Saratoga will not have its normal big crowds on opening weekend. However, there is a solid 11-race card, headlined by the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), which makes it a great time to fire up your TwinSpires account. The feature event is part of a late Pick 4 sequence that starts in Race 8.
The pace should be honest in this $25,000 claimer at 9 furlongs and none of the runners are truly equipped to get the arduous 1 1/8 miles at the Spa. Therefore, I will use several including #3 Creative Style. The 5-year-old gelding should get a good trip after besting a field of seven at Belmont Park on June 19. I am not sold he will get the distance, but he is a must use, as is #9 Hammerin Aamer who ships in from Maryland after posting a 93 Brisnet Speed rating in a wire-to-wire score at Laurel. I will also include a couple that will provide separation in the sequence.
#6 Musical Heart was disappointing last time out over the Belmont lawn, but should get a perfect stalking voyage under Jose Ortiz. Longshot #5 Holiday Bonus has not won in a long time, but gets a monster rider upgrade to Joel Rosario and has run well at 9 panels in the past. 30-1 seems too high.
I am “all in” on #6 Set Piece in this high-level optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf. The Juddmonte Farms homebred has had plenty of time to recover from a monster late run in his initial start in the States on June 12. The son of Dansili got off to a slow start in that eye-popping effort at Churchill Downs, but showed a tremendous turn of foot running down veteran Ballagh Rocks. Look for Joel Rosario to save ground early and come with another huge run late on this future graded stakes winner.
I will take a chance against the top two choices on oddsmaker David Aragona’s morning line in the featured Coaching Club American Oaks. #1 Tonalist’s Shape has been a “win machine,” but has never raced outside of Florida and has struggled to back up her fastest races with similar efforts. #6 Paris Lights was impressive at Churchill Downs, but I am concerned she is coming back too quickly in her initial try at 9 furlongs.
#3 Altaf takes a big step up in class, but could not have won any easier in her first start over the dirt on May 23. She is my top choice and worth a Win wager if anywhere near her 5-1 morning line price. I will also include #4 Velvet Crush at a big price and #5 Crystal Ball, who ships cross-country after crushing a field of maidens at Santa Anita on June 14. I take notice anytime Bob Baffert sees fit to ship into New York for a big race.
The card concludes with a state-bred special weight event over the main track. #4 Midnight Whiskey is the deserving 7-2 morning line favorite after a near-miss fourth-place effort in the slop on June 5, but is tough to fully trust since he has been unable to close the deal thus far. #7 Papa Luke also makes a ton of sense after stalking just off the early pace and taking the lead on June 27 before getting run down in the final strides. The son of Strong Mandate should sit another perfect trip. I will also include first-time starter #2 American Piper. There is not much win early pedigree here, but it is intriguing that Irad Ortiz Jr. opts to ride for these low-profile connections.
Suggested Wager: (50-cent Pick 4)
- R8: 3+5+6+9
- R9: 6
- R10: 3+4+5
- R11: 2+4+7
Ticket Cost: $18