- My detailed analysis of the Whitney, Diana, and Go For Wand (I begged out of the Vanderbilt because I'm busy preparing to leave and find stakes sprints to be beyond my capabilities) will be in the print edition of the Saratoga Special tomorrow morning for those of you up there, and posted on the website...at some point. Check for it here; look for Stakes Handicapping on the right. Not going to reprint it here, as I'm giving them the exclusive. But I'll do a brief synopsis, and then I need to get to packing, panicking, and handicapping. Looks like a fantastic weekend of racing on the left coast.
In the Go For Wand, I think that Ginger Punch stands out as a horse to stand against should he really be the 8-5 favorite as suggested by the morning line. As impressive as those Belmont races are, they came against a depth-less and short field in the First Flight, and benefited by that weirdly run Phipps, which saw Take D'Tour battle Teammate in a second quarter of 21.4. And more importantly, she's just 0 for 1 in two turn races, that on a sloppy track in allowance company. So she's being asked to beat graded stakes horses on a dry track (well, hopefully!) for the first time, and you know what Harvey Pack says about betting on a favorite being asked to do something it's never been before.
I was disappointed by the way Ermine capitulated so readily in her last race; that's not characteristic of her, and her trainer Ronny Werner seemed concerned too in some remarks to the Form. So I picked Miss Shop, pointing out that while she seemed to prefer the grass earlier in her career, lately she seems to fancy two turn dirt races. She's won graded stakes the last two times she's run that route. It seems as if Allan Jerkens plays it a bit sly with this filly, and I get the feeling he's been pointing to this race all along; note the two impressive works. She's 8-1 morning line, and I think she'd be great value around that price. I picked Ermine and Plaid for 2nd and 3rd. Plaid is a hard hitter that you gotta love, having finished out of the money just once in her last 20 races! She's the type of horse that I imagine that Greg Avioli of the Breeders Cup had in mind when he spoke about dark horse-types that wouldn't otherwise qualify for the championship races.
The Go For Wand is a kinda strange race. Biancone entered the rabbit Countess Scala, which he did successfully for stablemate Mauralakana in the Locust Grove after My Typoon stole the race up front in the Just A Game. But the rabbit's presence really benefits the entire field given that My Typhoon looks like potential lone speed. In fact, Mauralakana sits fairly close to the pace, and may really need the rabbit less than many others in the field, including some that I think are more talented. My Typhoon, while she can sit just off the pace, is one for nine beyond a mile and a sixteenth, and seven for 9 otherwise; so this seems just a tad beyond her optimal distance.
So I picked Makderah, who looks solid for McLaughlin. She was a very impressive winner of the NY Handicap in her third U.S. start. Alan Garcia merely shook up the reins, and this Shadwell homebred son of Danehill went from last to first with ease running a final quarter of 22 1/5, and drawing away by four over Masseuse, a Grade 2 winner in her next race. She seems to have room to improve, and looks really tough here I think. I picked Pletcher's Magnificent Song for second. She won the Lake George (which Rutherienne just won today), and hasn't done that well since. But I think she's been victimized by some unfavorable pace scenarios, and, as I've mentioned, we've seen Pletcher score some graded stakes wins at nice mutuels here. Mauralakana was my third choice. I'd add that Meribel is a nice consistent sort who will benefit from the rabbit. She's been facing lesser, but has the Clement/Gomez combo which has done well thus far.
And the Whitney? This is one contentious race this year. As Mister Ed mentioned, it may really be a Grade 2 in disguise, but it's one helluva betting race. I picked Diamond Stripes, from Dutrow. It was interesting reading the trainer's remarks on the NYRA site about his third in the Foster.
To most, Diamond Stripes’ third-place effort in the Foster, a half-length off Flashy Bull, appeared solid. The gelding was starting for just the second time in 2007, was making his Grade 1 debut and had never started at Churchill Downs. Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., however, left Churchill disappointed.If he thinks that wasn't a great field, he must feel the same about this one. Dutrow said that the horse likes it here, and is training well - he won at the distance over the track last year. The race that really impresses me is his Pegasus at the Big M last fall. He was shuffled back going into turn, got hung wide, was wide throughout the second turn, but won with authority in a final eighth of 12 1/5. I think he has the most upside of anyone in the field, and by a significant margin; and that he could really be sitting on a big effort in his 6th career start.
“Extremely,” he added. “I was so confident going in and I thought he was the best horse in the race. I was very disappointed with his effort. We went over him and couldn’t find anything wrong after the race. I didn’t think it was a great field. I’m hoping he shows up with a better effort Saturday.” [NYRA]
I don't like Papi Chullo. He tries two turns here after his two huge efforts at Belmont, and he's only one for 14 in such races; four for five around one. Between he, Fairbanks, Wanderin Boy, and perhaps Flashy Bull should Garcia's hand be forced from the rail post, there should be enough pace for the sharp horses coming off the pace. Lawyer Ron is arguably getting his best distance here, and his Salvatore Mile effort, in which he simply ran out of racetrack, could set him up well. Johnny V seems to have been able to conserve him for one late run when he's been on board, and he'll need to do so from the 11 post. We know that sometimes the rider will tend to get caught wide in these situations, so I'm hoping he'll be able to get him relaxed early and try to improve his position going into the turn.
And Magna Graduate is in career best form. He was ridden by the hot Garrett Gomez for the first time in the Foster, and he had him further back from usual before a strong late run that just missed. I think those tactics could serve him well here, and help him earn at least a piece.
Flashy Bull is sharp and game, but may not be able to employ the middle move tactics that carried him to victory in the Foster from the rail in a crowded field. But I'd include him in the Pick Four's in his present condition. I don't like Zito's horses; their better days seem behind both Wanderin Boy and Sun King. Dry Martini and Brass Hat are admirable horses who just may be a tad below (though Kevin's tout of the latter is worth a read and consideration...and he could move up if the track comes up sloppy.)
So I went Diamond Stripes, Lawyer Ron, and Magna Graduate.