John Velazquez not only leads the Saratoga jockey standings at this point, his 28% win percentage towers over his nearest competitors, Javier Castellano (19%) and Irad Ortiz Jr. (16%). The Hall of Fame jockey is riding well on both dirt and turf, and I like his chances in Friday’s $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2).
Velazquez doesn’t pick up many mounts from Chad Brown — Startup Nation’s good third in the July 4 Belmont Derby (G1) is the only pairing between them in the last 60 days – but that could change after today. He’ll keep the assignment on Startup Nation in the Hall of Fame over the Bill Mott-trained A Lot.
An impressive winner of the Paradise Creek two back, A Lot sandwiched his initial stakes victory between a pair of close seconds in the American Turf (G2) and Manila. The Tapit colt rates as a serious contender with Junior Alvarado.
But Velazquez will stick with Startup Nation for good reason. Brown, one of the leading turf trainers nationally (five wins and four seconds in Breeders’ Cup turf races), entered five in the Hall of Fame and couldn’t use his regular stable of jockeys (Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz Jr. and Joel Rosario are always prominent) on all. Velazquez is familiar with Startup Nation, picking up the mount two starts back, and knows the colt runs his best races on Saratoga’s turf.
Startup Nation rolled to an easy debut win over Saratoga’s turf 12 months ago before coming back three weeks later to post a smashing 4 ½-length tally in the With Anticipation (G2) over a nice field. The dark bay son of Temple City didn’t make his sophomore debut until May 30, recording a rallying third in the Pennine Ridge at Belmont, and exits a highly encouraging effort in the deep Belmont Derby.
Brown wins at a 32% clip in the third start off the layoff and given the colt’s affinity for Saratoga’s turf, Startup Nation looks primed to return to the winner’s circle.
Other Friday thoughts:
The 7TH race should set up nicely for Successful Brothers (#11, 10-1 morning line). Claimed for $35,000 two back, the 5yo gelding was moved back to turf last time and responded with a strong showing, missing by a head in second. He’ll continue to show more on the green today.
More than half the field is dropping in class in the 1ST race, but Bert Stone (#5, 12-1) has recorded a pair of improved performances since moving to this level two starts back, including a convincing wire-to-wire victory. He looks live on the front end with apprentice Eric Cancel.