ANALYZING SATURDAY’S GRADE 1 STAKES EVENTS
Saturday presents us with a trio of intriguing Grade 1 races that pose a variety of thorny handicapping issues. At Saratoga Race Course are the Prioress Stakes for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 6 furlongs on the dirt, and the Whitney Invitational Handicap for top older horses going 1 1/8 miles—also on the main track. Del Mar counters with the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Polytrack surface.
Let’s get started!
Field for the Prioress (Saratoga Race 9, post time 5:12 p.m. EDT)
- Emma’s Encore—benefited from rapid pace to win the Victory Ride Stakes last time at 39-to-1
- Livi Makenzie—Midwest shipper cuts back in distance and steps way up in class
- Jamaican Smoke—won the Victory Ride early pace battle, but lost the war
- Tu Endie Wei—stumbled at the start of the Victory Ride and flattened out late for third
- Judy the Beauty—makes second start of 2012 after a 2-year-old campaign that included a second in the Spinaway Stakes and a winning foray to France
- Agave Kiss—very fleet filly was used up on the early pace in the Victory Ride
- Jazzy Idea—faces a tall task after running second in a Charles Town stakes
The four most logical horses in the Prioress all come out of the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes on July 7 at Belmont. That race featured an abnormally rapid pace. Jamaican Smoke and 1-to-5 favorite (and previously unbeaten) Agave Kiss duked it out early and paid the price late with Jamaican Smoke finishing second and Agave Kiss fifth. The beneficiary of the blazing early fractions was Emma’s Encore, who closed from next to last to win at a big price. Tu Endie Wei, a half-sister to the Sovereign Award-winning Biofuel, stumbled at the start, moved a tad abruptly into contention, then spun her wheels a bit at the end. The question is: how will Saturday’s race unfold in the very likely event that the pace is not as ridiculously fast?
- Tu Endie Wei—the Victory Ride was the first time she has lost while sprinting on a non-turf surface. And she had an excuse in the Victory Ride. A more alert getaway gives her every chance and Julien Leparoux, who rode her for the first time in the Victory Ride, will undoubtedly be extra careful this time at the gate.
- Jamaican Smoke—her last was very impressive in that she did much of the heavy lifting in the Victory Ride and didn’t pack it in. Unfortunately, she must deal with Agave Kiss again.
- Agave Kiss—Her race two starts back in the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico race Course would blow these away. However, she will be a short price Saturday with her 6-for-7 lifetime record, and from my experience, short-priced horses coming off subpar efforts are not good betting propositions.
Field for the Whitney Invitational (Saratoga Race 10, post time 5:45 p.m. EDT)
- Rule—5-year-old makes his second start of the year after winning the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup Stakes on July 7
- Hunters Bay—has won three in a row, but against softer and on the Woodbine Polytrack surface
- Caixa Eletronica—iron horse wheels back in 15 days off less-than-stellar fifth-place finish in the opening day James Marvin Stakes at the Spa.
- Endorsement—has early speed but was seventh, beaten 37 lengths vs. some of these in the July 7 Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont
- Trickmeister—brings a lot of early speed to the table. Third in the Surburban last time, and he ran the best race of his life in his lone previous Saratoga start two years ago
- Ron the Greek—Road warrior needs no introduction after capturing the Santa Anita (G1) and Stephen Foster (G1) Handicaps earlier this year. Bill Mott trainee was victimized by a slow pace when second two starts ago at Oaklawn
- Flat Out—makes his second start in the Bill Mott barn. Has had foot issues, but his very tough on his best. He was the favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)
- Hymn Book—Come from behinder won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in February but seemingly needs a perfect setup to beat this caliber
- Fort Larned—speedy, but not a need-the-lead type. He enjoyed a perfect, hassle-free trip on the lead last time in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3)
The marquee name in the Whitney is Ron the Greek, who—if the year ended today—would be a leading contender for Horse of the Year.
- Flat Out—Mott is a master at slowly bringing older horses around to their peak ability. You can be sure that this horse was not fully cranked up when second last time out to Rule at Monmouth Park. His two races at Saratoga last year, from a speed figure standpoint, would win this.
- Ron the Greek—a cool horse that brings his “A” game every time. He is a likely winner if Flat Out does not return to 2011 form. Both he and Flat Out should have plenty of pace to run at.
- Trickmeister—Rick Dutrow trainee is the speed of the speed and will lead this field for a long way.
Field for the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (race 8, Del Mar, post time 8:30 p.m. EDT)
- Include Me Out—won three stakes including the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes before tiring to second last time in Betfair Hollywood Park’s Vanity Invitational Handicap (G1)
- Quaintly—Has raced exclusively on turf except for a 10th-place finish on an all-weather surface in Ireland
- Switch—Finished third in this race last year. Seems to prefer shorter distances than today’s 1 1/16 miles
- Amani—a complete wild card in here. She’s 10-for-11 lifetime while racing at the highest levels in Chile. She makes her U.S. and 2012 debut Saturday
- Kayce Ace—steps way up in class off several lackluster efforts
- Zafeen’s Pearl—won a Del Mar allowance after finishing 6 3/4 lengths behind Include Me Out in the Vanity
- Star Billing—has raced strictly on turf. Had a very poor trip in her one 2012 race, and trainer John Shirreffs now reaches out for top jockey Rafael Bejarano
- Great Hot—Won her lone start at Del Mar, but recent form has been suspect
This is a competitive race, but it seems as if the West Coast routing females are a cut below some of those out East (particularly Royal Delta). In here, you’ve got the trusty Include Me Out, a surprise package in Amani and the mildly distance-challenged Switch, who broke no stopwatches in winning the A Gleam Handicap (G2) at seven furlongs last time out.
- Star Billing—This race looks ripe for a longshot, and Star Billing was one of the nation’s best 3-year-old grass fillies last year. Turf form often holds up very well on the Del Mar Polytrack surface. She should be much tighter in her second start of the year.
- Include Me Out—The field’s most likely winner but she will be a short price. Proven at the distance and at Del Mar, she again faces a relatively modest group. Her speed figures are good but not great, which is why wild cards like Star Billing and Amani are intriguing.
- Amani—Her past performances look impressive with all of those “1s” on the page. But we really won’t know how her Chilean form translates to U.S. racing until we see her once. Has been training modestly but has never raced on a synthetic surface. And, trainer Neil Drysdale is winless with his last six with shippers making their U.S. debuts.