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Saratoga Stakes Spot Plays for Sunday, August 4

By Noel Michaels

Sunday rounds out a remarkable weekend of racing and wagering at Saratoga with another high-quality 11-race card. Sunday’s races at The Spa are headlined by four stakes races including two graded stakes plus another race worth $1 million. Here are some spot plays for the quartet of stakes races to be run Sunday at Saratoga.

RACE 3 – John Morrissey Stakes

Sunday’s Saratoga stakes action starts early in Race 3 with the running of the John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs.

The horse to beat is the Chad Brown-trained Build to Suit (#4) (3-1), who is somewhat of a curiosity after returning from more than a 1 1/2-year layoff last out to crush open allowance horses this January at Aqueduct with a blazing BRIS Speed figure at this distance. Since then he’s taken another six months off but won’t be beat if able to repeat that last effort. He’s two-for-two in his career at The Spa.

If you are looking for a horse who is more time-tested and proven in stakes competition, the likely favorite is Gold for the King (#6) (2-1), who certainly is a contender, but no standout. If the track is wet, all bets are off on everyone else except Eye Luv Lulu (#7) (5-2), a monster all throughout his career on off tracks.

RACE 5 – Waya Stakes (G3)

The 1 1/2-mile Waya Stakes (G3) for fillies and mares on the grass drew only a six-horse field and therefore gets placed early on the card in Race 5 to round out Saratoga’s early Pick 5 on Sunday. No major surprises expected here, with the favorite, Santa Monica (#4) (1-1) looking very tough for leading trainer Chad Brown coming off of back-to-back 1 3/8-mile wins in Gulfstream Park’s Orchid Stakes (G3) and Belmont Park’s Sheepshead Bay (G2).

The best upset chance belongs to Gentle Ruler (#6) (5-2), who comes into this race riding high on a four-race win streak beginning with her maiden win at Gulfstream Park in March, followed by a meteoric rise with allowance, stakes and graded victories at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Delaware Park, respectively. The 1 1/2-mile distance in this one is right in her wheelhouse for trainer Ian Wilkes.

Race 9 – Saratoga Derby Invitational

This new race has been staked with a $1 million purse and is meant to keep the best three-year-old turf horses home in New York instead of shipping to the Secretariat Stakes (G1) at Arlington, which now has been cut back in distance to one mile. This race is run at 1 3/16 miles and has successfully drawn a field of 11, including two invaders for trainer Aidan O’Brien and the top five finishers from the corresponding Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) –Henley’s Joy (#1) (4-1), Social Paranoia (#2) (6-1), Rockemperor (#4) (7-2), Digital Age (#8) (9-2) and Seismic Wave (#9) (6-1).

Of that quintet, Digital Age and Rockemperor had the disadvantage of posts 13 and 14, respectively, and were closing fast from way too far back off the pace. Both should threaten from better posts this time around.

The distance of the Saratoga Derby is slightly shorter than the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby. That could help pacepresser Henley’s Joy score a repeat win, or enable likely front runner A Thread of Blue a chance to go wire-to-wire. Focus your betting on those four horses – Henley’s Joy, A Thread of Blue, Rockemperor and Digital Age – in the exotics, such as trifectas.

RACE 10 – Adirondack Stakes (G2)

Two-year-old fillies take center stage in the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs as a prep for Saratoga’s Spinaway Stakes (G1) later in the meet. These horses are still developing and mostly are coming in off their maiden wins.

The two notable exceptions are favored Magic Dance (#8) (7-5), trained by Steve Asmussen, who has begun her career two-for-two at Churchill Downs including a win at 1-5 odds in the Debutante Stakes on June 29; and the Mark Casse-trained Perfect Alibi (#3) (9-2), who destroyed Churchill Downs maidens and then ran a close second in Belmont Park’s Astoria Stakes last out in her second race.

The horse to beat, however, might very well turn out to be impressive Churchill Downs maiden winner Frank’s Rockette (#2) (2-1), who pressed the pace and crushed the field at five furlongs at first asking for trainer Bill Mott, who usually doesn’t even fully crank up his first-time starters. You can bet she’ll be ready for this stakes debut with first-time Lasix.

For exactas, along with Magic Dance and Frank’s Rockette, one legit sleeper candidate is Miss Peppina (#6) (8-1), who won her career debut at 5 1/2 furlongs by rallying past rivals from far off the pace to win going away for trainer Gary Gullo. When a two-year-old first starter passes seven foes en route to victory at first asking, you should take notice, especially when the horse returns at a furlong farther in his/her next start.

Enjoy a loaded Sunday card of racing and wagering at The Spa! Best of luck and I hope you win big at Saratoga.

PHOTO: Saratoga scenic (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography

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