Summer at the Spa got underway last weekend, and now has reached full swing.
This Saturday's card features four graded stakes, headlined by the Vanderbilt (GI) for older sprinters. Older grass routers also get their day in the sun in the Bowling Green (GII). In addition to stakes for older runners, three-year-olds also have a pair of local preps for Grade I events later in the meet. The Amsterdam (GII) will give sophomore sprinters a try over the local course before the King's Bishop, and the Jim Dandy (GII) prepares route horses for the Travers.
Picks & Ponderings also sees Paul Mazur preview the feature race of the weekend: the G1 Haskell Invitational from Monmouth - featuring the return of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.
As with all racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account. Fox Sports 2 will air a portion of the Saratoga card, including all four graded races; their broadcast will run from 4:00-6:30pm EDT. Horse Racing Radio Network will also provide audio coverage of all four graded stakes on Saturday's card at the Spa. Their broadcast runs from 4:00-6:30pm EDT, and is available both on their website and on Sirius 93.
Selections in the Bowling Green Handicap are for turf only. As of the release of the overnight, the race will be run on the inner turf, with the rail set at nine feet.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end, NN for Nicolle Neulist and PM for Paul Mazur. All races are scheduled for Saturday July 30th.
Updated July 28 to include morning lines. Updated July 30 to account for the anticipated scratch of READY DANCER from the Amsterdam, since he ran in Friday's Curlin instead. Updated July 30 to account for he scratch of DANISH DYNAFORMER in the Bowling Green.
Race 4: Amsterdam Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, six and a half furlongs on the dirt, post time 2:41pm EDT
The Amsterdam Stakes began in 1993 as the Screen King Stakes. Screen King, a Kentucky-bred who started his career in New York, finished third in the 1979 Preakness Stakes. He won two graded contests: the 1979 Swift Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct and the 1979 Ak-Sar-Ben Omaha Gold Cup (GII). In 1998, the race was renamed after Amsterdam, a town about a forty-minute drive from the Saratoga racetrack. Originally a seven-furlong race, it was a six-furlong race from 1994 through 2005, and has been run at its current six and a half furlong distance since 2006. It first earned a Grade III status in 1998, and has had its current Grade II designation since 2001.
Though the race is a local prep for the King's Bishop (GI) later in the meet, only two winners of the Amsterdam have gone on to win that race: Caleb's Posse (2011) and Discreetly Mine (2010). Two Amsterdam winners, who coincidentally both finished third when they returned in the King's Bishop, have made an even bigger name in the stud barn than on the racetrack: Distorted Humor (1996) and City Zip (2001).
Though there are a few who have shown speed at times, only MANIACAL is straight-up sprint speed. You could call him one-way, as he does his best right on the front end, but that would be selling him short by perhaps implying that he cannot take a challenge. MANIACAL can take a challenge. Both of his wins this year have come with some pressure -- a bit early in his maiden win, and far more fighting for his allowance win last out. The allowance win makes him very interesting here for several reasons. It was against three-and-up company, and here MANIACAL steps back to straight three-year-old company. That race also came at six and a half furlongs, the same distance as the Amsterdam. MANIACAL is a lightly-raced sophomore getting good at the right time, with a win at this specialty distance, and he has the right running style to pull the upset.
KING KRANZ should be in the stalking brigade. He is a son of Munnings, an excellent extended-sprint sire, and KING KRANZ himself has some extended-sprint form. He finished second by a neck in his only try at six furlongs, and also has a second-place finish going seven. His consistency also stands out. In ten starts, KING KRANZ has hit the board eight times. He has excuses for the two times he did not: one was at a route, and the other was a green career debut. As long as he returns from his break the same solid horse he was through the winter and spring, KING KRANZ makes sense here. MIND YOUR BISCUITS gets a class test here, as he is facing open company (as opposed to New York-bred company) for the first time. But, there are some suggestions that he is more than just your average state-bred. The six and a half furlong distance hits him right between the eyes, as he graduated emphatically at the distance, and was also second in an earlier attempt. Though that maiden win came in the mud, he proved his mettle over fast dirt last out, dismantling a NY-bred N1X field that included older. His speeds are right in range with what this open-company field has been firing, and MIND YOUR BISCUITS keeps Joel Rosario in the irons after that big last-out victory. Finally, he has back form at the Spa; in two tries last summer, he finished second both times.
#2 MANIACAL (5/1)
#4 READY DANCER (5/1)
#8 MIND YOUR BISCUITS (9/2)
Longshot: #3 QUIJOTE (12/1) will have to answer a question of his class here, but his form on the dirt has been perfectly solid: five dirt races, in the exacta all five times. He has yet to try an extended sprint over dirt, but does have a second-place finish at a two-turn seven furlongs at Charles Town back in April. One turn and a bit shorter than that -- what he gets today -- should be better. QUIJOTE's running style should fit here, as he should be near enough to the pace, with enough of a late kick to make himself seen late. He also gets a solid Saratoga rider in Jose Ortiz, and has a pair of sharp recent drills at the Spa. If QUIJOTE brings his best, he could get the familiar green and black silks of Midwest Thoroughbreds in the winners' circle once again. -- NN
Race 7: Bowling Green Stakes (GII), four-year-olds and up, one and three eighths miles on the inner turf, post time 4:25pm EDT
Once again this year, Saratoga's stakes schedule has eleventy squillion - okay, seven - graded stakes on Travers Day. One stakes that moved to Travers Day was the G1 Sword Dancer at a mile and a half. So NYRA shifted about the stakes calendar and moved the Bowling Green Handicap upstate to the Spa, after nearly five-plus decades at Belmont Park (though it was at Aqueduct in the 1960s). Named for a portion of Manhattan Island, the Bowling Green was a Grade One in the 1980s but in 1990 became a Grade Two, which it has been ever since. For years contested in the summer, it was moved to the Fall in 2009 (after a one-year hiatus) as the Man o' War took the summer slot among turf races. When the Man o' War went to early May in 2014, the Bowling Green went back to the summertime. Now it moves upstate and functions as a local prep to the Sword Dancer. At between ten and twelve furlongs throughout its history, it will be contested at a three-turn eleven furlongs this year with a quarter million dollars in purse money. NYRA stakes nameplates like Fort Marcy (1970), Woodbine Stakes nameplate Overskate (1979), and Canadian Hall of Famer With Approval (1990) are among the heroes. Theatrical (1987) won this race and the Breeders' Cup Turf in the same year. Locals will recognize Mid-America triple hero Honor Glide (1999) also on the winners' roll call.
Seeing as this is a graded race on the turf in New York, section 2.5.3 of the Racing Code of Codes indicates that there must be a Chad Brown-trained horse in the field. FLINTSHIRE is his representative. FLINTSHIRE, as you'll recall, beat a quality field in the G1 Manhattan last time on Belmont Stakes Day at 7-10. He'll be an odds-on favorite in this spot as he's a world class runner. It's only his second start of 2016, but he does fine with races spaced out (or not so much) and has been second to quality runners: Treve, Highland Reel, and so forth. While his class lines make mince meat of this field, there is one small hitch: this is a prep race. As this a prep race (to the G1 Sword Dancer), one wonders if FLINTSHIRE will be cranked to his fullest. Still, he came off a lay to annex the Manhattan. The third place finisher out of that event won the G1 United Nations. He offers nothing in the way of value (watch out for bridgejumpers, readers), but attempting to beat him is foolish. Javier Castellano will don the pink and white Juddmonte silks in this event. GRAND TITO looms the biggest danger in this field as he brings in two potential plus points. He's the possible controlling speed in a short field that drew little pace - and if Jose Ortiz puts him in the race he might scoot away on a lone speed lead. Winner three back of the G2 Mac Diarmada at this race's eleven panels, he was third two back (behind G1W Wake Forest) in the G2 Pan American, scratched on Derby Day's G1 Woodford Reserve, and was fourth behind FLINTSHIRE in the G1 Manhattan. He might be the target that everyone's chasing, but speed in a short field is a danger and it's possible Chad Brown doesn't crank his entrant all the way. Only two selections are given in this field, as four are slated to see the starter and NYRA has abandoned trifecta wagering. Five were slated to run but DANISH DYNAFORMER - the original third selection - scratched the morning of the race.
#2 FLINTSHIRE (1/5)
#5 GRAND TITO (6/1)
Longshot: No amount of fried chicken from Hattie's can get me to give you something in this space.
Race 9: Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (GI), three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:40pm EDT
Think back to your 21st birthday and your gift. A trip to the bar (to drink legally), maybe a car, or perhaps a down payment on your first apartment. If you were Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt II (1912-1999), your 21st birthday gift was Sagamore Farm in Maryland. Bearing the same name as his father, his pedigree was steeped in wealth: his mother was the daughter of a drug inventor who invented an antacid that carries on in its current form as an Alka-Seltzer. The paternal side was the Vanderbilt family that controlled railroads (then moved to banks and racetracks, by the 20th century) in the Northeast. A. G. Vanderbilt was exposed to racing at ten when taken to the Preakness Stakes and got into racing heavily after military service in the Second World War. He campaigned Hall of Famers like Discovery and Bed o' Roses (NYRA stakes nameplates, too) but his ownership of Native Dancer (1953 Preakness winner/two-time Horse of the Year, and later a foundation sire) is perhaps is best claim to fame. In later years, he became chairman of NYRA. In 1985, the A Phenonenon Handicap was created to honor A Phenomenon, the winner of the 1983 G1 Vosburgh. Given a grade in 1990 and ascending to Grade One status in 2010, the race first honored Vanderbilt in 2000. Always at six furlongs in August at Saratoga, it carries a $350,000 purse this year. Orientate (2002) is the only winner of Vanderbilt to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint in the Fall. War Front (2006) has since gone on to be a fashionable stallion in Kentucky. Fabulous Strike (2009) is also among the winners, and has a stakes at Penn National in his honor.
Before becoming a fashionable stallion with a six figure stud fee, War Front was a sprinter - as seen in his win in the 2006 Vanderbilt Handicap.
"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."
Perhaps the runner that wants the most to go six furlongs on the dirt in graded company (this doesn't seem like a sterling Vanderbilt upon first glance) against elders is DELTA BLUESMAN, winner last time out of the G2 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream and one of three in here from the Jorge Navarro barn. ANCHOR DOWN, CATALINA RED, and A. P. INDIAN all seem to want seven furlongs or more elongated sprints. HOLY BOSS has yet to progress from his form at three - though he did win the G2 Amsterdam here last year. DELTA BLUESMAN will be asked to prove he can handle a surface different from Gulfstream and Monmouth (an oval that plays like Gulfstream) when shipping to Saratoga. He'll have Emisael Jaramillo to ride - his "A" rider from Gulfstream that takes off a day down there to ride at the Spa. He broke to the front in the Smile Sprint, repelled the leaders, and zipped on home for the win. Capable of a sub :45 half while fighting off duels, he's the king of these jesters - the man with one eye among the blind. It's not a strong group of sprinters, but he's the choice here. REQUITE uses a similar pattern to last year in this spot. Last year he won a minor stakes at Gulfstream going seven panels, cut back a half a furlong, and was second in the G2 Amsterdam. This year, after disappearing, he won a minor stakes at Gulfstream. With a trainer that is capable of prices at the Spa, this is a runner that mkes sense REQUITE has only been out six times, but he has shown he can transfer Gulfstream form to Saratoga - something that will be asked of DELTA BLUESMAN. ALL STAR RED cleared the second level allowance condition three back. Stepped up to the G3 Maryland Sprint, he reported home second in the slop on Preakness Day. Last out going six and a half, he was second in a third-level allowance. Upgrade this runner should there be a summertime thunderstorm, but he's plausible in the dry as a runner that does have some graded form at six panels.
#3 DELTA BLUESMAN (3/1)
#7 REQUITE (12/1)
#8 ALL STAR RED (20/1)
Longshot: Like a longshot writer dependably going to Hattie's chicken jokes during Saratoga, this space also goes to the uncoupled trainer angle with the highest of predictability. Given the Island of Misfit Toys nature of this race, maybe a runner on the way up is the way to go. #6 CHUBLICIOUS (12/1) takes a steep step up. Two back he was the winner of a New Jersey-bred stakes for sprinters, but he annexed an open stakes last time at the Jersey Shore. Don't be fooled by the quick fractions there - there's a long run up for six panels and sub :22 opening quarters are the norm. But he can close and perhaps his stablemate is the target that sets him up. CHUBLICIOUS also has ten starts at six panels, and all ten are money finishes. He will be sternly tested for class, but he goes third off the shelf and is in career-best form. Antonio Gallardo has the mount on this runner. -- PM
Race 10: Jim Dandy Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:18pm EDT
The Jim Dandy Stakes (GII), the local prep for the Travers, was named in honour of a horse who made his name by winning the Travers. Jim Dandy, a 100-1 shot in the 1930 Travers Stakes, galloped home to an eight-length victory over Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox that year. This race, inaugurated in 1964, began as a one-mile race for sophomores. In 1971 it was shortened to seven furlongs, then stretched out to its current nine-furlong distance the following year. A Grade III starting in 1973, it has been a Grade II every year since 1984 -- except for 2001, when it was a Grade I. Though this year's Triple Crown winner opted for the Haskell instead, one Triple Crown winner has won the Jim Dandy as well: Affirmed (1978). However, his rival Alydar got the best of him in that year's Travers.
The Jim Dandy has been a fruitful source of Travers Stakes winners. Through its history, ten horses have gone on to win the Travers after taking the Jim Dandy: Alpha (2012, in a dead heat with Golden Ticket), Stay Thirsty (2011), Street Sense (2007), Bernardini (2006), Flower Alley (2005), Medaglia d’Oro (2002), Thunder Rumble (1992), Carr de Naskra (1984), Willow Hour (1981), and Arts and Letters (1969).
Medaglia d'Oro romps in the 2002 Jim Dandy Stakes. Now a prominent stallion, he sired Songbird, winner of last weekend's Coaching Club American Oaks (GI).
Though the Jim Dandy drew a short field -- just six -- the field is high-quality. It features three of the top four finishers from the Belmont: CREATOR, DESTIN, and GOVERNOR MALIBU. MOHAYMEN, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, also joined the fray, along with Easy Goer 2nd RACE ME HOME and multiple graded stakes placed maiden LAOBAN. Everyone here has some chance.
Though CREATOR comes in fresh off the biggest win, his closing running style seems a bit of a liability here. Instead, this space will side with a different horse coming out of the Belmont: GOVERNOR MALIBU. It is safe to say he was the trip notes horse from the Belmont, after getting running into trouble twice down the stretch. Even so, once he got room, he kept motoring and stayed on to finish fourth. The cut back to a mile and an eighth will not hurt him -- he crossed the wire first but was disqualified in the Tesio, and he finished second in the Peter Pan. The Peter Pan is notable, as GOVERNOR MALIBU was significantly farther off the pace early than he prefers to be, and still rallied. Typically he stalks the pace, and that is the trip that would make sense here: stalking off LAOBAN and taking over. GOVERNOR MALIBU also has some back Saratoga form, with a second-place finish last year in his only try at the Spa. He is the only horse in the field with a race over this course. GOVERNOR MALIBU has a good chance to turn the tables on his Belmont foes.
MOHAYMEN comes into the Jim Dandy fresh and ready to fire for a trainer who has been able to do no wrong at the Spa. Kiaran McLaughlin has sent eight horses to the post so far during the Saratoga meet, and gotten six win pictures already. He also tends to send horses ready to fire off a freshening, with a 21% win rate off 45-90 day layoffs. Of course, this is more than just a trainer play. MOHAYMEN does have a win at a mile and an eighth, and his stalking style should suit a race with a short field and without a lot of pace. His fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby was enough to allay fears that the Florida Derby had him going the wrong way, and the work pattern suggests MOHAYMEN will come back strong here.
LAOBAN gets a look as a straight-up pace play. Last out he was fifth in the Dwyer (GIII), but here he will not have a 65/1 shot to burn him up early, and may get loose on the lead. The question is, of course, whether he will be good enough to keep going late. But, he comes in second off a freshening, and fired a blazing work between the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy. He also gets a switch to Jose Ortiz, a solid Spa jockey who knows how to ride a speed horse. LAOBAN stands to be the longest shot in the field, but with such a possibility of being lone speed in a six-horse field, he deserves respect.
#5 GOVERNOR MALIBU (9/2)
#3 MOHAYMEN (9/5)
#2 LAOBAN (20/1)
Longshot: The odds of the longshot writer showing up for a six-horse race are about the same as the odds of Jim Dandy winning the 1930 Travers. Jim Dandy may have come in, but the longshot writer did not. -- NN
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