Racing at Saratoga is great, in part because the best horsemen are involved, well-meant horses are coming from everywhere, everyone is trying, and good prices and prime betting opportunities can be found day-by-day and race-by-race on good horses. When you can pair up the best jockeys and trainers with the best horses, you will have the recipe for success. Here are some examples of some hot and cold jockeys and trainers at The Spa meet so far in 2019.
The trainers’ standings through August 15 at Saratoga contain very few surprises. Chad Brown is running away with the title at present with 20 wins from 111 starters for 19%. It’s a long way back to Todd Pletcher in second with 9 wins and a surprisingly low (for him) 13% win percentage. His slower than usual meet has also affected Johnny Velazquez’s numbers. Steve Asmussen has 9 winners from only 44 starters, making his win percentage better at 20%. Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Jason Servis and Jeremiah Englehart each have 8 wins and all are dangerous. Of that quartet, Clement (23%) and Servis (22%) are winning at particularly high win percentages. Both do great in turf sprints, among other spots.
The other standout trainer to bet at Saratoga this season has been Danny Gargan, who had 7 wins from his first 25 starters and is among the leaders in terms of ROI and winning percentage at 28%. Another trainer you’ve gotta bet pretty much whenever you see him entered is Robertino Diodoro, who owns 5 wins from his first 17 starters at the meet (28%). With fewer starters, you can also put Jorge Navarro (4-for-11, 36%) and Rusty Arnold (3-for-10) into the “hot” category.
It should also be noted that H. James Bond, who is based year-round at Saratoga, has been loaded this season and it shows with his 6-for-24 record (25%). Finally, Mark Casse, who normally starts slow and finishes fast up at The Spa, has already reached 7 wins from his first 40 starters (18%) and is only expected to improve further upon those numbers has his horses make their second and third starts of the meet.
Trainers to steer clear of betting who really struggled the first month of the 2019 Saratoga meet include George Weaver (1-for-19, 5%); Gary Contessa, who had a couple early winners but now is 2-for-52 for 6%; and David Donk, who is just 2-for-32 for 6%.
In the jock’s room, the first couple weeks at the Saratoga meet were notable because of the ice-cold start that perennial leading rider contender Irad Ortiz Jr. had at the meet. However, after a losing July, Irad Ortiz has gone on a tear in August and has quickly made up ground on the upper echelons of the jockey standings to be in hot pursuit of Jose Ortiz for top honors. Currently, Irad Ortiz is second in the jockey race with 31 wins from 150 starters for 21% to trail only Jose Ortiz, who leads with 36 wins from 162 mounts and a 22% win percentage.
It’s a long way back to third place in the jock’s standings where Javier Castellano has passed Luis Saez with 22 victories over 21 for Saez thanks to a very good 20% win percentage (plus 57% ITM). Aside from the Ortiz brothers and Castellano, no other rider is even approaching the 20% mark. The next tier of riders who have more than 10 wins, as of August 15, all have winning percentages between 13%-16% including Saez (13%) and Joel Rosario (18 wins, 13%), Jose Lezcano (16 wins, 16%), Junior Alvarado (15 wins, 16%) and Ricardo Santana (13 wins for 13%).
The Ortiz brothers and Castellano are all riding the Chad Brown wave and generally have the choice of the plumb mounts for other barns, as well. Junior Alvarado benefits from Bill Mott having a strong meet, and of course, as Steve Asmussen goes, so goes Santana who rides his first call.
Jockeys having tough meets at Saratoga in 2019 include Manny Franco (9-for-151, 6%); Tyler Gaffalione who has not yet cut it in NY with a record of just 9-for-104 (9%); Dylan Davis, who is 4-for-102 (4%); and Rajiv Maragh, who is 3-for-52 (6%).
Julien Leparoux, who has perennially struggled mightily at Saratoga throughout his career, is 2-for-32 for this typical type of Spa 6% win percentage. Another rider surprisingly having a tough 2019 Spa meet is John Velazquez, who has only 9 wins from his first 82 mounts for 11%. Other than blue chip Todd Pletcher runners, Johnny V. really hasn’t done much so far this season.
With its distance trimmed to a flat mile, the character of the Secretariat (G1) has changed, but Aidan O’Brien ensured that the Arlington Million Day fixture is still attracting notable international representation.
The master of Ballydoyle has used the Secretariat in the past to showcase a few stable stars, including globetrotter extraordinaire Highland Reel (2015). The question now is whether the revamped race will be as happy a hunting ground for O’Brien, or tip the scales in favor of Chad Brown, as I wrote in the Million Day pre-entries blog:
O’Brien has had greater success in the three-year-old feature, scoring four victories in its former guise as a 1 1/4-mile test. Compare that tally to his *two in the Million (with an asterisk since Powerscourt was disqualified in 2004, or else O’Brien would have had three) and his shut-out in the Beverly D.
In contrast, Brown has captured the Secretariat just once, compared to three Millions and five runnings of the Beverly D. (including the past four in a row). The reconfiguration might enhance his Secretariat prospects.
O’Brien’s Secretariat hopes are a study in contrasts. Never No More has loads of upside but returns from a layoff, while Van Beethoven is thoroughly exposed but coming out of much deeper races.
NEVER NO MORE
A €300,000 ($354,420) Goffs Orby yearling, Never No More hails from the first crop of No Nay Never. The Scat Daddy stallion has already made a splash by siring the brilliant Ten Sovereigns, who just dominated the July Cup (G1), and his second-crop includes Coventry (G2) hero Arizona. Never No More descends from the same female line as multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Winchester, conqueror of the 2008 Secretariat by 7 1/4 lengths in a time faster than the Million.
Debuting over five furlongs at Naas last September, the chestnut was off a beat slow, raced a tad greenly, and finished well for second to streetwise stablemate All the King’s Men. Never No More learned enough to score next time on the Dundalk Polytrack, stalking the leaders before pulling away stylishly at the same trip.
Jockey Donnacha O’Brien (Aidan’s son) commented to irishracing.com:
He’s smart. He impressed me there, I hadn’t ridden him a whole lot at home.
He had a good run the last day behind a decent horse and he made no mistake today. He feels smart.
He traveled smooth, he’s still a little bit raw, and when I hit him a flick he quickened up nicely.
Never No More accordingly was dispatched as the even-money favorite in the Legacy S. at Navan nine days later. His fans had an inkling early on that he wasn’t going to fire, for he never traveled with fluency and regressed to seventh behind old foe All the King’s Men.
Reappearing at the beginning of the Irish Flat season March 24, Never No More rebounded with a convincing display in a premier handicap at Naas. He had no difficulty stepping up to seven furlongs on yielding-to-soft going, or toting 133 pounds, when slogging 3 3/4 lengths clear.
Never No More then passed a serious class test in the April 6 Leopardstown 2000 Guineas Trial, collaring hitherto unbeaten odds-on favorite Madhmoon. Granted, he was capitalizing on race-fitness, while comebacker Madhmoon was merely prepping for his classic targets, and the three-pound weight break might have made a difference late.
Still, Madhmoon was two lengths ahead of the rest, and it took some performance from Never No More to run down a colt of his quality in full flight. Madhmoon, who had dusted Broome in the KPMG Champions Juvenile (G2) in his prior start, has since held his own in classics from a mile to 1 1/2 miles. Sheikh Hamdan’s runner rallied for fourth in the 2000 Guineas (G1) (one spot ahead of the non-staying Ten Sovereigns) and missed by a half-length when second in the Derby (G1) at Epsom.
Never No More would have been intriguing in the French 2000 Guineas (G1). Unfortunately, he was scratched from the May 12 classic and sidelined thereafter.
O’Brien has given him a raft of Group 1 entries for the rest of the season, and even flirted with the July 31 Sussex (G1) at Glorious Goodwood – a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) “Win and You’re In” – before opting for Arlington. The Secretariat isn’t an easy spot off the four-month break, especially being his first race outside of Ireland. But it’s not as brutal as tackling the Sussex or his alternative engagement this weekend, Sunday’s Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) at Deauville.
Considering how well Never No More ran in his 2019 debut, he might be less in need of a race than a typical O’Brien off the bench. Nevertheless, it is his first try at a mile, and whatever he does in Chicago will bring him on for a fall campaign. Note that he’s untested on a course as firm as Arlington’s likely to be, but both his pedigree and action suggest he’d handle it fine.
By Scat Daddy and out of a full sister to Exotic Bloom, the dam of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Stopchargingmaria, Van Beethoven looked like one who could emerge on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail. A slow-starting ninth in the UAE Derby (G2) ended that speculation, but continued the enigma of a colt who hasn’t built upon his initially promising efforts at two.
Van Beethoven, a debut third at Newmarket, improved to wire a six-furlong event at Naas with authority. Odds-on in the Marble Hill at the Curragh, the dark bay was outpaced by talented stablemate Fairyland and eventually ground his way into second. I thought he was looking for another furlong, but O’Brien dropped him back to five for Royal Ascot’s Windsor Castle, where he made up ground on the far side to take fourth.
Back up to six for the Railway (G2), Van Beethoven got the job done as the odds-on favorite. He was workmanlike in a less-than-stellar renewal, again prompting questions about his optimal trip.
The rest of Van Beethoven’s record is anticlimactic. After sweating up badly in his poor seventh in the July (G2) at Newmarket, he had his chance to try seven furlongs in the Vintage (G2) at Glorious Goodwood. A frustrating trip didn’t help as he kept having to maneuver for room down the stretch, but he gained belatedly to snatch fifth.
Not seen again until the September 15 Champagne (G2) at Doncaster, Van Beethoven passed a couple of rivals to finish fourth, but nowhere near the imperious Too Darn Hot or second-best Phoenix of Spain. He entered the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint but failed to draw in from the also-eligible list.
Van Beethoven’s trajectory could simply be the familiar story of a precocious juvenile who was found out as the season progressed. Yet his pedigree has made me want to resist that conclusion. Might last summer’s virus at Ballydoyle have been a factor in blighting his second-half resume?
Either way, it’s a moot point by now because Van Beethoven hasn’t hit the board in five tries this term. He returned with a fourth in the Patton S. on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, a creditable enough effort off a nearly six-month layoff under top weight of 134 pounds. But hopes that he’d move forward have been misplaced.
Never involved in the UAE Derby once he broke slowly and took the scenic route around Meydan, Van Beethoven has been highly tried back on the European turf. He finished sixth to Persian King in the French 2000 Guineas on heavy going, but no better on good-to-firm in the Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) as he reported home seventh behind Phoenix of Spain and Too Darn Hot (the reverse of the Champagne exacta).
Van Beethoven might have been the type to drop in class for the Jersey (G3). Instead he was pitched back in among the heavyweights in the St James’s Palace (G1) at Royal Ascot, and unsurprisingly wound up a non-threatening eighth.
In a telltale sign of loss of confidence at Ballydoyle, Van Beethoven sports no more Group 1 entries in Great Britain, Ireland, or France.
For a horse who had good tactical speed once upon a time, it’s possible that being held up off the pace has only taken him out of his game. If he’s more of a cruising speed/galloping type, he wouldn’t have the turn of foot to make up ground from too far off the pace.
The Secretariat offers Van Beethoven an opportunity to turn things around, although it’s fair to ask how many more chances he can get. Beyond Saturday, I’d love to see my pet hypothesis – that he’s a dirt horse at heart – tested by his remaining stateside.
Aidan O’Brien, still in search of his first win in the Beverly D. (G1), could be double-handed as he tries to halt the Chad Brown winning streak. Brown has won four straight (and five overall) editions, and his defending champion Sistercharlie will be difficult to dethrone in this sister race to the Arlington Million (G1).
O’Brien has Magic Wand, who is cross-entered to the Million, and Fleeting, who might be left to shoulder Ballydoyle hopes alone in the Beverly D.
Before Brown’s reign began, British shippers had taken three in a row (2012-14), and would have made it four if Secret Gesture hadn’t been demoted in 2015. There’s one British hopeful this time around, in the tactical Awesometank.
Which Brown behemoth should Magic Wand take on? Bricks and Mortar, who comfortably beat her in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), looms large in the Million. Sistercharlie likewise defeated her in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), but on paper, Magic Wand has less of a deficit to make up on her main distaff rival.
As discussed in the Million scouting report (see her replays and analysis at the link), Magic Wand didn’t get her preferred quick surface when trying either one of the Brown stars. Gulfstream Park was yielding for the Pegasus, and Churchill Downs was officially “good” but with plenty of residual moisture that blunted her kick in the Breeders’ Cup. So she’s capable of better than the bare results in both.
Although her beaten margin was about the same when runner-up to Bricks and Mortar (2 1/2 lengths) and fourth to Sistercharlie (2 3/4 lengths), the respective weight assignments must be included. Bricks and Mortar gave her 12 pounds and a comfortable beating, while Sistercharlie carried four more (as an older filly versus then-sophomore Magic Wand). At Arlington, Magic Wand would receive only three pounds from Bricks and Mortar, and meet Sistercharlie on level terms. By those calculations, the Beverly D. is the better spot.
The counterpoint is that Sistercharlie is a fresh champion making just the second start of her campaign. As dominant as Bricks and Mortar has been, it’s not easy to remain at a peak from wintertime straight through the summer. And if he regresses at all, the Million is up for grabs. Even knowing that no mare has captured the Million besides Estrapade (1986), the big prize is tempting.
The Coolmore brain trust is presumably assessing every angle, especially as Magic Wand comes off a career-worst last in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). That strikes me as a draw-a-line-through-it loss, but still a factor in the decision-making.
Stablemate Fleeting enters in the form of her life, with the proviso that three-year-olds have generally found it tough to cope with elders in this spot. Euro Charline (2014) is the lone winner from this demographic, and she was already proven over older distaffers (admittedly of lesser caliber).
By Zoffany, a scion of the Danehill line, Fleeting inherits her abundant stamina from her dam, Spanish champion Azafata. That daughter of Motivator (the same sire as Treve) romped in the 2012 Premio Villamejor (Spanish St Leger) going 1 3/4 miles at Madrid’s La Zarzuela.
Fleeting won at first asking as a juvenile – a good sign for an O’Brien runner even in a small field at Limerick. She must have been showing something at home to go off as the 9-4 second choice, and needed every yard of the seven furlongs to get up. Shortening up to six furlongs for the Grangecon Stud (G3) figured to be too sharp, but she had the pace to lead before dropping back to last, in too poor a display just to chalk up to the distance.
Indeed, Fleeting wasn’t seen again for two months until the September 1 Flame of Tara (G3) at the Curragh, where she placed a solid third to Just Wonderful (who recently was second to Concrete Rose in the Belmont Oaks Invitational [G1]). She didn’t have Just Wonderful’s turn of foot but kept on dourly.
Fleeting improved for that tightener when wheeling back 12 days later to upset the May Hill (G2) at Doncaster at 12-1. In a change of running style, she relaxed at the rear of the field, hit top gear in the final furlong of the mile, and won going away. Runner-up Star Terms came right back to finish a near-miss third in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) on Arc Day.
The Boussac was on the radar for Fleeting, as was the Fillies’ Mile (G1), but she ended up calling it a season. She resurfaced in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1) and faded to last of 15, in what was merely a warm-up.
Fleeting took a leap forward over 1 1/2 miles in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom. Switched off at the back of pack, in an unpromising position entering the straight, the 25-1 shot did not have the clearest of runs before spearing through on the inside. Her eye-catching rally snatched third to Anapurna and well-backed stablemate Pink Dogwood.
Staying at 1 1/2 miles in her two ensuing starts, Fleeting validated her Epsom effort. She was sent off as the favorite in the Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot, but ran into John Gosden’s rapidly progressing Star Catcher. The decisive point came in upper stretch when Fleeting tried to follow Star Catcher through, but the winner forged clear. To be fair, Fleeting did quicken while having to thread through the field. Yet Star Catcher’s better position gave her the upper hand, and she found more in the final furlong to keep Fleeting at bay.
Star Catcher again prevailed in their rematch in the Irish Oaks (G1). Fleeting narrowed the gap to a half-length, but the tactical virtuosity of her rival once more made the difference. On the plus side, Fleeting reversed Epsom form with stablemate Pink Dogwood, who was left 4 1/2 lengths back in third.
After placings in two classics and a Royal Ascot feature, Fleeting’s form must be respected. The concern, aside from her tender age, is the sharp cutback in trip. Fleeting’s doing her best work in the 11th and 12th furlongs, and she’ll need to pick up a lot sooner here.
Multiple Group 3 placings might not be good enough in theory at the Grade 1 level, but the gritty speed type can punch above her weight for William Haggas.
The British trainer, who recently suffered the heartbreaking loss of superstar Sea of Class, had three notable runners in the United States last season. The Queen’s Call to Mind rolled in a course-record Belmont Gold Cup (G2), and both of his Breeders’ Cup starters performed creditably, Queen of Bermuda finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and One Master a close fifth in the Mile (G1).
Awesometank has already overachieved as a bargain 25,000 guineas ($39,561) Tattersalls December weanling. The daughter of Intense Focus (a Giant’s Causeway stallion) hails from the family of reigning Irish St Leger (G1) hero Flag of Honour but apparently doesn’t share his distance capacity.
As a juvenile, Awesometank bumped into future French classic winner Teppal when trying to break her maiden in her third start. She then took the nursery (two-year-old handicap) route and scored determinedly in a three-way photo at Newmarket. (Scratched from that same “Jersey Lily” nursery was Simply Breathless, the Wilshire [G3] winner who was third in the Modesty [G3]).
Awesometank made it a double in a nearly one-mile nursery over the boys at York, where she kept her neck in front in juvenile course-record time. She attempted stakes company back at Newmarket in the Montrose Fillies’ S., checking in a couple of lengths astern in fourth.
Plans called for Awesometank to open her sophomore campaign in another listed event, the Michael Seely Memorial at York, but she refused to load into the gate. So the dark bay was rerouted to a Chelmsford handicap to start 2018, and there was no miscue this time. Finding her preferred style as a front runner, she held sway by daylight in the Polytrack mile.
Awesometank was ready for a stakes test now, and she wired last summer’s Coral Distaff at Sandown.
Awesometank repels a multitude of challengers as the William Haggas trained daughter of Intense Focus wins her fourth race from her last five runs to land her first pattern-class prize pic.twitter.com/rEMRXKeyy5
Stepping up to a Group 3 event over the same track and mile trip in the Atalanta (G3), she was runner-up to class-dropping Veracious, who was coming off Group 1 placings to Alpha Centauri and Wild Illusion. (Veracious recently earned a top-level win in the Falmouth [G1] at Newmarket’s July Festival).
Dispatched to ParisLongchamp last September for the Prix Bertrand de Tarragon (G3), Awesometank had to play second fiddle again, this time to My Sister Nat – a younger half-sister to Sistercharlie. Adding merit to her effort was the fact that she was held up off the pace while trying about nine furlongs for the first time.
Awesometank’s progressive profile made her the slight favorite versus older males in the Darley (G3) at Newmarket. She threw in the worst race of her life in a long-way last.
In her first two outings this season, Awesometank resumed her upward march. She justified favoritism back at a mile in her own division in Goodwood’s Conqueror S. Stalking and pouncing, she just held on from Anna Nerium.
Awesometank gamely holds off Anna Nerium in the Conqueror Stakes.
The two renewed rivalry in the Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom on Derby Day, June 1, and Anna Nerium – with experience over that unique track – got the better of her. Awesometank salvaged second from old foe Veracious, who looked all at sea on the camber.
Pitched in against males in Ascot’s Summer Mile (G2) last out, Awesometank set a rollicking pace and paid the price when retreating to seventh of eight.
Awesometank’s tactical speed can be a plus, if she avoids a costly battle with Sistercharlie’s pacemaker, Thais. The Beverly D. distance is also a question mark, but American conditions don’t put as much of a premium on stamina, and her second at ParisLongchamp last year is encouraging.
Horse of the Year candidate Bricks and Mortar remains the one to beat in next Saturday’s Arlington Million (G1). That long-range forecast was reinforced by the pre-entries submitted Friday for all three Grade 1s on Million Day.
The anchor of a formidable Arlington team for trainer Chad Brown, Bricks and Mortar is joined by stablemate Robert Bruce, the defending Million champion. Robert Bruce, who topped the Brown exacta a year ago, aims to become the first back-to-back Million winner. But the pecking order is established after Bricks and Mortar defeated Robert Bruce in the Manhattan H. (G1) on Belmont Day, extending his winning streak to five.
Bricks and Mortar’s rise to the top began in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park, where he comfortably dispatched Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand. A rematch could be in the offing as the Ballydoyle filly is pre-entered in the Million, with a cross-entry in the $600,000 Beverly D. (G1).
O’Brien also has Hunting Horn earmarked for the Million. The presumptive pacemaker almost stole the May 11 Man o’ War (G1) in their last stateside trip, until swamped late in fourth. In their latest, the stablemates were predictably no match for Enable and Crystal Ocean in the July 27 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot, but Hunting Horn fared better in fifth as Magic Wand was a tailed-off last.
The Million’s other international pre-entries are the Fabrice Chappet-trained Intellogent, the 2018 Prix Jean Prat (G1) winner who was most recently fourth in the Prix d’Ispahan (G1), and English handicapper Pivoine from the Andrew Balding yard. We’ll dive into the internationals in next week’s scouting reports.
The respective top three from the Arlington H. (G3) on Million Preview Day – course record-setter Bandua and rallying place-getters The Great Day and Captivating Moon – are slated to renew rivalry in the track’s signature event. Rounding out the 10-horse list is Catcho En Die, who was promoted to third in last year’s Million but has since gone off form.
The 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), so it’s fitting that its sister race, the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D., is likewise part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series for the Filly & Mare Turf (G1).
Brown again has the one to beat in reigning champion Sistercharlie, who bids to make history as the first two-time Beverly D. winner. Only the second Beverly D. heroine to capture the Filly & Mare Turf (after Dank in 2013), Sistercharlie arrives off a repeat score in the Diana (G1). The Eclipse Award winner brings along pacemaker Thais, who held third in last year’s Beverly D. to round out a Brown trifecta. Brown’s Competitionofideas, enduring seconditis after a trio of near-misses, will also appreciate a dedicated front runner.
O’Brien, yet to win the Beverly D., calls upon dual classic-placed Fleeting as well as the cross-entered Magic Wand. Fleeting has to buck history as just one sophomore filly has managed to beat her elders here, Euro Charline (2014), but she sports placings in the Oaks (G1), Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot, and most recently the Irish Oaks (G1).
British trainer William Haggas has the other international pre-entrant, Awesometank, a multiple Group 3-placed stakes winner who exits a seventh versus males in Ascot’s Summer Mile (G2). Ironically, one of her placings came in last September’s Prix Bertrand de Tarragon (G3) to My Sister Nat, a younger half-sibling to Sistercharlie.
The only domestic runners willing to brave the Brown battalion are a pair of also-rans from the course-and-distance Modesty (G3), Remember Daisy and Oh So Terrible. Remember Daisy deserves extra credit for her fourth-place effort, considering she stumbled at the break and found herself out of position in a tactical race.
Brown and O’Brien will square off in the $500,000 Secretariat (G1) as well, over its newly shortened distance of one mile. O’Brien has had greater success in the three-year-old feature, scoring four victories in its former guise as a 1 1/4-mile test. Compare that tally to his *two in the Million (with an asterisk since Powerscourt was disqualified in 2004, or else O’Brien would have had three) and his shut-out in the Beverly D.
In contrast, Brown has captured the Secretariat just once, compared to three Millions and five runnings of the Beverly D. (including the past four in a row). The reconfiguration might enhance his Secretariat prospects.
Brown’s Fog of War and Valid Point bring different profiles. Fog of War shaped as a budding star when landing the 2018 Summer (G1), only to miss the rest of his juvenile campaign with an injury. The War Front colt could be rounding back into top form in this third start off the layoff. Valid Point, unraced at two, has won both of his outings this term to stamp himself a threat in his stakes debut.
O’Brien has pre-entered Never No More, last seen upending a less-than-cranked Madhmoon in Leopardstown’s 2000 Guineas Trial back on April 6, and the well-traveled Van Beethoven, who would get some class relief following unplaced efforts in a pair of mile classics and the St James’s Palace (G1).
American Derby (G3) hero Faraway Kitten, and the dead-heat runners-up The Last Zip and Crafty Daddy, are on course for a rematch. Woodhaven S. winner Clint Maroon, fourth in the Manila (where Fog of War was runner-up), makes his first start for Wayne Catalano. Godolphin’s course-and-distance allowance winner Journeyman, a son of Animal Kingdom and Tout Charmant; Churchill Downs allowance romper Ry’s the Guy; and Bizzee Channel, second to Faraway Kitten in the Mystic Lake Derby two back, complete the 11 pre-entries.
The fields for the Arlington Million, Beverly D., and Secretariat will be finalized on Tuesday.
The Saratoga meet is filled with extremely competitive fields and difficult handicapping puzzles. One of the best ways to make your handicapping easier and better is by following trainer trends, which can be useful in narrowing down the races to their few top contenders.
All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.
Bet trainers at their strengths and bet against them at their weaknesses, and your win percentage and return on investment (ROI) will go upward quickly.
Read onward for an easy-to-use pocket reference for the best times to bet on, and bet against, most of the top trainers throughout the summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course. The opinions are based on recent trends and statistics pertaining specifically to this time of year – the racing season at Saratoga. These preferences may differ elsewhere and at other times of the year.
Apologies if a particular trainer is not mentioned in this guide; it’s impossible to feature everyone. The 32 trainers listed will account for the vast majority of starters at the Spa meet. This is the first part of a three-part series.
Albertrani is most dangerous at Saratoga with his high-priced stock, including mostly allowance horses. He also wins doing second-time anything, including second off the layoff and second-time starters.
Bet: Second off the layoff, second starters
Bet against: Claimers
Neutral: Turf sprints
One of the country’s top trainers, Asmussen is hot-and-cold at The Spa. The time you want to play Asmussen is in dirt sprints, especially when he sends out his expensive juveniles in either their first- or second-starts.
Bet: Dirt sprints, 2-year-old first- and second-time starters
Bet against: All turf races
Neutral: Dirt routes
Not as much of a day-to-day factor at Saratoga as he was several years ago since Del Mar brought back dirt racing, Baffert still ships top stakes horses and expensive 2-year-olds and first-time starters.
Baker runs good horses both upstate at Finger Lakes and downstate at Belmont and Aqueduct, and he will take his shots at Saratoga with live horses from both categories. Baker’s best area of expertise is with the kinds of long layoff horses that you’d toss out from other barns. He also has been known to pop at The Spa with first-time starters, particularly versus New York-breds.
Bet: First starters, horses returning from long layoffs
Bet against: Turf routes
Neutral: Turf sprints
Bruce Brown struggled to win a race – any kind of race – in many recent Saratoga meets. Who he is at Saratoga is a guy who can win an occasional dirt claiming race. No big surprises, stick to his horses in good form only, and don’t expect positive turnarounds.
Bet: Older claimers with good form
Bet against: Maidens and first starters; turf
Neutral: Dirt routes
Brown is the heavy favorite for the Saratoga training title, with dozens of wins rolling-in in all categories including maidens, allowances and stakes, and every kind of turf route race. You can be guaranteed that all of Brown’s horses at The Spa will be live. His wins tend to come early in the meet, and you know he’ll be pointing many good horses for Saratoga stakes.
Bet: Maiden special weights on turf, dirt sprints (not maidens), and every kind of turf router
Bet against: Maiden claimers, maidens on the dirt
Neutral: Turf sprints
Bush has main been ice cold in some recent years, but he still can heat-up at the Spa for a win or two. He’s been known to jack-up his game at Saratoga and is quietly a trainer to watch in terms of ROI, especially on the dirt. When his number of turf starters increase, so do his number of turf wins.
Bet: Dirt routes
Bet against: Cheap claimers
Neutral: Turf races
Mark Casse has expanded his operation nationally in recent years and has also expanded his reach at Saratoga, but will have fewer stalls at Saratoga in 2019. You can count on Casse for some turf winners, but he is a notorious Spa snail – a trainer who starts slow but whose horses win their second or third starts of the meet Casse has particularly upped his game at Saratoga with 2-year-olds, first-time turf starters, and horses making their career debut in grass races.
Bet: 2-year-olds, turf career debuts, first-time turf, horses making 2nd or 3rd start of meet
Bet against: Dirt sprints for 3yo & up, horses making first start of the meet
Neutral: Turf sprints
Turf ace trainer Clement’s game is on the grass, of course, and he is good in turf stakes wins. Expect 25% wins or better in turf routes, and Clement also focuses on turf sprints at this meet (he unseated Linda Rice’s multi-year domination to lead all trainers with six turf sprint wins in 2015). Clement isn’t usually much of a factor on the dirt at Saratoga. He occasionally throws in a dirt sprint winner here and there.
Bet: Turf routes, turf sprints, turf stakes
Bet against: Dirt routes
Neutral: Dirt sprints
Contessa is one of the most prolific trainers on the New York circuit in terms of starters, but he’s generally a very bad bet at Saratoga with low percentages in dirt routes, turf sprints and turf routes. His wins will come mostly with dirt sprinters in claiming races. One sneaky angle for Contessa at Saratoga is with first-time turfers, who can occasionally win and pay giant prices when they do.
Bet: Dirt sprints, claimers, first-time turf (only at Saratoga)
Bet against: Dirt routes, turf sprints, allowance and stakes races
Neutral: Turf routes
Cox regularly achieves winning percentages around 30% wherever he goes, with around 55% in-the-money (ITM), and 2019 so far has been his best year yet. Basically capable of winning in all categories, his win percentage will drop at Saratoga in turf races due to the stiff competition at the meet. His winning percentage with 2YO and first starters will also fall short of his standards at this meet.
Bet: Dirt routes, dirt sprints, second off a layoff
Bet against: First time starters and 2-year-olds
Neutral: Turf sprints
Many handicappers believe the “trainer angle” is the most important piece of the handicapping pie, especially when top-rung racing takes place, like in New York during the heart of summer in July and August. All trainers have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of following the trainer angles, stats and trends, is that they help you identify these strengths and weaknesses to decisively give you the advantage over the rest of the betting public.
Best of luck, and enjoy summer racing in New York.
PHOTO: Saratoga starting gate (c) Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com
As in Saturday’s Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), the companion Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) features an Aidan O’Brien pair along with contenders from France and Japan. In another point of commonality, American-based runners have won four of five editions since the race was revamped in 2014.
Unlike the Belmont Derby, however, the Oaks has been Chad Brown’s playground with three wins in this time frame, capped by a trifecta in 2017. (And that’s not even counting his wins in its former guise as the Garden City.)
O’Brien interrupted the narrative last year thanks to Athena, and her “niece” Just Wonderful hopes to follow in her hoofsteps. Stablemate Coral Beach doesn’t have the same back class but at least enters on the upswing. The Pascal Bary-trained Olendon is the only one of the international quartet to boast a Group 1-placing, while Japanese shipper Jodie might punch above her weight if she embraces the role of controlling speed.
Bary, who will be handing Olendon over to Brown after Saturday, praised the Le Havre filly in comments to Paris-Turf earlier this season:
C’est une pouliche très qualiteuse que j’ai toujours appréciée.
You almost don’t need Google translate to get the gist – “She is a very high quality filly that I have always appreciated.”
Indeed, Olendon’s nominations to such major events as the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) and the French fillies’ classics speak the same language of high regard. Descended from the blue hen *Rough Shod II by way of her Horse of the Year daughter Moccasin, she hails from the same branch of the family as Stormy Atlantic and current Ashland (G1) heroine Out for a Spin.
Olendon was favored in her career debut at Saint-Cloud last summer, but ran a one-paced fourth. The chestnut made prompt amends next time at Deauville, where she launched a strong sustained run to get up. Back over the same course and distance in the Prix Six Perfections (G3), Olendon never picked up in a subpar seventh. She was subsequently sidelined for the rest of the year.
In her April 14 comeback in a ParisLongchamp conditions race versus males, Olendon was in the hunt before flattening out in a close fourth. That set her up perfectly for her spring objectives.
Olendon broke through two weeks later in the Prix Finlande. Traveling well at every stage – into the bit but not too aggressive – she took command and repelled a challenge from favored Blanche Doree.
The form wasn’t anything special, so Olendon was dismissed at 49-1 on the substantial class hike in the May 26 Prix Saint-Alary (G1). But she proved the market wrong when finishing second to hot favorite Siyarafina. Following that Aga Khan homebred throughout, Olendon kept on well enough in her slipstream to claim the best-of-the-rest mantle.
Siyarafina didn’t exactly boost that result in the French Oaks (G1), winding up sixth, but other Saint-Alary alumnae have held their own in the interim. Third-placer Imperial Charm, previously fourth in the French 1000 Guineas (G1), was third again in the Prix Chloe (G3). Fourth-placer Cala Terida was a close fifth in a blanket finish to the French Oaks, and the Saint-Alary fifth, Merimbula, has since placed third in the Prix de Malleret (G2).
That synopsis prompts the question of how Olendon might have fared in the French Oaks. She ended up skipping the classic around the same time that owner Gerard Augustin-Normand sold her privately to a partnership spearheaded by Wonder Stables and Madaket Stables.
The Belmont Oaks became her new target, and between her prior reputation and current form, Olendon rates a serious threat.
The blueblood daughter of Dansili and Wading, who is herself a Montjeu three-quarter sister to 2018 Belmont Oaks upsetter Athena, has arguably been crying out for this trip. Yet Just Wonderful has been an enigma in both seasons of racing so far.
As recounted in her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) scouting report, the descendant of the great matron Urban Sea broke her maiden in eye-catching fashion first time out, only to disappoint thereafter. Just Wonderful later continued her roller coaster ride when capturing the Flame of Tara (G3), flopping in the Moyglare Stud (G1), and rebounding in the Rockfel (G2).
#RUKMomentOfTheDay: Just Wonderful upheld family honour when winning the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket, seven years after her dam Wading achieved the same feat.
Just Wonderful was among those who couldn’t get close to Newspaperofrecord in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, but she performed respectably to churn her way into fourth.
Kicking off 2019 in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas (G1), Just Wonderful rallied for sixth under very sympathetic handling. She was near the rear much of the way, kept changing her legs as though trying to get balanced on the track, and did her best work on the uphill finish. This was a pleasing starting point especially if plotting a step up in trip. Compare fellow O’Brien trainee Fleeting, who moved forward from a dead last in the Guineas to place third in the Oaks (G1).
Instead of stretching out, Just Wonderful stuck to a mile for the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and went backward. She was right behind eventual winner Hermosa, only to fade to seventh. At this point the French Oaks could have looked a good spot, but O’Brien ended up swerving Chantilly with his fillies. Thus Just Wonderful headed to the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot, and again never factored around the mile, the rider wrapping up once it was obvious she was going nowhere.
Considering that Just Wonderful was already a winner over a mile at two, it stands to reason that she’s looking for longer trips now. Her race record and visual impressions dovetail with her pedigree. Dam Wading, aside from being closely related to Athena, is a full sister to 2014 Irish Oaks (G1) and Ribblesdale (G2) queen Bracelet, and her further maternal relatives include Galileo and Sea the Stars.
That said, I’d feel a little better if Just Wonderful had shown a modicum of competitiveness in her last pair. She’s eminently logical if not easy to trust.
Another eligible to prosper on the stretch-out, Coral Beach is a Zoffany half-sister to 2015 German Oaks (G1) third Amona. Although her high-profile “uncles” Abbashiva and Abbadjinn excelled over shorter, there’s stamina further in the family. Her relative Kluger briefly made international headlines when chasing home Winx in her Queen Elizabeth (G1) finale.
Coral Beach was busy at two, in part because it took 11 tries to break her maiden. She’d often run well, though, placing seven times, and she scored the first time she added a tongue strap. Tucked just behind the leaders in a Cork sprint, she got the seam and drove through. Jockey Seamie Heffernan summed it up for irishracing.com:
She has been a little bit disappointing but she works like a Group filly and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up winning a Group race.
Coral Beach vindicated that belief after squeezing in two more starts last October. She dropped to fifth when trying a mile in the Staffordstown Stud, but bounced back to upset the boys in the seven-furlong Killavullan (G3). The 16-1 shot made smooth progress from well back and rallied up the rail for Michael Hussey, who also rides her here. Coral Beach passed better-fancied stablemate Old Glory and had a length to spare from Guaranteed, the next-out winner of the Eyrefield (G3).
Lucky 13! Something of a surprise in the feature Killavullen Stakes, but the tough juvenile Coral Beach lands her biggest prize on her 13th start this season in the Group 3 feature at @LeopardstownRC under Michael Hussey for @Ballydoyle: pic.twitter.com/xhWtKySipe
Coral Beach aimed high in the mile classics this spring. She never landed a blow from near the rear in the French 1000 Guineas (G1), and checked in eighth again in the Irish equivalent. Unlike Just Wonderful, she got class relief in the Sandringham, a Royal Ascot handicap, and responded with a closing fourth that telegraphed a desire for more ground. Note that she also added the tongue strap back on there, apparently a key piece of equipment for her.
On paper, Coral Beach has a fair bit to find, but the 15-1 chance could find it in this first try beyond a mile.
Although a notch below the divisional leaders in Japan, Jodie’s record is better at Tokyo than anywhere else, and that might be a harbinger of her chances here. Both trainer Hirofumi Toda and jockey Miyabi Muto have told NYRA publicity that Belmont Park reminds them of her favorite track. I’d add that her early speed stands to be more effective in American conditions too.
By the Sunday Silence stallion Daiwa Major, twice Japan’s champion miler, Jodie is out of a Monsun half-sister to Australian Group 1 hero Mawingo. Her fourth dam is Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute (responsible for Sea Hero et al).
Jodie wired a newcomers’ race at Tokyo last June. Displaying a high cruising speed, she kept up the momentum to cover her final three furlongs in :34.2 and polish off the metric mile in 1:35.9.
Then emerged her pattern of not performing up to her best elsewhere. A creditable fourth versus males in the Niigata Nisai (G3), Jodie was a less inspiring fourth in an allowance at Nakayama (her first experience of a right-handed course).
A return to Tokyo in November also brought about a return to winner’s circle. Jodie grabbed the early lead in an allowance and was all out to last on the head-bob from Madras Check in 1:34.3. Madras Check has since developed into a stakes winner on the dirt and most recently placed second in the Kanto Oaks.
Venturing to right-handed Hanshin for the championship event in her division, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies (G1), Jodie ran like the longshot she was, retreating from midpack to 16th of 18. But that wasn’t a true reflection of her ability.
Ignored at 27-1 in the Daily Hai Queen Cup (G3) back at Tokyo, Jodie was in her element as she led most of the way before being collared late and settling for third. The winner, Chrono Genesis, ranks among the leaders of her crop after a trio of Grade 1 placings, including two classics. Also, the Queen Cup fourth, Curren Bouquetd’or, just missed in the Japanese Oaks (G1).
After a fifth in Nakayama’s Flower Cup (G3), Jodie came close to upsetting a classic trial again at her favorite track in the Sankei Sports Sho Flora (G2). The stretch-out to about 1 1/4 miles made no difference to her running style, as the 27-1 outsider free-wheeled it up front. As in the Queen Cup, she was beaten for finishing speed as two with a sharper kick, Victoria and Shadow Diva, nabbed her – but not by much in a time of 1:59.5.
Jodie could not duplicate the effort as a far bigger longshot (121-1) in the about 1 1/2-mile Japanese Oaks, tiring to 14th of 18 in her only poor result at Tokyo. Her early pace nevertheless helped set the table for Loves Only You’s stakes-record 2:22.8.
The cutback to 1 1/4 miles helps, but this circuit plays to her strengths if she can clear them early. While Jodie is still vulnerable to rivals packing greater acceleration, a flat track might carry the 20-1 longshot a little bit further than the stiffer test of Tokyo.
Photo: Just Wonderful training before the Breeders’ Cup (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Since taking its present form in 2014, the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) has attracted international participation while remaining largely in the grasp of the home team. It’s not surprising that Aidan O’Brien sent out the only foreign shipper to prevail in five runnings (Deauville in 2016), given the depth of his Ballydoyle bench and the frequency of his attempts. He’s back again with two more hopefuls, Cape of Good Hope and Blenheim Palace, both Galileo colts trying to make their way in the world as full siblings to stars.
After scouting out the O’Brien duo, we’ll also look at Rockemperor, the recent French recruit who adds to the Chad Brown arsenal, and conclude with a note on the well-known Master Fencer representing Japan.
CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
As a full brother to Highland Reel and Idaho, Cape of Good Hope presumably has ample scope to improve. And his record might look even better but for a couple of unfortunate circumstances, making him a stronger contender than the 10-1 morning line implies.
At two, Cape of Good Hope broke his maiden in his third try, leading throughout at Tipperary. His jockey, Aidan’s son Donnacha O’Brien, offered the following comments to irishracing.com:
He was a horse who always worked really nice and we always thought he was a smart horse. His first two runs were a bit disappointing really and it just took him a while to get it together mentally and he’s doing it now. He did it nicely and is a gorgeous horse and when he matures and fills out physically he’ll be better again.
Wheeling back for the Superlative (G2) during Newmarket’s July Festival, Cape of Good Hope again raced prominently, but was no match once Godolphin’s unbeaten Quorto made his move. Still he showed good resolve to battle back and reclaim second from Neverland Rock. The Superlative took on added significance when Quorto went on to capture the Vincent O’Brien National (G1), beating O’Brien’s future Epsom Derby (G1) winner Anthony Van Dyck.
Cape of Good Hope would have been expected to build on that effort, but he wasn’t seen again until the Royal Lodge (G2) in late September. Although he overraced a bit early, and wandered around in the Dip, he kept on well up the rising ground to finish third. It’s tempting to wonder what might have happened if not for the 2 1/2-month break right in the heart of the campaign.
Shelved for the rest of the season, Cape of Good Hope resurfaced in Epsom’s Blue Riband Trial on April 24 and put it all together. This time he was held up far off the pace, then stayed on strongly at the end of 1 1/4-mile trip. The result was mainly an indicator of his well-being because he didn’t need to step up much on his bare form to beat that group.
Cape Of Good Hope, The Brother to multiple Group 1 winner Highland Reel wins the Listed Investec Blue Riband Trial at Epsom, trained by Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore on the Saddle pic.twitter.com/hWwGMwEZQb
Cape of Good Hope remained under Derby consideration for a while, but the French Derby (G1) proved a more attractive target. While Ballydoyle was already overstocked with Epsom candidates, the shorter distance of about 1 5/16 miles at Chantilly also figured to suit him better at this stage of his career, like brother Highland Reel. He didn’t do quite as well as Highland Reel (who was second in the 2015 French Derby), but Cape of Good Hope’s closing fourth to Sottsass and Persian King – in a course-record 2:02.90 – was very much a step in the right direction.
The Hampton Court (G3) at Royal Ascot appeared the place for another move forward, only to see Cape of Good Hope regress in 10th. He was in the right spot with eventual winner Sangarius on his flank, and still in the thick of it in upper stretch, but weakened through the final furlong. Soft ground was likely to blame, especially knowing Highland Reel’s distaste for it.
Cape of Good Hope has shaped like a horse going places, and he’s capable of finally arriving if the ground stays reasonably good. The caveat is that it’s tough not to be influenced by his pedigree, and this could be a case of grading him on a curve because of his brothers.
You wouldn’t guess that Blenheim Palace is a full brother to Churchill and Clemmie, for he hasn’t shown their level of ability or their precocity. Yet this very different type is beginning to get his act together.
Well beaten in his first four starts, Blenheim Palace went the handicap route to earn his first win at Navan in April over 1 1/4 miles. The fact he needed that trip again differentiates him from his famous siblings who had much more zip, and he wasn’t even the favorite (5-1 third choice). Aidan told irishracing.com that Blenheim Palace was “a big, immature baby even before and after the race today.”
The baby came of age next time when runner-up in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (G3) as the 33-1 longest shot on the board. After doing his pacemaking job for odds-on stablemate Broome, Blenheim Palace exceeded expectations to hold second. Sovereign, the future Irish Derby (G1) shocker, was third.
Blenheim Palace traveled with Cape of Good Hope to Chantilly for the French Derby. He again did his part to attend front-running Motamarris, but unlike that rival who stuck on for third, he retreated to 14th of 15.
In last Saturday’s International (G3) at the Curragh, Blenheim Palace turned in a more representative effort, prompting the pace before being outkicked by the Joseph O’Brien-trained Buckhurst. He salvaged second by a neck from Georgeville in a sophomore sweep of the superfecta over their elders.
The likeable Buckhurst (Australia) lands his biggest prize and Group 3 honours to continue a fine @DDFRacing Irish Derby Festival for trainer @JosephOBrien2
Blenheim Palace adds blinkers here, an equipment change that figures to sharpen him up from post 11. If his presence could be read as pace support for Cape of Good Hope, his progressive profile and proven stamina suggest he’s more than just a sidekick. He’d need a massive step up to win, but can’t be discounted as an exotics player at 30-1.
Brown, who has yet to win the Belmont Derby, already had a three-pronged attack with Demarchelier, Digital Age, and Standard Deviation, and now makes it four as Rockemperor launches his American career. Like Cape of Good Hope and Blenheim Palace, he is a French Derby alum, and could be better than his sixth-place effort at Chantilly.
Hitherto trained by Simone Brogi (a Jean-Claude Rouget protégé), Rockemperor was a bargain buy for just €12,000 at the 2018 Arqana May Breeze-Up. That price doesn’t reflect his pedigree, as a son of Holy Roman Emperor and the stakes-placed Muhtathir mare Motivation, descended from the blue hen Best in Show, via a full sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Yagli. Indeed, Rockemperor had previously brought more (€50,000) as an Arqana August yearling. Brogi told Paris-Turf that he was able to scoop him up cheaply as a juvenile because he ignored a detail. His intuitive horsemanship was right, for Rockemperor himself ignored the detail too and developed into an admirably consistent performer.
Starting off in the French provinces last fall, Rockemperor romped in his debut at Hyeres and placed in his next two. He closed through the pack for second at Angers, and at Bordeaux-le-Bouscat, he lost ground in third, his action suggesting he wasn’t able to lift on the heavy going. Rockemperor switched to the all-weather for his sophomore bow at Deauville, where he rallied up the inside for second in a blanket finish.
Rockemperor next scored in an about 1 1/4-mile conditions event over the Cagnes-sur-Mer Polytrack, quickening well from just behind the longtime leader. That earned him a crack at a classic trial.
A 13-1 chance in the Prix la Force (G3), Rockemperor extricated himself from the pack and missed by a neck to front-running favorite Shaman. The form stood up when Shaman came back to finish second to Persian King in the French 2000 Guineas (G1), and third-placer Roman Candle went on to land the Prix Greffulhe (G2).
Fifth was none other than Sottsass, who clearly did not put his best foot forward in his comeback. Indeed, in his rematch with Rockemperor in the French Derby, Sottsass turned the tables emphatically, as Rockemperor wound up sixth, one spot behind Roman Candle and about three lengths adrift of Cape of Good Hope. It’s possible that Rockemperor raced too handy that day, and hold-up tactics might have seen him produce a better finish.
It’s also possible that his la Force effort was a little opportunistic, maximizing his race fitness while the more obvious classic prospects were warming up. On the other hand, Rockemperor was made eligible for the Grand Prix de Paris (G1), so he wasn’t lacking in fancy entries himself.
Purchased privately by an ownership group including Madaket Stables, Rockemperor could be just the type to reach a new level in U.S. conditions.
The first Japanese-based sophomore to try the Belmont Derby, Master Fencer is a familiar face to U.S. fans now after his fine, if belated, rallies in the Kentucky Derby (G1) (placed sixth) and Belmont (G1) (fifth). Hence the main questions revolve around whether he’s as effective on turf – and how much stock you want to put in any veteran of this Triple Crown trail. As mentioned in his scouting report for the Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer turned the corner when switching from turf to dirt over the winter. But his first two career outings on turf as a juvenile were useful enough, and it’s possible that the physically maturing three-year-old is capable of better. Note that the jockey who’s two-for-two aboard Master Fencer, Suguru Hamanaka, comes in to renew the partnership.
It’s not too early to start thinking about the Saratoga meet, which opens earlier than usual this season on Thursday, July 11. Saratoga will run five days a week in 2019, Wednesdays through Sundays. As usual, the meet will continue until Labor Day, which this year falls on Monday, September 2.
The Saratoga racing season attracts the best horses and horsemen, not only from New York but from everywhere. Trainers from many circuits point their best horses to Saratoga, and the competition for winners is stiffer there than anywhere. With the best barns bringing their best stock to the Spa, there will be some very good trainers excluded from the top 10 in the standings. Here is a look at the cream of the crop – the projected top 10 trainers for the upcoming 2019 Saratoga meet.
The first thing to mention in any Saratoga trainer’s guide is that it is a safe bet that the standings will be dominated by Chad Brown, and that the “exacta” in the trainer’s race should be rounded out by Todd Pletcher. That projected 1-2 finish atop the trainer’s standings would probably be the safest exacta bet you could make at the entire Saratoga meet.
Chad Brown dominated the trainer’s standings like never before in 2018, winning 46 races which smashed the previous all-time Saratoga training record of 40. Brown’s win total was more than double the amount of winners Pletcher had in second place with 19. Rudy Rodriguez was next with 14 winners, followed close by Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen, each with 13 wins. Brown accomplished his 46-win season from 171 starters, for a strong win percentage of 27% and a startling in-the-money (ITM) rate of 64%.
Pletcher had edged out Brown by a single win on the final day of the meet for 40 wins in 2017, and Brown had won the training title at Saratoga in 2016 meet with 40 wins. Pletcher had won the title for five consecutive seasons from 2011 to 2015 (13 overall Saratoga trainer titles).
Behind Pletcher and Brown, it once again should be a battle between Rodriguez, Mott and Asmussen as well as other Saratoga stalwarts like Linda Rice and Kiaran McLaughlin. Jason Servis also had a giant meet at Saratoga in 2018, going 10-for-40 in the win column and an amazing 20-for-40 in the exacta. Jeremiah Englehart also must be respected after a big 2018 meet in which he went 12-for-84 in the win column, good for sixth in the standings.
All of the aforementioned trainers should be respected in all spots, but all have their specialties. Brown wins turf routes and stakes races at an alarming rate. Pletcher reels off two-year-old maiden wins and stakes wins like they are going out of style. Asmussen wins with two-year olds and maidens and mainly a variety of sprinters. Rodriguez wins mostly claiming races and New York-bred races, as does Englehart. Rice is the queen of the turf sprints and also wins with New York-bred maidens and grass horses. Mott wins mainly turf routes, and McLaughlin is one to watch in turf sprints and dirt routes. Servis crushes turf sprints.
The aforementioned nine trainers should all land in the 2019 final top 10 in the trainer’s standings. The last slot in the trainer’s top 10 is up for grabs and could go to any one of a dozen or more top trainers. Perhaps turf ace trainer Christophe Clement is due for a rebound meet with good horses lined up for both turf sprints and routes. Or maybe it will be Joe Sharp, who is lethal in one-mile turf races and turf sprints at Saratoga. Mike Maker brings a wide variety of horses to Saratoga and is always dangerous.
But the edge to sneak into the top 10 amongst everyone else goes to Mark Casse, whose national profile has also risen to elite status the last few years. Casse is a notorious Spa snail, however, who starts slowly but wins the majority of his races in the second half of the meet, and with horses making their second or third starts of the meet.
Stay tuned for more info on even more trainers as the run-up to the start of the 2019 Saratoga meet continues.
PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography
Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) melds storylines from the sport’s biggest events, the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup, along with the prospect of untapped potential on display.
Here’s one way to explore the multifaceted angles:
Triple Crown winner Justify’s legacy. Let’s stipulate that sweeping the Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1), and Belmont (G1) is an outstanding feat, especially when it’s accomplished in unprecedented fashion by a colt who didn’t race at two, and retired unbeaten. In that respect, Justify’s historical legacy is secure, and he’ll probably be honored as Horse of the Year at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards.
The question is rather how Justify stacks up more broadly against the all-time greats, the kind of parlor-game exercise that has no definitive answer but is endlessly intriguing to ponder. Since Justify was retired before he had the chance to tackle older horses, his beaten rivals who are still on the track can help.
At this writing, the rest of the 2018 Triple Crown participants have not stepped up. That picture can change, however, over the course of 2019, and the Pegasus represents the perfect opportunity. If Kentucky Derby third Audible, or hard-charging Preakness runner-up Bravazo, upstages the older establishment at Gulfstream Park, it would be a significant form boost for the 2018 Triple Crown. By definition that flatters Justify.
To raise the stakes further, the Pegasus is literally the last chance for Audible and Bravazo to strike a blow against the two top older (route) males of 2018 who are both retiring to stud after Saturday. That brings us to the next storyline.
Accelerate versus City of Light rubber match. As if a clash between Breeders’ Cup winners weren’t enough to whet the appetite, added spice comes by way of the Pegasus serving as the tiebreak bout after split decisions in 2018.
Accelerate, a Horse of the Year finalist and the presumptive champion older male, compiled a six-for-seven mark last season crowned by the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). His lone reverse came in the Oaklawn H. (G2) at the hands of City of Light. Accelerate exacted swift revenge next time in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), where City of Light was a well-beaten third. The result was not surprising as the 1 1/4-mile trip is Accelerate’s wheelhouse, and City of Light excelled over shorter trips. City of Light accordingly reverted in distance and capped his campaign with a resounding victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
As a 1 1/8-mile contest like the Oaklawn ‘Cap, the Pegasus gives City of Light the chance to turn the tables at a trip more congenial to him. But Accelerate isn’t exactly a plodder. A closing third in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at three, he famously romped in the 2017 San Diego H. (G2) when Arrogate flopped. Although his 2018 resume featured four Grade 1 wins at 1 1/4 miles, Accelerate also scored in a pair of nine-furlong events, the San Pasqual (G2) and Awesome Again (G1).
There wasn’t much between them at Oaklawn, with Accelerate giving City of Light three pounds and coming up a neck short. At the time City of Light was making his two-turn debut off back-to-back seven-furlong coups in the Malibu (G1) and Triple Bend (G1), while Accelerate was cutting back in trip from the Santa Anita H. (G1). City of Light was the sharper of the pair on April 14, but Accelerate has arguably improved in the interim too, and the freshening since the Classic could lend more zip to his legs than he had in Hot Springs. All of which is to say that both Breeders’ Cup stars have strong claims in what should be a fantastic throwdown.
Lightly raced talent on the upswing. At the opposite end of the career spectrum are Patternrecognition and Tom’s d’Etat, both on an upward curve with their ceiling to be determined.
Patternrecognition is further along the class ladder, as the winner of the Cigar Mile (G1) and Kelso (G2), but has yet to try two turns. Tom’s Etat, on the other hand, is two-for-two at 1 1/8 miles but has yet to face graded company, let alone a loaded Grade 1 field. His personal best Brisnet Speed rating (107) suggests he can fit at this level. Given their admirable career records – Patternrecognition has been in the exacta in 10 of 11, and Tom’s d’Etat is six-for-nine with a four-race winning streak – they are eligible to make their presence felt.
But Tom’s d’Etat brings an additional storyline thanks to his New Orleans Saints connection. He sports the colors of GMB Racing, the nom de course of Gayle Benson, who also owns the NFL team. After Sunday’s controversial denouement to the NFC Championship game, with the infamous blown call that helped sink the Saints, what better way to rebound than a big effort in the nation’s richest race?
Better luck the second time around? Gunnevera and Seeking the Soul, the respective third and fifth from last year’s Pegasus, can make a case to improve on those efforts.
Although Gunnevera is a minor award specialist, the $4.1 million-earner comes off a far better Breeders’ Cup Classic performance than at the comparable time a year ago. He was a dead-heat fifth at Del Mar in 2017, but a fine second at Churchill Downs in November. Factor in his established proficiency around Gulfstream, with a local mark of 9-4-2-2, and the social media celebrity is entitled to be involved.
Seeking the Soul brought a progressive profile into the 2018 Pegasus, only to sustain an injury in the course of his 14-length loss in fifth. Owner/breeder Charles Fipke said that it took him time to return to form. Seeking the Soul won or placed in his final three starts of the year, including a clear second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. If he needs a career best to upset, his “A” game can put him in the exotics.
Is the top older male of 2019 skipping the race? Once Accelerate and City of Light are living the high life in the Lane’s End stallion barn, divisional leadership is up for grabs. Even if another horse upends them both, he’ll have to withstand ongoing challenges to his pro-tem status, chiefly from McKinzie.
Trainer Bob Baffert has made no secret of his belief that McKinzie is a budding champion. Indeed, he’s already a triple Grade 1 winner, with his latest, the Malibu (G1), the most impressive yet. But Baffert did not want to pitch him into the Pegasus. That decision was perhaps influenced by the fact that his 2017 winner, Arrogate, and 2018 runner-up, West Coast, were flattened after competing in both the Pegasus and Dubai World Cup (G1).
By the end of the 2019 season, McKinzie might well have vindicated the Hall of Famer’s judgment, and it would be no surprise if he’s playing the Accelerate role in the 2020 Pegasus. If so, the Pegasus theme of looking more backward than forward would continue.
International ambitions more realistic on turf than dirt. Foreign shippers have struggled in the first two runnings of the Pegasus, Argentine import Eragon (2017) and British comebacker Toast of New York (2018) each finishing a long-way last of 12. Unbeaten Mexican superstar Kukulkan has a low bar to cross to do better.
To be fair, Eragon was whisked across hemispheres without time to acclimate, and Toast of New York was making his second start off a three-year layoff, much of it spent retired at stud. Kukulkan has a stronger hand to play than either of them, as a race-fit campaigner with a win over track and trip in the Caribbean Classic. Obviously, “stronger” is a relative term, and Kukulkan is up against on the galactic class hike.
Hence the addition of the $7 million Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) to the card casts out a more enticing lure for internationals, admittedly at a difficult time on the calendar. Japan’s Aerolithe and Aidan O’Brien’s Magic Wand rate as major threats in an open-looking inaugural, as the forthcoming scouting report will explain.
Owner’s bonus for hitting the Pegasus double. Turning the Pegasus into dirt and turf events has created the opportunity to hit the double. Scooping both would be a windfall, but Gulfstream has sweetened the pot with a $1 million bonus to the doubly victorious owner.
Audible and Pegasus Turf contender Yoshida pack a one-two punch for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, and Head of Plains Partners, the overlapping portion of their respective ownership groups (Audible’s partnership includes Starlight Racing while Yoshida’s includes SF Racing).
Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence have a plausible shot with Bricks and Mortar in the Pegasus Turf and Patternrecognition, both trained by Chad Brown. Stronach Stables’ homebred Delta Prince holds much more intrigue in the Turf than Something Awesome on dirt. Ron Paolucci is swinging for the fences with Imperative (co-owned by Imaginary Stables), who snapped up the spot that could have been McKinzie’s, and Dubby Dubbie in the Turf.
As of known contenders Monday evening, John Sadler is the other trainer (besides Brown) who could turn the double, although Accelerate (Hronis Racing) and Turf runner Catapult (Woodford Racing) have different owners. Note that more trainers could join Brown and Sadler in both races by entry time Tuesday. Kiaran McLaughlin, who has True Timber in the Pegasus, also has Qurbaan as a Turf nominee; Audible’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, may have Hi Happy in the Turf; and Something Awesome’s trainer, Jose Corrales, could put Unbridled Juan (yet another Stronach runner) in the Turf.
With over two full days to spare, I submitted my 2018 Eclipse Awards ballot. That is an upset in itself. The last Grade 1 stakes race of the year was run on Saturday so there was no more reason to wait, and this year’s late season stakes races did have an impact on one of my choices.
The rule with the Eclipse Awards voting is that there is no rule. This year, I was a tough marker on international horses that only had one start in North America. As someone who follows racing around the world, I feel that horses that race here have a big preference. Is ENABLE the best turf horse in the world? Of course, she is. But with only one start here, how can I deny the many other deserving turf horses that toiled over here all year?
With few exceptions, I do not look at the Eclipse Awards as a handicapping exercise but one of accomplishment in 2018. If these horses were in a race in their division, I might not bet the one that I selected but gave my vote to the one that, in my humble opinion, accomplished the most. Also, these are my votes and not who I think will win. Most of them are logical and there will be many Mariano Rivera’s in this year balloting. Some are not.
In 1977, Seattle Slew became the first horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated. He lost his next start by over 16 lengths while finishing out of the money and was done for the year. Still, he was voted Horse of the Year over the mighty Forego who won the Metropolitan H. (G1) and Woodward (G1) and carried impossible weights in the races he lost. The Triple Crown achievement trumps all.
What I forgot, but was pointed out by Sid Fernando in his column in Thoroughbred Daily News, was that Slew himself was victimized the very next year by 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed — despite beating him twice. I wouldn’t vote for a Triple Crown winner automatically as Horse of the Year, but it would have to be a pretty special situation to not do so. Unfortunately, I did not have a vote back in 1978 and didn’t have to decide between two all-time greats. My heart says I would have voted for Slew as he beat Affirmed decisively both times he faced him.
The toughest race for me was for trainer. Bob Baffert trained Justify and had a great year in other divisions. But, as I have pointed out before, Lucien Laurin did not win it in 1973 when Secretariat won the Triple Crown and Billy Turner was denied in 1977 as well. So, it’s not a slam dunk by any means.
Chad Brown had an incredible year, capped off by COMPETITIONOFIDEAS‘ win in the American Oaks (G1) last Saturday at Santa Anita. It was Brown’s 17th individual Grade 1 stakes winner this year, but Baffert kept winning Grade 1s to the end of the year when MCKINZIE bounced back to win the Malibu (G1) giving him another. Any other year I vote for Brown, but what Baffert did with Justify was history making. Not only did he win the Kentucky Derby (G1) with a horse that did not begin his career until February 18, but nursed him through the rigors of the Triple Crown. What happened after the Belmont Stakes (G1) is irrelevant and should not reflect on Baffert.