Racing Roundtable: Saratoga upsets abound, Haskell preview

July 18th, 2023

Ashley Anderson and James Scully gather at the Roundtable to discuss some stakes action from the opening week at Saratoga and provide their early thoughts for Saturday's $1 million Haskell S. (G1) at Monmouth Park.

What do you make of Whitebeam’s upset in the Diana (G1)?

James Scully: I thought it was a big deal, establishing Whitebeam as a top U.S. prospect for this year’s 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Ten furlongs may be too far for In Italian, who held for second at a shorter distance in last year’s Filly & Mare Turf. And despite giving her rival six pounds, In Italian had everything her own way on the lead of the Diana before being run down in deep stretch.

By Caravaggio, Whitebeam was pigeonholed as a sprint type in Europe, but she’s developing into a classy router stateside. The four-year-old filly earned her first graded win when taking the 1 1/16-mile Gallorette (G3) in the previous outing, and Whitebeam thrived on the stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Diana.

Ashley Anderson: Earlier in the week, trainer Chad Brown said In Italian may be beatable if there’s moisture in the ground, and that proved to be the case — though, by just a nose, as stablemate Whitebeam nailed the Dubawi mare at the wire.

In Italian had raced on firm turf in 10 of her previous 11 starts, and while she suffered her first defeat since finishing a length second to Irish-bred Tuesday in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, she’s still top of the filly and mare turf division, in my opinion.

Whitebeam is one to continue to watch out of Brown’s barn as well after she took the Diana in her first attempt beyond 1 1/16 miles. She’s a quarter-length shy of an unbeaten 3-for-3 record since shipping to the U.S., and has scored in both graded stakes tries on U.S. turf; the other win coming in the Gallorette at Pimlico.

Brown noted that the Caravaggio filly has “trained as good as (his) top handful of horses all winter at Payson Park” and the win was not much of a surprise to him. She and In Italian may get a rematch in the one-mile First Lady (G1) at Keeneland in October, which — like last year's edition of the Diana — was won by In Italian last season.

Will the upset winners of the Schuylerville (G3) and Sanford (G3) make an impact in the Spinaway (G1) and Hopeful (G1), respectively?

JS: I’m skeptical about the quality of both fields, but won’t take anything away from Becky’s Joker, who won the Schuylerville going away in her career debut. She has a better chance to make an impact in upcoming stakes than Yo Yo Candy, whose 2 1/2-length upset in the Sanford appeared fortuitous, the beneficiary of odds-on favorite Gold Sweep missing the break.  

My main takeaway from the juvenile stakes surrounded Gold Sweep, who has now lost two of three starts and will be faded off the troubled second in the Sanford. His lone win, a nine-length romp in the Tremont S., looked better than it actually was, and I’ll try to beat Gold Sweep at expected short odds next time.

AA: A stumbled start for Gold Sweep in the Sanford opened up the opportunity for Yo Yo Candy to come away with a 46-1 upset, and the addition of blinkers proved a fruitful move for trainer Daniel Velazquez, but going forward I see Becky's Joker making the bigger impact in the Spinaway. The Gary Contessa trainee broke a bit slowly but rebounded to establish a more forward position, split horses in the three path into the stretch and drew clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths on debut.

By Practical Joke, Becky's Secret was purchased as a weanling for $130,000 in 2021 at Keeneland September and impressed owner Lee Pokoik enough to enter the juvenile in a graded stakes at first asking. Contessa and Pokoik teamed up to win the Spinaway in 2018 with 16-1 longshot Sippican Harbor, but the secret's out on the duo's 2023 hopeful, so don't expect the filly to go off anywhere close to her predecessor's odds in the seven-furlong race.

What are your early thoughts on the Haskell?

JS: Arabian Knight will have to earn it in his first appearance since late January, the frontrunning colt has never trailed in two career starts and a pair of quality opponents, Extra Anejo and Geaux Rocket Ride, have the speed to prompt him from the start. It’s a tall task stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time off a six-month layoff, but Arabian Knight has a lofty reputation and figures to go favored for nine-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert.

A pair of Kentucky Derby (G1) alumni, Tapit Trice and upset winner Mage, who is still on the fence, may receive the right set-up behind the speed. And Salute The Stars, who impressively overcame a troubled trip to run down loose-on-the-lead Kingsbarns in his stakes debut, the June 17 Pegasus S. at Monmouth Park, is an intriguing player from off the pace.

AA: Kentucky Derby winner Mage may skip the Haskell to train up to the 1 1/4-mile Travers (G1), leaving Tapit Trice as the probable favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell. Seventh in this year's edition of the Run for the Roses, the Todd Pletcher pupil came back to place third in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont (G1) while recording a career-best 109 Brisnet Speed figure, but his tendency to start slow out of the gate has me lacking confidence.

Instead, I'm looking at a pair of lightly raced three-year-olds — Arabian Knight and Salute The Stars. The former will make his third career start for nine-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert, and his first since winning the Southwest (G3) by 5 1/2 lengths back in January at Oaklawn.

But I'm most intrigued by Brad Cox runner Salute The Stars, who has progressed steadily since switching to dirt. The Candy Ride colt's lone loss came on debut when second in a one-mile maiden special weight on turf, and he saw a significant jump from a Brisnet Speed perspective when he won a 1 1/8-mile allowance taken off the turf at Churchill Downs in May. Cox next entered the three-year-old in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus at Monmouth, where he beat 2023 Kentucky Derby starter Kingsbarns by a neck. The Gary and Mary West homebred flashed 97 and 100 Late Pace figures in his last two and can take another step forward in his first graded stakes effort.