Four Breeders' Cup Challenge races to handicap this week - all at Saratoga. Aside from the Go For Wand, they all look like good betting races. Let's get right to work.
This is a terrific race. On paper it looks as if no less than eight horses have a legitimate shot here. There are four grade I winners in the field - Wait a While, Bit of Whimsy, Rutherienne and Vacare. Bayou's Lassie, Criminologist and Lady Digby have all won graded stakes this season. And Dynaforce looks like she is right on the brink.
I'm going to take a pass on morning-line favorite Wait a While. She enters off a win in the San Gorgonio, but that was more than six months ago. She is remarkably consistent (10-3-4 from 20 starts), but at 3-1 and off that long layoff, I prefer others. I also looked at Bit of Whimsy, but she has not been at her best so far this year. Bayou's Lassie, Lady Digby and Criminologist always seem to fire, but haven't been successful at this level yet.
That left me with Christophe Clement trainees Vacare and Rutherienne, and Dynaforce. All three are capable in this spot. I reluctantly ruled out Rutherienne even though she gets Garrett Gomez and has won nine of 13 career starts. She very well could win this thing, and at a price. Dynaforce is also likely to improve in her second start in the states. She gave one of my favorite horses - Mauralakana - all she could handle in the New York Stakes last month. But in the end I decided to pass.
The Pick: Don't let an eighth-place finish in the Just A Game fool you - Vacare is a talented horse. She had a horrible trip in that race and was still only beaten four lengths. Talk about consistent. She is 6-1-1 from nine starts and has three graded wins. The Just A Game was her only off the board finish in seven stakes starts. She is likely to improve dramatically in her second start of the season, and gets Edgar Prado, who rode her to victory last year. You should get at least 5-1 on her. Clement has said that is the turf is too soft he might not run either of his horses, so I'll keep an eye on the weather. If Vacare doesn't go, I'll use Rutherienne or Dynaforce.
Tough not to like Bustin Stones. He's undefeated in six starts and even though a fever knocked him out of the Metropolitan Handicap, Bruce Levine says he's ready. Interesting that, on paper, Black Seventeen is faster to the half-mile pole, so what happens if and when the front-running Bustin Stones has to rate? He's never been behind anyone before.
Early speed could also come from E Z Warrior and Abraaj, which might set up Thor's Echo very well. First Defence enters off an impressive win on the turf and might be sitting on a big one.
The Pick: Tough one here. If Bustin Stones is right he should win. But at 2-1 or lower, he is worth trying to beat. The logical choice for me is First Defence. He was right there with Commentator and Divine Park in the one-mile Met Handicap before tiring in the stretch. He also battled Hard Spun last year in the Kings Bishop before finishing second. I like that Frankel moved him to the grass and will bring him right back to the dirt. He threw in a bullet work July 20. He doesn't need the lead to win.
Go For Wand
Ginger Punch is so much the best here that there isn't much to talk about. The only problem is that she'll likely pay $3 to win and $2.40 to place, if we're lucky. In light of that, do you take your $5 and change, be happy and walk away, or do you hope for an upset?
For contest purposes, I have to try to beat Ginger Punch (and coupled entry Spring Waltz, who also has a decent chance). I can't live with myself betting that kind of chalk, even though she is at another level than the rest of these. If I can pick the runner-up, I'm likely to get just as much to place as Ginger Punch will pay to win and place.
The Pick: I narrowed it down to Copper State and Runway Rosie, both horses with a lot of upside coming from good barns. In the end I chose Runway Rosie. She's won three lower-level stakes in New York this year, including a five-length romp last out in the Proud Delta, which is at the same 1 1/8-mile distance as this one. She is also graded stakes-placed three times, including the 2007 Las Virgenes when she was third but less than three lengths back of Rags to Riches. I'll take my chances with Gary Contessa, especially on a horse that will be 8-1 or more.
Great betting race. Commentator, who won this event in 2005, gets the high weight and is the 3-1 morning-line favorite. He will be tough, but I'm looking elsewhere. I can't make a strong case for Grasshopper, Timber Reserve, Cowtown Cat or A.P. Arrow, so that left me with Solar Flare, Rising Moon and Student Council. Each of them should be a decent price.
The Pick: If you watched That Handicapping Show, you know I like both Student Council and Solar Flare. Both of them are in good form right now. But I decided to go with Student Council. He is a different horse since winning the Pimlico Special, is a grade I winner, and has had two sharp works at Saratoga this month. I love the fact that he is 5-3-2 on natural dirt (in the U.S.) since breaking his maiden in 2006. He should be a big factor - and at a nice price.