :47 2/5 second-best of 139 and a bullet best of 113 :46—all suggest that this colt will show much more speed than he ever has. Is he good enough to handle #5 Essential Quality? He hasn’t been on 3 previous occasions. There are some alterations this time that just might flip that script and, if the price is right he’s worth chasing…again.

#5 ESSENTIAL QUALITY (1/2) deserves more respect than he’s gotten. He’s won 6 of 7 starts and is the reigning 2-year-old champ. So far, he’s got my vote as the top 3-year-old, too, but there’s a long way to go. His resume is virtually spotless, save for a wide trip in the Gr. 1 Kentucky Derby that resulted in a one-length loss. He returned to squarely defeat a dead game Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes. If successful, this would be his fifth graded stakes victory, including three Gr. 1s. No one else in the field has even one Gr. 1 victory. Still, for wagering purposes, there are possible reasons to go against him. First, this is not the barn’s major objective. Travers is. Second, funny things happen to favorites in big races at Saratoga: they lose. Third: he’ll be a very short price.

#6 RISK TAKING (15/1) did not perform well in the Gr. 1 Preakness and trainer Chad Brown, apparently, is throwing that race out. Of course, the colt also failed to show up when favored in the race before that the Gr. 3 Wood Memorial. Forgive those two duds and you come to a Gr. 3 Withers romp and a maiden tally, both at Aqueduct going one mile and one-eighth. If this guy wasn’t trained by Chad Brown he would draw a second glance in here.

ONE TO BEAT: #5 Essential Quality
NEXT: #4 Keepmeinmind, #3 Weyburn

#1 CHANNEL CAT (5/1) stole away for a wire-to-wire score two back in the Gr. 1 Man O War at Belmont. That was his first win in a while, and he followed that up with a wide effort in the Gr. 1 Manhattan. He’ll need his very best in here and that hasn’t appeared since 2019.

#2 CROSS BORDER (9/2) just missed in an optional claiming allowance race but hasn’t gotten home first since last August here at Saratoga in a state-bred stakes race right before he was beaten just a neck in the previous renewal of this race. He loves Saratoga turf—5 wins in 6 attempts and 2 for 2 at the distance! He’s got to be respected, even at age 7.

#3 BREAKPOINT (10/1) has had one race in the US for trainer Chad Brown and it was a 4th placing in an optional claiming allowance race. He was unbeaten in his native Chile. He should improve but would need to really move up to win. He may be overbet because he’s a Brown-trained runner. On the other hand, he’s a bit of an unknown, too.

#4 ROCKEMPEROR (6/1) romped in his last start over optional claiming allowance foes. He’s faced top-notch competition before and been close—nose and neck defeats in Gr. 2 Whittingham and Gr. 1 Manhattan on opposite coasts. Perhaps, now that he’s finally broken through with a US win, he’ll be ready to transfer that winning form into a US graded stakes victory? He’s just 3 for 17, overall and would need to take a step forward to win this. At least he’s sharp and trained by Chad Brown.

#5 CHANNEL MAKER (5/2) is the most accomplished of the group with 7 wins in 39 starts and over $3 million in the bank. He’s been off since March in Dubai, so he’s fresh. He’s got speed and is handled by regular rider Manny Franco. He’s won 2 of 6 at the Spa and was a troubled fourth last year in this race. He’s the one to beat.

#6 Red KRED KNIGHT (12/1) night has no speed, adds blinkers and will be looking for a Gr. 2 win at age 7. He seems to be in deep with these because his last three races have not been nearly as good as his previous best.

#7 MOON OVER MIAMI (7/2) is one of three Bill Mott trained runners in the race--#6 Red Knight and #5 Channel Maker are the others. This 4-year-old has no early speed and has finished close in Gr. 2 races before. His next to last race was the best of his developing career and he’s had time off since then. Still, he’ll need to go some to threaten barnmate #5 Channel Maker.

#8 SHAMROCKET (8/1) hails from the Todd Pletcher outfit and is a steady 4-year-old performer who would need to really step up his game to win this.

BEST: #5
NEXT: #2, #4

SARATOGA // RACE 11 (6:47PM ET) // CLAIMING // 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)

#1 VETTORI KIN (BRZ) (6/1) drops back to a live level in here. His back races make him very tough, but his recent stuff hasn’t been quite as good. He was claimed three back off a winning race at this level and should be respected off that.

#2 CLEAR VISION (15/1) makes a first start for trainer Tony Dutrow and he’s good with new runners (23%). He’s relatively lightly raced, so there could be more in the tank. If there is, Dutrow should be able to access it as this one drops down the ladder.

#3 MOROCCO (9/2) has races that fit very well in here and he tumbles in class for trainer Saffie Joseph. Javier Castellano rides and he’s 30% with Joseph over 64 mounts, according to Thoro-Graph figures. This one must be used.

#5 THE LAST ZIP (10/1) popped with one of his good ones last out to win a claimer at Belmont. He’s not good at pairing up top efforts, so he may need time before he’s at his best again. Trainer Mike Maker always must be respected in these turf claimers and he’s 18% with jockey Tyler Gaffalione and 20% overall after 11,667 starters, according to Thoro-Graph stats.

#6 BIRD'S EYE VIEW (12/1) has races that fit in here, but they came a while ago.

#7 TIZZARUNNER (5/1) goes for Mike Maker and Irad Ortiz rides. They hit at 24% over 422 mounts. This Maker runner just missed at this level at Churchill Downs last out and should be live in here. This will be the gelding’s second start for Maker and improvement is expected.

#8 HIEROGLYPHICS (6/1) moves from Maker to Schettino—11% first race after trainer change. He’s a consistent type and has won at this level a few times. He likes to track the early pace and will be handled by Ricardo Santana, who is 0-11 with Schettino runners.

#9 COUNTER OFFER (15/1) hasn’t been fast enough to win this race, but makes a second start for 21% trainer Rob Atras. Manny Franco rides and they’re 17% together. A win here would surprise us a bit but Atras runners do some surprising things.

#10 SHARP PROSPECT (4/1) drops off an optional claiming allowance tally at Indiana. He’s won three of this last four, two of those at Fair Grounds in Feb. and March. Top jock Luis Saez takes the mount and trainer Joe Sharp bats at 19% with him.  3 for 4 on turf and 2 for 2 at the distance.

#11 MANDATE (12/1) is an interesting fit 4-year-old who just finished second at this level at Belmont. His best race came four back for previous trainer Todd Pletcher and now races for Wayne Potts. He could have improvement in him, and he’s proven at this level. The post is no bargain and jockey Dylan Davis will need to save ground early in order to make this guy’s closing kick relevant. He has a win and second over the Saratoga turf.

#12 PATRIOT DRIVE (20/1) has races that fit and brings form from a variety of tracks to this race. A requisite drop in class occurs off a close synthetic race at Presque Isle. He has some acceptable Saratoga turf form as a 5-year-old and his recent Turf Paradise efforts aren’t awful. He figures wide from this post and hasn’t won in his last 16 races.

BEST: #3, #7
NEXT; #10

#2 DEFENSE WINS (6/5) usually finishes second with 5 runner-up efforts and just 1 win in 15 starts. Top jock Flavien Prat, aboard for one of those seconds, tries his hand at getting an elusive win on this gelding.

#4 STARSHIP CHEWBACCA (15/1) has some efforts that fit well in here. He gets a 7-pound apprentice break with jock Espinoza aboard. Last 2 are ugly efforts against better opponents. Forgive those and this guy’s not outgunned.

#6 PRINCE MAGICIAN (5/1) romped going one mile at Los Al last out. Toss a pair of turf races and he fits off his best. He’s just 1 for 13, though.

#7 RAYRAY (7/2) is interesting off a drop in class for trainer Doug O’Neill, who’s having a snakebit summer with just 2 wins and 7 seconds out of 34 starts. Apprentice Jess Pyfer rides with a 5-pound break in weights. No speed for this one and that’s an issue.

#8 PALALEO (8/1) has early class, drops in class and has an outside post position. Those are the positives. The 5-year-old would need to hang around better than he has in the past.

BEST: #2
NEXT: #4, #6


#2 ICE MAIDEN (3/1) is a new face at Del Mar for trainer Mark Casse, a 16% first out 2-year-old trainer. Nice :47 2/5 local move to go with steady Keeneland half mile drills. Nothing particular to note except that the trainer usually doesn’t ‘crank ‘em up’ first out.

#3 SUGAR SUGAR (5/1) is one of two entered for owner Gary Barber and trainer Peter Miller. Solid works for this daughter of Twirling Candy—a fine 2-year-old sire. Respect.

#4 VALENTINA GHADA (12/1) has win-early sire stats but trainer Michael McCarthy is just 8% with first out 2-year-olds. A series of 5-furlong works suggest this one is fit enough to keep going when other fade.

#5 TRAVEL SMART (5/1) is the other Barber/Miller runner in here and is by a sire with great win-early stats. Florent Geroux is named to ride, an interesting out-of-town jock selection.

#6 GRACE ADLER (9/5) hails from the Bob Baffert stable and will be ridden by top jock Prat. They team up at a 27% winning clip. Two fast 5-furlong gate works suggest this $700k purchase will be tough to beat.

BEST: #6
NEXT: #3, #4


#3 LOOKOUT POINT (8/5) is the third Gary Barber-owned and Peter Miller trained 2-year-old scheduled to run this afternoon in the first three races. This one ought to be favored and difficult to beat after a second going this distance on turf at Santa Anita. He was favored that afternoon under top jock Prat, who returns in the saddle.

#5 IL CAPITANO (3/1) set the pace in a common race with #3 Lookout Point, but faded to third, just one-half length behind that foe. That race under his belt, he should be fitter this time and has to be considered a threat to the top choice.

#8 MACKINNON (5/1) has made two starts for trainer Doug O’Neill and was second last out on turf going five furlongs. He’s come back to work well for this stretch out try. American Pharoah has had early success with turf runners.

BEST: #3
NEXT: #5, #8


#1 ANITANEWMERCEDES (8/1) is a new face locally, coming off a pair of turf races at Golden Gate. He showed speed in those and there’s not much early lick in here. He’s facing tougher horses than usual, but he’s at least got a winning spirit with 5 firsts out of 15 races. Still, these should be more challenging than those he’s been meeting.

#2 APPRECIATED (5/2) has sprint races in his past that would fit very nicely in here. He’s only won 3 of 25 races, so he’s a bit unreliable, but he’s in for a $20k tag here and that’s a class drop from where he’s been running in the past. He doesn’t have much speed.

#6 GEORGE HERMAN RUTH (2/1)…otherwise known as ‘The Bambino,’ was second last out at Los Al going one mile at this level. A repeat of that race will fit nicely in here. Trainer Phil D’Amato has been snakebit this season at Del Mar and, at this writing, is 0-22. The trainer wins with jockey JJ Hernandez at 25%.

 #7 CALIFORNIA KOOK (9/5) is the fourth Barber-owned (partially)/Miller trained runner of the afternoon…and we’re only four races into the card. This filly looks serious on the drop to a lesser level against fellow state-breds. A year ago, she was viewed as a graded stakes turf filly and now will try dirt with top jock Prat aboard. Her lack of early speed is an issue, but she should come running late.

BEST: #6, #7


#3 TIL I FOUND YOu (4/1) has speed and should be part of a hot early pace. She raced clear by 10 lengths early and held on to a more than 5 length state-bred maiden victory one back at Golden Gate on synthetic. 23% winning trainer Jonathan Wong is 0-7 at Del Mar, as of this writing. The 5-furlong distance should help her cause and her sire is 14% with turf runners and a respectable 12% with first-time turfers.

#4 DEL MAR FLASH (5/1) has a five-furlong state-bred turf win over this course. She’ll need to run faster than ever before to win this race by her closing style should fit well in this speed-laden heat.  Her last two races look horrible on the page, so the price will be right for those who think the early pace will collapse and that she will extend her record to 2 for 2 over this Del Mar layout.

#5 SPEEDING (7/2) broke maiden going five furlongs on turf at Gulfstream Park. She then was rushed into a pair of stakes at Turfway Park. She should be close to the early pace in here and new trainer Doub O’Neill uses apprentice Jess Pyfer to get a five-pound break in the weights.   

#6 DOUBLE WHOPPER (5/1) appears to be in town searching for a share of some Ship and Win dough. She comes off a decent effort at Indiana Grand when second going five furlongs on turf at a bit lower level than this.

#7 EMMA'S DANCE (6/1) has speed. Forget her last race and you’re looking at a very consistent filly with 5 finishes in the top two out of 9 races. This is her first turf start.

#8 GAYLES EVENING (4/1) adds even more spice to the lineup. She’s a win-type with 4 victories out of 8 races. They’ve all come in wire-to-wire performances, so you know jockey Kyle Frey will be gunning her from an outside post. She’s 1 for 1 on turf and at the distance with all but one of her efforts coming at Golden Gate.

PACE PLAYS: #4 Del Mar Flash, #1 Mind Meld

Race On!