Folks…we’ve made it. Opening Day at Saratoga is finally upon us and for the first time in nearly two years, fans are allowed back inside the gates.
As many of you know, there are just 40 days of racing at the Spa each summer, so we need to make every single day count. Like I always say, each race you don’t bet you’re giving up the opportunity to make money. So let’s not miss a god damn race this year. Check out my preview of the Opening Day card as well as some suggestions as to how you can shape up your P5/6 tickets.
Race 1 (1:05pm): $12,500 Claiming, 1⅛ miles on the dirt, 3 yr olds and up
Nothing like a nice $12.5k claimer to kick off the racing season! That being said, at least we have a decent sized field here with nine horses (before scratches), many of them being slightly older and with lots of experience. My top choice is #4 Wagon Boss – this gelding may be 8 years old but he isn’t done yet. Last time out at Churchill in June he beat the favorite here by a half a length, and he has a recent win at this distance as well. Rosario is in the irons as well which is a definite jockey upgrade compared to his recent saddlers. Another horse I’m eyeing here is #7 Grit and Glory, who although has looked iffy recently, did show some promise back in January snagging a win with a 90 Beyer speed figure. He’s the youngest of the bunch at 5 years old and already has a win at this distance at Saratoga. I like him at 8-1 with Manny Franco on top. It’d be tough to build a P5 ticket and not include at least one of the Robertino Diodoro horses on the card. He has two entries in this race, and both happen to be the top two ML favorites; #5 Charlie’sarchangel and #9 Hammerin Aamer. The 9 has been running more and, as of recently, has been in the top 3 a decent amount. However, the #5 Charlie’sarchangel is the horse I’d likely choose more. Although he lost last time out to Wagon Boss, he didn’t have potentially the best Jockey in the world, Irad Ortiz, on top. Irad is back from his suspension and will certainly be looking to put on a show at this Saratoga meet.
Race 2 (1:41pm): $100,000 Maiden Special Weight, 5½ furlongs on the dirt, 2 yr old fillies
We go from a $12.5k claimer to a $100k 2 yr old sprint – I absolutely love it. Five of the nine horses in the field make their debuts, and the remaining four have only raced once or twice prior, which should lead to a very interesting race. Obviously there isn’t as much info to go off of because they are first timers, but that doesn’t stop us from finding winners. Tom Amoss debuts his $100k filly #4 Microbiome this race. She’s put up a couple bullet workouts this past month and gets jockey Tyler Gaffalione. To me, this is the horse that should likely be the favorite in the race, especially considering Amoss is a solid 26% with 2 year old first time dirt sprinters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ML favorite #9 Speedometer comes in, as trainer Steve Asmussen is also great under the same conditions. This horse had a good debut but ended up being beaten by a few lengths by what were likely just better horses. I like her, but I can’t say I love her here, especially at 9-5. For value purposes, I love #3 Prima Della at 12-1. She’s another first time starter, this time with trainer Wayne Potts, and gets Eric Cancel on top. She was an expensive foal out of Into Mischief, and she’s put up some great workout numbers at Monmouth and Saratoga leading up to this race. Worth throwing her in your ticket and exotics. Oh yeah, and as for #4, well she’s been working with Cartel Queen, who is racing in the G3 Schuylerville later on. Check out this video of her work (inside). Jockey is barely putting in work…Microbiome seems ready.
Race 3 (2:15pm): $103,000 Allowance, 1 mile on the inner turf, 3 yr olds and up
First turf race of the meet! As of the time this article was published, the weather is looking good for Thursday, so we’re going to assume it won’t be switched to the dirt for main track only (MTO) horses. If we’re being honest, there’s two horses I love here and they do happen to be the two favorites. #9 St. Joe Louis and #10 Treason are two horses that have shown they can go this distance on the turf. Although they have only a few races under their belt between the two of them, both have already broken their maiden and looked good doing so. The 9’s trainer in the legendary Chad Brown, who I’m sure is very excited to be back at his home track, looking to reclaim his title as the top trainer of the meet. With Rosario on top on the turf, this is a duo you don’t want to mess with. #10 Treason gets Jose Ortiz on top with Bill Mott as the trainer, who have been performing well this year and putting up nearly a 25% win rate together. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t one of these two to come in, but if you’re looking for a better value play then I’d suggest #12 Alley Oop Johnny. This gelding has lots of experience on the turf, all at this distance or more. Not only this, but he likes to come in the top 3 at a price. Back in October at Belmont he was able to put together a great trip at a mile, and while he’s moving up in class here, I think he has a shot at wiring the field.
Race 4 (2:49pm): $60,000 Allowance, 8½ furlongs on the outer turf, 3 yr old fillies and up
Off the rip, one of the horses I’m really liking this race is #1 Claddagh’s Run who sits at 10-1. This filly isn’t as quick out of the gate like many others in this race, but she sure does have the late pace that could be needed in this turf route. She’s won three of her last four and is taking a step up in class off of a brief layoff, but I think she has a great shot at coming in at a price, especially with Johnny V on the saddle. The next horse I’m taking here is #7 Hohohoho who gets Dylan Davis on top and comes out of Tom Morley’s barn. This horse was beaten last time out by the favorite #12 Ocean Air, but has two firsts in the books (one of them she was DQed and placed third) and likes to get out front early and hold onto that lead for as long as possible. If she’s able to hold on to the lead, she can get the victory, but she’ll have to be mindful of Ocean Air who loves to stalk the leader. The 12 has Irad which is a huge benefit, however the duo were unable to pull off a win as the favorite two races back.
Race 5 (3:21pm): $100,000 Maiden Special Weight, 5½ furlongs on the dirt, 2 yr old fillies
Another 2 yr old filly sprint, and this one to start off the Pick 6! Gotta love it. The ML favorite is #3 Lady Scarlet who looked pretty good in her debut, coming in a swift second place to a horse with prior race experience. Lady Scarlet has some great early speed and Brad Cox will have her primed up even more for her first race in Saratoga. Cox is arguably the best trainer around when it comes to 2 year olds getting out of the gate the fastest, and this filly will be out for the win her second time around. Liking the favorite here, but also looking at #1 Mommasgottarun who sits at 6-1 and gets Gaffalione on top. Tom Amoss is her trainer, and like I said before, Amoss has a great record with first timers especially up here in Saratoga. This one’s works look good, and if she can break quickly and get out front before the favorite, I think she has a real good chance at winning. Lastly, it’s impossible to keep Irad out of here, so I’m going to add #6 Solasta, a $300,000 purchase now trained by Jeremiah Englehart. Solasta’s been training in Saratoga this past month which could benefit her here as well, but if we’re being honest the addition of Irad Ortiz is the main draw here.
Race 6 (3:55pm): $35,000 Claiming, 8½ furlongs on the inner turf, 3 yr old fillies and up
Orlando Noda has one entry in this race and that is #8 Choose Happiness. This 4 year old filly was brought back onto the turf two races back at Belmont, and although she came in sixth, it was still a good showing for the step up in class as she went off at 45-1. Next time out she got Dylan Davis in the irons and came in a closer second at nearly 20-1. After improving on the turf, I like her at this same distance under similar conditions. #11 Jazzy Lady is coming off of a win at Churchill downs after stepping down a little in class. While the win wasn’t the most impressive being a 3-5 favorite, she got the job done and stays at the claiming level this time around. She seems to be running well on the turf and should only improve with Rosario on top, I like her in this position at 6-1. I’m not quite sure I trust the favorite here, which is #5 Kitten by the Sea. She hasn’t raced since November where even then she didn’t look that great for Pletcher’s standards. The question becomes, is Todd putting this filly in this race because he thinks it could be an easy one to win, or is he just trying to get $35k for her? After seven months of rehab and training…I have a feeling this one could be ready to run a big race, so I can’t leave her off the ticket especially with Irad Ortiz riding.
Race 7 (4:29pm): $103,000 Allowance, 9 furlongs on the dirt, 3 yr olds and up
I love this kind of race. Some great 3 and 4 year olds – many of which have been consistently improving as of recently and are turning out to be brilliant race horses. For example, #2 Southern District broke his maiden last time out at Churchill, which happened to be his first dirt race. He’s gone up in class each time out and goes up in class slightly here again after taking June off to train for the Spa. Not to mention Chad Brown is the trainer, Irad’s on top, and he’s a Klaravich Stables horse…talk about a lethal trio. I’d love to see Southern District do exactly what he did in his maiden win and come charging in down the stretch to take over by a few lengths. This is a great choice at 4-1, but I’ll be interested to see how the bettors play this one. Another horse I like that has some value to it is #8 Dust Devil, who sits at 6-1 ML and is getting his first run under trainer Bill Mott. This horse had been running well at Aqueduct but couldn’t get a win under his belt when he moved to bigger allowance races at Belmont. That being said, his runs there weren’t poor at all and he still recorded some of his best speed figures. Looking back at his last win and the race prior (second by a nose), he broke really well which in the end showed to be much better for him. He wasn’t able to break as well in his following races, but Mott should have that figured out by now. There’s no shame in playing the two-for-one in #1 Arham and #1A Ajaaweed, who come in as the 5-2 ML favorite out of Shadwell Stables with Todd Pletcher as the trainer. I’m not the most confident in either horse, but I think the pairing of the two makes sense to take in P5/P6 tickets, not necessarily win or exacta bets though. To me, they’re a bit too inconsistent and while the 1A looks like a good contender for this race, he’s gotten beaten by 10+ lengths in four of his last five runs. As for the 1, well, I just don’t like him going a mile and an eighth when he couldn’t do it at a mile. However…it’s Todd Pletcher, so you can’t count these two out.
Race 8 (5:05pm): The Quick Call Stakes (G3), 5½ furlongs on the outer turf, 3 yr olds
The first stakes race of the season features the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint – #3 Golden Pal. The Wesley Ward horse has been spectacular in his last two outings, winning both as the heavy favorite at 5½ on turf, which happen to be the same conditions as this race. Irad Ortiz is once again on top, just as he was for the previous two rides. If you’re looking for a race to single, this is the obvious one considering this horse is 1-2 ML. The only other horse I think could potentially give the 3 a run for his money would be #9 Jaxon Traveler, who is running on the turf for his first time. This Asmussen horse has put up impressive numbers and his worst finish is second, but we’ll see how the move to turf treats him (or if he just gets scratched because of it).
Race 9 (5:39pm): The Schuylerville Stakes (G3), 6 furlongs on the dirt, 2 yr old fillies
The third and final baby race of the day features another monster filly out of Wesley Ward’s barn…#7 Happy Soul. After coming in second in his debut at Keeneland, Happy Soul has gone on to win two races at Belmont by 11½ furlongs…each. This horse has dominated at 5 and 5½ furlongs, so who’s to say she won’t do the same at 6? Now, I must note that her previous races included only 4 other runners and she recorded an 81 Beyer both times, but to me she just seems like an absolute winner and another potential single. If you’re not taking the 7, then my next bet would be #1 Pretty Birdie. This filly ran well and broke her maiden last month at Churchill, and she benefits from a nice jockey upgrade to Luis Saez this time around. I think Mary Lou Whitney stables have a great horse on their hands here, but I can’t say I’m nearly as confident in her as I am with the favorite.
Race 10 (6:13pm): $85,000 Maiden Special Weight, 8½ furlongs on the inner turf, NY bred 3 yr olds and up
Oftentimes the last race of the day at NYRA tracks tends to be somewhat of a shitshow. That is exactly the case with the 10th race on today’s card. #6 Dreampoint is a value play at 12-1, but I think he fits this race well even with the step up in class. Trainer Gary Sciacca certainly isn’t the most notable, and Eric Cancel is no Irad Ortiz, but this horse wants to win so badly. Over the past three races, he’s been beaten by less than 3 lengths combined. He’s a sneaky horse that likes to come from behind and I think he’ll appreciate the extra half a furlong this time around. I’m interested to see how #10 Big Georges Kingdm does in his first attempt on the grass. He looked good at Aqueduct in April, and his works have looked good since as well, but the question remains can he bring it on the turf. I’m a fan of jockey Javier Castellano and I want to give these two a chance at 15-1. #7 Viking Zim has looked good in his two attempts on the turf so far, and he seemed to enjoy the bump from 6 furlongs to a mile. He gets Jose Ortiz again, and I think at 6-1 this is better value than his brother Irad who is sitting at 8-5 ML on #8 Clever Fellow. The 8 has put up the best speed figures of the group, but they certainly aren’t by a significant margin. While I may be contradicting myself from before slightly, I think this horse will be overbet because of Irad and Chad Brown. In a shitshow of a race like this, I’d prefer to spread with some value plays.
How I’ll Be Playing Tickets
The early part of this card seems to be a bit more unpredictable than the latter, especially when it comes to potential singles. So note that while I’m still going to be playing the Early Pick 5, I’ll be focusing more of my betting on the Late Pick 4/5/6. I think the two stakes races are strong potential singles, so if you happen to like one more than the other, single it and spread where you can elsewhere. As always, remember that these are simply recommendations for how you could shape your ticket. I always suggest you mix your opinions with my own and see what kind of ticket you can create.
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That’s it! I am so god damn excited for this track season! If you enjoyed reading, please make sure to follow me on Twitter @SpaSaturdays – I’ll be posting multiple tickets on race days so make sure you don’t miss out on the action. If you’ll be at the track at all this weekend, let me know and I’d love to say hi. Let’s make some money now, enjoy the races!