It's a much lighter racing schedule this weekend, but of the graded stakes that are out there, most of them are challenging races to handicap. Let's take a quick look at some of the major races from around the country.
This came up an excellent field, with some of the top turf marathoners-many of the fan favorites-assembling at Saratoga. One of the interesting things about the Sword Dancer is that of the 10 entered, only two have ever started at Saratoga. And the two that have started-Grand Couturier and Better Talk Now-have won the race.
Obviously, Grand Couturier must be looked at seriously after winning this event the last two years. Yes, he finished off the board in both starts leading up to this race, but remember, he was sixth in the Man o' War last year before coming back to win here. Trainer Bobby Ribaudo says Grand Couturier always seems to peak at this time of the season. Although he's the morning-line favorite, he'll be a pretty fair price, as I don't expect him to get bet down much.
As I said my Handicapping Show, you can really make a case for almost all of these horses. And many of them look appetizing but have big question marks. Americain has been impressive in Europe, but makes his first U.S. start for Todd Pletcher. Rising Moon is also in decent form, but makes his first turf start since 2007. Lauro ran a big one in the United Nations, but had the advantage of a ridiculous pace set by Presious Passion. Brass Hat seems to have found a new home on grass, but is he over his head in here? You get my point.
The Pick: I settled on Musketier for several reasons. He seems to be in nice form right now, having won the Singspiel at Woodbine at this distance two back, and last out ran a big one against Gio Ponti while losing by less than two lengths. Any time you can run with the best turf horse in the country, that says a lot. Mostly though, I like Musketier from a pace scenario. There won't be much early speed in here and he should find himself alone on the lead. If he can get away with a :49 and 1:13, he will be tough to run down.
I'll take Musketier to win and box him in an exacta with Grand Couturier, Americain, and Quijano, who also could be primed for a big one.
It's not often that we get a chance to talk about a race at Emerald Downs, but the Longacres is always fun, and usually with a big field.
Awesome Gem is confirmed bridesmaid, having finished runner-up 10 times in 27 starts, and third 3 more times. Despite that, he towers over most in this field from a class standpoint and could be tough to beat if he handles a track he's never run over before. Though he's run most of the time on synthetics and grass, Awesome Gem has had some of his biggest efforts on natural dirt, including his grade II San Fernando win and third-place effort in the BC Classic on the slop at Monmouth.
The local horses are often a factor here and Assessment looks like the best on paper. But that 12 post has me looking elsewhere. Horses leaving from that post are 1-for-73 in this race. No thanks. Wasserman was the upset winner last year but is 0-for-6 this year. No thanks. Atta Boy Roy equaled the six-furlong track record two starts back, but he's is a sprinter, not a miler. So where do we go?
I think you have to take a long look at Sierra Sunset. The California shipper was off for more than year but came back in his second start to win a stakes at Pleasanton by five lengths last month. He has run his best races on dirt, including the Rebel last year when he won by three lengths and was considered a legitimate Derby prospect before being injured. He has a good work over the Emerald ground as well. He has good tactical speed, should be able to lay right off the speedy Atta Boy Roy and put himself in position to win.
The Pick: I'll go with Sierra Sunset to upset Awesome Gem. I'll box those two, along with Autism Awareness and Assessment in a trifecta.
John C. Mabee
This is another one where you can make a case for many. Magical Fantasy has won back-to-back graded stakes, including the Gamely last out. And the rapidly improving Tuscan Evening has won five of six, including the Royal Heroine last out. But the Gamlely runner-up, Visit, and the 2-3-4 finishers in the Royal Heroine all return. Throw in the surprise entrant of sprinter turned router Lethal Heat and you have a head-scratcher.
The Pick: If Patricia's Gem and Lethal Heat both go, there should be plenty of speed in here. It could set up nicely for a horse from off the pace. I'll take a stab with a filly who doesn't always like to win, but usually knocks on the door: Visit. The Bobby Frankel trainee lost by a neck in both the Santa Ana and Gamely, and seems to enjoy nine furlongs more than eight, which can excuse a couple of her off-the-board losses this season. Yes she has lost eight straight, but she has also been in the money in four of those--all in graded company. With a little luck, Visit could have won twice this year and the price would be much lower than I'll get on Sunday.
I'll play Visit to win. I'll have to wait until Saturday to see who I'll play her with.
Also, I'll try Hightap for the minor upset over Just Jenda in the Monmouth Oaks.
Who do you guys like?