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Spot Plays for 2019 Saratoga Opening Day

By Dick Powell

Saratoga kicks off another glorious season of racing on Thursday with two graded races and six races scheduled for the turf. If the weather holds, there is a chance of late afternoon thunderstorms. You might see another season where more races are run on the turf than on the dirt.

Race 3 is a first-level allowance race for three-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt. Historically, speed dominates these races as the short run into the first turn enables the leader to seize control and then back the pace down.

Last year, according to the Track Bias Stats found in the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances, there was a 70% speed bias and 33% of the 57 races run at this distance were won gate-to-wire.

Not knowing which rider will try to gun to the front, I think that POTOMAC (#4) (2-1) has a big pace advantage and can use it to successfully move up the class ladder. He romped going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park against $50,000 claimers and came back there and just missed against this allowance level in his first start off the claim by Carlos Martin. Belmont’s leading rider, Jose Lezcano, rides back.

Underneath, Chad Brown sends out GROWTH ENGINE (#6) (5-2), who broke his maiden second time out in his two-turn debut at Gulfstream Park before returning three months later with a second at Monmouth Park as the even-money favorite after stumbling at the start. The gelded son of Tapit gets Javier Castellano, who rode the most winners for Brown here last year.

WALKOFF (#2) (5-2) makes his two-turn debut for Todd Pletcher after winning his first two career starts against modest company.

VINCENTO (#3) (6-1) beat state-breds in the slop last out and moves up in class off the claim by Linda Rice.

Exacta: #4 with #2, #3, #6
Trifecta: #4 with All with All

Race 5 is a maiden special weight for New York-breds going 5 1/2 furlongs on the dirt.

Jeremiah Englehart has become a force with his first-time starters and they now win at an 18% clip with the last 164 showing a flat-bet profit. He sends out FUNFETTI (#9) (7-2) to make his debut and gets Jose Ortiz to ride. Her workouts have been solid and she has been up here for a couple of weeks. The daughter of Giant Surprise (10% debut winners) is out of a winning dam who has produced three winners from four foals to race and is a half-sister to a Grade 3-winning sprinter who won over $837,000.

LOVE ME TOMORROW (#2) (4-1) weakened as the 9-5 favorite in her career debut at Belmont Park but the time for five furlongs was very slow. She made it to the lead as most Wesley Ward firsters do but then backed up nearing the wire. Ward wins 25% second time out and does show a bullet workout for this.

GHOSTGHOSTGHOST (#3) (5-1) is the typical Steve Asmussen first-time starter who hasn’t shown much in the morning but is usually ready to run. Her dam has produced three winners from three other foals to race and Ricardo Santana Jr. gets the mount.

Win: #9
Daily Double: #9 with #6, #12
Exacta: #2, #3 with #9

Race 6 is a New York-bred first-level allowance event for three-year-olds and up going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon Turf Course. Last year, there was a sneaky speed bias with horses who naturally ran up near the lead or those coming from off the pace. The problem with this data is, as counter intuitive as it seems, it means that it is hard to sit and stalk in turf sprints.

BRONX BOMBER (#6) (10-1) makes his turf debut for John Kimmel but he has run very well on the dirt lately. He broke his maiden at Aqueduct on the dirt and that seemed to help his confidence as he came right back to win again before running second in his last two starts. Take Charge Indy sires a remarkable 16% first-time turf winners and, as long as the thunderstorms hold off, he should love the firm ground.

ELENZEE (#11) (5-1) drew outside but he has blazing early speed, a great gate jockey in Jose Ortiz and has run well in two turf sprints at Belmont Park against open company claimers.

ANALYZETHISANDTHAT (#10) (9-2) won here last year going this distance and could be ready to win while making his third start off the long layoff.

Win/Place: #6
Exacta Box: #6, #10, #11

PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

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