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Saratoga Play of the Day

By Ron Flatter

This race not what it seems

The morning line says that the $100,000 Union Avenue Stakes at Saratoga may be a one-horse race Thursday. Yes, Quezon (9-5) finished second to Hot City Girl (6-1) in last year’s running, and they are drawn inside next to each other for their rematch. Since that loss owner Marc Keller and trainer Robert Ribaudo have taken Quezon to three graded stakes, finishing second in one and third in another. If not for a stumble out of the gate in June at Belmont Park, she might have done better than sixth in the Bed of Roses. As for Hot City Girl, trainer Linda Rice sent the 2015 Charles Town Oaks winner to Aqueduct early this year. Hot City Girl won a $100,000 stakes before she failed as an odds-on favorite in a muddy allowance race in April. Now after a four-month break Hot City Girl comes back for this 6½-furlong renewal with José Ortiz reclaiming the ride. She will not be alone on the early lead in this race for New York-bred fillies and mares. Court Dancer (5-1) will be there, too, but she is 0-for-4 this year, and Joel Rosario will be her fifth jockey in as many races. She is one of two Jason Servis runners in this field. Picco Uno (8-1) is the other. Not only is her off-the-pace style worth watching against the front-runners, but she is cutting back from her mile failure in the slop at Belmont Park in late May. With an excellent record coming back from breaks, and with the hot combination of Servis and jockey Írad Ortiz Jr., Picco Uno is the across-the-board play in the Union Avenue.

Play of the Day for Thursday, Aug. 17: Picco Uno across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from

A bet against Pletcher this time

Chad Brown may be the tycoon of turf, but when it comes to his duel for Saratoga supremacy with Todd Pletcher, he is taking a pass on Wednesday’s feature. It is Pletcher who trains two contenders trying to win the $100,000 Bolton Landing Stakes, a 5½-furlong turf sprint for 2-year-old fillies. In a race full of front-end speed, Sugar Queen (4-1) will try to win from just off the pace, and March X Press (8-1) figures to be a closer. But the Pletcher pair is flawed. Although her bottom-side breeding suggests she may take well to turf, Sugar Queen has collected her two wins on the sandy dirt of Belmont Park and the slop of Saratoga. And March X Press comes back only two weeks after breaking her maiden on debut against New York-breds. Browsing elsewhere, morning-line favorite Sly Beauty (3-1) got her first win with a 4½-length win over yielding turf at Woodbine, but that was two months ago, and she has not raced since for Mark Casse. Since the Spa weather looks good Wednesday, the browsing continues. Two Wesley Ward fillies full of early speed and starting from the inside are worth a look. Mentality (7-2) has not raced since mid-June, when she earned a strong speed rating winning her debut at Belmont. But it is hard to avoid zeroing in on Keeneland maiden winner Fairyland (5-1). She is back from a middle-of-the-pack finish over six furlongs in the fast company of the Group 3 Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot. Now she gets back the blinkers, the Lasix and, for the first time, hot jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. That combination and the drop in class make Fairyland the across-the-board choice in the Bolton Landing. 

Play of the Day for Wednesday, Aug. 16: Fairyland across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


No hunch bet for this handicapper

Midway through the Saratoga summer, bettors have seen the pace trend swing back and forth. It seemed as if there was no speed the first week or so of the meet. Then there was no shortage of it. In Monday’s $100,000 Saratoga Dew Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, the pendulum goes back the other way. Only Flattermefabulous (9-2) may be comfortable on the early lead. Then again, this will be her first race for new owner Matthew Schera, who bought the 5-year-old sired by Flatter (no relation) with a $35,000 claim two weeks ago. Flattermefabulous led the whole way that day for trainer Barclay Tagg and won that claiming race. Now she runs for trainer Carlos Martin, and for the first time since last summer she does not have to welcome a new rider. José Ortiz will be on board to try and lead all six rivals for all nine furlongs. Three of the other horses figure to stalk the pace, including morning-line favorite Literata (2-1), a 6-year-old that has been in the money in 20 of her 32 races. Although she shares the best speed figures coming in, Literata has lost to some of the weaker horses in Monday’s field. Five-year-old Jc’s Shooting Star (5-2) seems to have the best case to win. She will also be just off the pace, and her rail draw has been an advantage on Saratoga’s main track this summer. It also does not hurt that trainer David Donk and jockey Manny Franco are a hot tandem. So Jc’s Shooting Star gets the win bet – with a little something extra on closer Mecke’s Madalyn (15-1) to take her first dose of Lasix and hit the board.


Play of the Day for Monday, Aug. 14: Jc's Shooting Star to win, but keep an eye on Mecke's Madalyn.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


Race for 2-year-olds serves as Kentucky Derby preview

Can Copper Bullet (5-2) take a significant step toward contending for next year’s Kentucky Derby? As the morning-line favorite in Sunday’s $200,000 Grade 2 Saratoga Special for 2-year-olds, it is a logical question. He broke his maiden winning by eight lengths in a Churchill Downs sprint in late May, and if he had not steadied coming into the stretch there in June, he might have won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor. This weekend’s 6½-furlong test has him breaking from the outside post in a field of nine, not the best place for his front-end speed. Coming off a victory in a $100,000 stakes race, Diamond Oops (7-2) arrives from Gulfstream Park with a 2-for-2 record and should be sitting just off the pace. But the most eye-popping numbers may belong to Barry Lee (4-1). In his debut  last month at Laurel Park he pulled away to a 6½-length victory in a $40,000 maiden race, earning him the biggest speed figures coming into this appearance at the Spa. With bloodlines to Medaglia d’Oro and with José Ortiz taking over the ride, the across-the-board play here is on Barry Lee to stoke the rose-colored dreams of his Sagamore Farm owners.

Play of the Day for Sunday, Aug. 13: Bet Barry Lee across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


'Seconditis' is a ailment with only one cure

Beware of seconditis – that epidemic that afflicts heavy favorites that take a bettor’s money and waste it away. Time Test has done just that in his two U.S. races for trainer Chad Brown, losing by a nose as a 1-2 favorite in the Fort Marcy and then finishing second at even money in the Manhattan on Belmont Stakes day. Now the four-time U.K. group winner gets a change of scenery. But on to the turf at Saratoga he keeps his familiar role as a morning-line favorite. Facing five rivals, Time Test (8-5) also cuts back to a mile in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap for older horses. The shorter distance may not suit this 5-year-old sired by Dubawi; Javier Castellano should have him in mid-pack, chasing the pace set by 4-year-old filly Sweet Little Lila (6-1). Disco Partner (2-1) figures to racing from just off the pace in tandem with World Approval (9-2). The difference is that Disco Partner drew clear at a mile last month to win a $150,000 stakes race at Belmont; World Approval seems to need a little more distance. Two closers – American Patriot (6-1) and Ballagh Rocks (10-1) – will try to pick up the pieces late, but the thinking here is that Disco Partner will be too good for them. The play then is across the board on Disco Partner  – with a little something extra in an exacta box with American Patriot.

Play of the Day for Saturday, Aug. 12: Disco Partner across the board and an exacta box with American Patriot.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


Candip can do

There is every reason to like Stallwalkin’ Dude (7-5) in Friday’s feature at Saratoga. The morning-line favorite in the $100,000 Tale of the Cat sprint for 3-year-olds and up has been competitive in bigger races, including a second-place finish to Roy H in the Grade 2 True North on Belmont Stakes day. Yes, the 7-year-old gelding was a distant fourth in his last race – last month’s seven-furlong Grade 2 Belmont Sprint. But the cutback to six furlongs Friday should suit him here as should his stalking style in a race full of pace. Another 7-year-old – Weekend Hideaway (5-2) – figures to be in closer pursuit of the early leaders, but even though he cuts back from a mile victory in the Belmont slop in late May, he has lost his last five sprints. Instead, the gaze for value locks in on 6-year-old gelding Candip (6-1). He ships in from a last-place disappointment at Indiana Downs. But that was his first race in six months, and he has a history of being strong in his second race back from a layoff, including a runner-up finish in a New Year’s Day Grade 3 at Gulfstream Park. Coming in a week after a bullet work at Churchill Downs, Candip is worth a shot with an across-the-board bet in the Tale of the Cat.

Play of the Day for Friday, Aug. 11: Candip across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


Time to hit The Bourbon

They faced one another nearly seven weeks ago at Belmont Park. Now they have a rematch as the top three betting choices in Thursday’s $100,000 New York Stallion Series Stakes on the turf at Saratoga. Lady Joan (2-1) is the morning-line favorite this time after finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of Lover’s Key (5-2) and Paz The Bourbon (3-1) in June. The first two set a dawdling pace early in that seven-furlong race around one turn. Although they are likely again to be out front of the other 3-year-old fillies, they will make two turns and go one mile this time. Making the rash assumption the fractions will be faster, the first thought is that the closer – Paz The Bourbon – will have a chance to pick up the pieces late at the longer distance. Yes, this will be the fourth consecutive race that trainer Mark Hennig is making a jockey switch – this time from John Velázquez to Javier Castellano. Still, Paz The Bourbon is the primary choice to win. One other closer with value, though, is worth a look underneath. She’s Dreamin (6-1) broke her maiden by four lengths last month in a seven-furlong, $62,000 race at Belmont Park, so trainer Tom Bush is moving her up in class. The play here then is Paz The Bourbon to win – and in an exacta box with She’s Dreamin.

Play of the Day for Thursday, Aug. 10: Paz The Bourbon to win and in an exacta box with She’s Dreamin.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


Vision for this race: Class jump works

The class jump certainly makes a bettor wary, doesn’t it? That is precisely what Expedited Vision (5-1) must overcome in the $100,000 Quick Call Stakes – the 5½-furlong turf feature Wednesday at Saratoga. But like Expedited Vision, each of the six 3-year-olds has a cross to bear in this race. Morning-line favorite Malraux (2-1) makes a huge leap from his last win in an $18,000 claiming race, not to mention the fact that his last two races were taken off the turf at Arlington Park. Blind Ambition (5-2) drops down from a graded-stakes failure over seven furlongs the dirt his last time out for Todd Pletcher, but the inside draw is not helpful on the Saratoga turf. Mongo Nation (7-2) had a couple turf wins during the Gulfstream Park winter, but he has not fared well against weaker competition lately. After finishing last in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day The Money Monster (5-1) could bring the goods if he avoids trouble – a big “if” – but this is his first time on turf for trainer Bill Mott. And Indy Hill (12-1) just seems outclassed in this field. Sired by Hansen, trained by Phil Schoenthal and ridden by Sheldon Russell, Expedited Vision is the across-the-board choice to run his record to 3-for-3. The value is there. Now we will see about the class.

Play of the Day for Wednesday, Aug. 9: Expedited Vision across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


2 5-horse races fill stakes void

It is a rarity at Saratoga – a day without a stakes race. The $100,000 Cab Calloway division of the New York Stallion Stakes did not fill, so a pair of $90,000 allowance races – the third and the seventh – will serve as Monday’s co-features. Instead of 3-year-old colts, it will be fillies and mares sharing the subdued spotlight with only five in each race. For Irish-bred 4-year-old Queen Blossom (2-1), being the morning-line favorite in the third is a far cry from 17 months ago, when she won a Group 3 stakes at the Curragh. Barry Irwin’s Team Valor bought her right after that, and she has yet to win in America for trainer Graham Motion, although she finished second in a $62,500 June claiming race over 1¼ miles at Belmont Park. Another closer – Achnaha (9-5) – finished third in that same race, 2¼ lengths behind Queen Blossom. Monday’s rematch is 1½ miles on the inner turf, which ought to suit Achnaha just fine, so she is worth a win-ticket bet. There ought to be just a little more value in the seventh – a seven-furlong dash on the main track. Racing for the first time in eight weeks Annie Rocks (8-5) is the morning-line favorite, but this seems a little over her head. If lightly raced 4-year-old Tejana (5-2) goes to the early lead, she should not have a repeat of the traffic trouble she ran into 7½ weeks ago at Belmont Park. That was her first race in 10 months. If she can return to the form that had her racing within a neck of Unbridled Mo in Grade 3 company as a 3-year-old, Tejana should handle the small field in the late co-feature – and is deserving of an on-the-nose bet.

Play of the Day for Monday, Aug. 7: Achnaha to win in the 3rd; Tejana to win in the 7th.

Saratoga features in handicap order from


Looking for Value in turf feature

The old boys’ network gets back together in Sunday’s turf-sprint feature at Saratoga. The $250,000 Troy Handicap could boil down to the latest rematch of 6-year-olds Green Mask (8-5) and Pure Sensation (9-5). The top two morning-line choices have split their first six meetings with Green Mask coming out ahead both times this year, and the 5½-furlong distance seems more to Green Mask’s liking. Holding Gold (9-2) is also a familiar presence, winning once this spring against Green Mask at Keeneland. So while it is apparent that Green Mask, Pure Sensation and Holding Gold are in the same league, they may not measure up to the appropriately named Long On Value (5-1) when he is at his best. The 6-year-old closer trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Joel Rosario barely missed winning the Al Quoz Sprint on Dubai World Cup night. Long On Value was fourth in this race last year when Green Mask finished second, but he lost by only a neck after Rosario shook his reins a little late in the stretch. The thought here is that the cutback to 5½ furlongs, the return to America from a flat run at Royal Ascot and the drop in class should suit him better than his lead-up to this race last summer. Long On Value gets the win-place-show bet here – with a little bit on the side on Wes Welker’s well-traveled Undrafted (10-1) to hit the board.

Play of the Day for Sunday, Aug. 6: Long On Value across the board.

Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from

Weather will play role in Whitney Stakes

It seems certain that it is going to rain Saturday morning at Saratoga. It is supposed to be taper off before Saturday’s first race – and certainly before the $1.2 million Grade 1 Whitney Stakes. How fast the track dries will be an important consideration for bettors, because the morning-line favorite Gun Runner (4-5) has underperformed in his two runs on sloppy tracks. But even if the dirt turns fast by race time at 5:46 p.m. EDT, the Stephen Foster winner will find himself competing for the early lead with Tu Brutus (8-1) and Discreet Lover (5-1). Just how much Florent Geroux can do to control the pace will say a lot about the outcome of the Whitney. If he cannot keep the fractions moderate, the door will be open for Keen Ice (3-1). In winning the Suburban last month he showed that he does not have to be too far off the pace to deliver a victory. And as anyone who followed American Pharoah will attest, Keen Ice showed nearly two years ago that he can win at Saratoga. If the track is not fast by post time, then War Story (6-1) would seem to be the obvious play. His two wins on wet tracks include a $125,000 stakes race last winter at Aqueduct. But the big question with both Keen Ice and War Story is trust. Keen Ice lost 10 in a row before last month, including three times as a favorite. War Story has perhaps racing’s most capricious owner in Ron Paolucci, who in 22 races has had nine trainers, 13 jockeys and five blinker changes for the 5-year-old gelding. Casting aside the leeriness, the across-the-board play is Keen Ice if it is dry – and War Story if it is not.

Play of the Day for Saturday, Aug. 5: Keen Ice to win if track is dry; War Story if not.

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Look beyond undefeated horse to Yoshida

There is nothing more eye-catching in past performances than an undefeated horse. But in the case of Bricks And Mortar (5-2), is he a worthy morning-line favorite for Friday’s feature at Saratoga? With meet-leading trainer Chad Brown, he brings a 3-for-3 record into the $200,000 Grade 2 National Racing Museum Hall of Fame Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. It is the first graded stakes for this lightly raced colt sired by Giant’s Causeway, and he will be chasing familiar company. Despite drawing gate 8 in the field of 9, John Velázquez and Secretary At War (8-1) ought to be in front early, and Javier Castellano should have Big Handsome (3-1) right behind him. That is exactly how it went down when they raced against one another on July 4 in the $100,000 Manila Stakes at Belmont Park, where Joel Rosario and Bricks And Mortar came from last place to beat Big Handsome and Secretary At War by a neck. Just as eye-catching as an undefeated record, though, are middling speed figures, the likes of which were left behind from the Manila Stakes. That is why the bettor’s gaze wanders to Yoshida (7-2). In his first time trying 1¼ miles, the WinStar colt weakened to fifth last month as the favorite in a tough Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Trainer Bill Mott cuts him back to a more comfortable distance, so presuming Irad Ortiz Jr. lets him sit off the pace, Yoshida is the across-the-board choice in the Hall of Fame. Oh, one more thing. If Parlor (15-1) can actually keep his act together for a change, Julien Leparoux might also deliver a strong closing burst and pick up some of the money.

Play of the Day for Friday, Aug. 4: Yoshida across the board.

Friday's Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


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Study hard and perhaps you will win

Anyone who thinks the Belmont Stakes is a grind at 1½ miles may want to have a look at Thursday’s feature at Saratoga. The $100,000 Birdstone Stakes is that rare animal – a 1¾-mile race on dirt. The seven stayers racing include last year’s winner Turco Bravo (12-1). This 8-year-old gelding will be starting his 60th race, but the weather promises to be better and drier than it was for last year’s sloppy renewal, so he may not be worth a second look. Trainer Gary Contessa indicated that morning-line favorite Tu Brutus (7-5) would be scratched after being cross-entered for Saturday’s $1.2 million Grade 1 Whitney, leaving a void at pacesetter. Scuba (9-2), last year’s Grade 2 Marathon winner at Santa Anita during Breeders’ Cup weekend, gets the blinkers put back on by trainer Brendan Walsh. Munjaz (6-1), a seemingly outclassed Shadwell 6-year-old, gets blinkers added by Kiaran McLaughlin. If Scuba and Munjaz work the front end into a suicidal speed duel, then John Velázquez could swoop in riding 4-year-old Hard Study (5-2) from just off the pace for Todd Pletcher. Although the price will turn chalky after the scratching of the pre-race favorite, Hard Study still seems like the play for the Birdstone, perhaps boxed in an exacta with Scuba and Munjaz.

Play of the Day for Thursday, Aug. 3: Hard Study to win, boxed in an exacta with Scuba and Munjaz if you are so inclined.

Thursday's Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


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Value play? Clipthecouponannie (of course)

This one required a double take. Carina Mia is in a race for older fillies and mares that have not won a graded stakes in 2017. Really? It is hard to believe that she is 0-for-6 since last year’s Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont Stakes day. Carina Mia has since raced in Songbird’s shadow, finishing a distant second to her twice and then fourth in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on this year’s Belmont day. A change of scenery was apparently in order, so Carina Mia was moved from Bill Mott’s barn to trainer Chad Brown, who seems to do no wrong at Saratoga. With 12 wins this summer he is well on his way to a second straight training title. Brown saddles Carina Mia (2-1) for the first time as the morning-line favorite for Wednesday’s seven-furlong $100,000 Shine Again Stakes. Forecast to be the second betting choice, Going For Broke (7-2) has a lot in common with Carina Mia. She is also in Brown’s barn, also cutting back from over a mile, and also finished a distant second to Songbird – as a 12-1 long shot in last summer’s Alabama. Clipthecouponannie (5-1) has had seven weeks off since she failed as a favorite in the slop her last time out at Belmont, where she blew the start. The last time trainer Todd Pletcher gave her a break this long was last December, and after that 10-month layoff she responded with a victory. With John Velázquez riding her again, Clipthecouponannie is the value play across the board in the Shine Again.

Play of the Day for Wednesday, Aug. 2: Clipthecouponannie to win.

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Look to hedge bet on favorite in Monday feature

After seeing how well Good Samaritan looked moving from dirt to turf in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, the old switcheroo could come back to bite form players in Monday’s Saratoga feature – the $100,000 Coronation Cup turf sprint. No fewer than four of the nine fillies in this 5½-furlong dash for 3-year-olds has been a dirt specialist. But they don’t look to be in the class of morning-line favorite Morticia (2-1). After finishing second in the Grade 3 Appalachian three months ago at Keeneland, this filly sired by Twirling Candy cut back from that mile for $100,000 victories at seven and then 5½ furlongs. José Lezcano is back to ride her for trainer George Arnold. The question is whether gate 8 in the field of 9 may compromise her going forward early. The same goes for Lady Alexandra (6-1), which drew the outside post and makes her first start for trainer Tom Proctor. She was transferred from hot turf trainer Chad Brown, who instead saddles India Montuana (4-1), idle the past seven weeks and still without a win since Brown got her this past winter from Antonio Sano. Javier Castellano will be her third jockey in as many races. Epping Forest (6-1) will try to win this from behind and is cutting back from a mile to her sprint strength while making her stakes debut for Christophe Clement – another trainer with turf success. If she had drawn a better post the play here would be all in on the nose of Morticia. But the hedge is to bet her with a little something extra on Epping Forest. By the way, if No More Babies (6-1) wires this thing in her dirt debut, then Tuesday’s day off at Saratoga will not come a moment too soon.

Play of the Day for Monday, July 31: Morticia to win, in combinations with Epping Fores.

Ron Flatter's Saratoga Play of the Day is sponsored by NYRA Bets. Get details on a $200 new membership sign-up bonus. (Void where prohibited.)

Monday's Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


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Early-bird special on Sunday

A late-arriving crowd will miss the $200,000 feature Sunday at Saratoga. That is because it is the very first race of the day. Truth be told, the old Shuvee Handicap just ain’t what she used to be. A springtime Grade 1 in the ’80s and ’90s at Belmont Park, it was moved to the Saratoga summer four years ago, lengthened to nine furlongs and dropped to a Grade 3. Last year it attracted only four fillies and mares; others were probably scared off by the domination of Curalina. This weekend there are only three entries. Paid Up Subscriber (1-1) does not have Curalina’s résumé, but trainer Chad Brown’s 5-year-old mare gave Songbird a big push before losing by a length last month in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes day. With Javier Castellano riding Sunday at Monmouth Park, John Velázquez takes over for the first time on Paid Up Subscriber. The 4-year-old Terra Promessa (6-5) has been off since she won a Grade 3 at Pimlico more than two months ago. Lightly raced 6-year-old Apologynotaccepted (3-1) finished second in her graded-stakes debut in May at Churchill Downs. All three horses are comfortable being on or near the lead, but based just on class this one is all about Paid Up Subscriber. She may well be odds-on at the start, so rolling her into a daily double with Frozen Hannah (3-1) and Five Hearts (10-1) in the second – a $67,000 inner-turf claiming race – would not be a bad idea.

Play of the Day for Sunday, July 30: Paid Up Subscriber to win and play daily double.

Ron Flatter's Saratoga Play of the Day is sponsored by NYRA Bets. Get details on a $200 new membership sign-up bonus. (Void where prohibited.)

Sunday's Saratoga stakes race in handicap order from


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