TimeformUS Weekend Plays: Saratoga and Del Mar Graded Stakes Races

Sunday Saratoga, Race 9, 5:12 pm ET
The Grade 1 Vandebilt, 3-and-up, 6 fulongs, Dirt

Betting strategy:  Straight exacta: Delaunay over Justin Phillip

A field of five is assembled for the Vanderbilt. Delaunay and Gentlemen's Bet both exit the Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows, while Bahamian Squall and Justin Phillip exit the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder, and the indefatigable Caixa Eletronica exits a Starter/Optional Claimer at this racetrack as he prepares to make his 66th lifetime start--eight days after making his 65th lifetime start.

Vanderbilt Spotlight

Delaunay had his six-race win streak snapped in the Iowa Sprint Handicap, but he had gate trouble in the race and was a clear last after the first furlong. Jockey Rosie Napravnik angled him widest around the far turn, and he was ultimately repelled by Gentlemen's Bet, who had an ideal trip.

Delaunay had run stellar TimeformUS speed figures of 119, 132, and 123 in his three other starts this season. A repeat of those type of efforts would make him extremely tough today.


Justin Phillip (5/1 morning line) is the horse we prefer to round out the exacta. Second in last year's Vanderbilt, Justin Phillip ran a good 121 speed figure when he finished a well-clear second in the True North Handicap two starts back.

We are willing to forgive his flat performance last time in the Smile, where he finished fourth to a trio of South Florida-based horses. He opposes Smile winner Bahamian Squall again today, but this time his rival is the one who must travel. All of Bahamian Squall's races have come in the state of Florida, and he was a disappointing fifth at odds of 5/2 in a dirt sprint at Tampa Bay Downs the only other time he did any real shipping from Calder or Gulfstream.

Betting strategy:  Straight exacta: Delaunay over Justin Phillip

Free Vanderbilt Past Performances at TimeformUS.com 

Sunday, Del Mar, Race 8, 8:40 pm ET
The G2 Best Pal, 2-Year-Olds, 6 1/2 Furlongs, Synth

Seven two-year-olds are signed up for this race. One will be racing on Lasix for the first time. One will be racing in blinkers for the first time. Five will be racing on Polytrack for the first time. Four will be racing against winners for the first time. One will be racing in the United States for the first time. At least one, it is almost certain, will be coming from off the pace for the first time. One will be racing out of the Peter Miller barn for the first time. And all seven will be racing 6.5 furlongs for the first time. Two-year-old racing is nothing if not educational.

Entries Best Pal
Needless to say, the TFUS Pace Projector is being given a perilous assignment today. But given that it has pulled more than its share of rabbits out of its hat in comparable circumstances, let's have a look at what it shows:

Best Pal Pace

The aptly named Guns Loaded projects to be on a clear early lead at the opening quarter, with Alpine Luck, Alberts Hope, and Celtic Moon not far behind, and the others consigned to the role of closers.
At morning line odds of 9-2, Alberts Hope looks like the best value in this race. He will be making only his second start today, for a trainer, Mike Puype, who is not known for winding up his debuters. Puype gets an excellent TFUS trainer rating of 90 with his second-time starters. What is more, Alberts Hope was impressive in his debut, racing rather wide and quite professionally on his way to a field-best speed figure of 85. With the Pace Projector showing him staying in touch early, over a surface where that has often been a prerequisite for winning, Alberts Hope would seem to have a solid chance today, and at a hint of price.
A longshot who intrigues us is Celtic Moon, who was visually impressive last time despite not running all that fast in a turf sprint.
Ontology is a strong contender but seems likely to be overbet. Guns Loaded is a strong contender who may not be overbet. He is worth protecting with in exotics if his morning line odds hold.

Free Best Pal Past Performances at TimeformUS.com 

Saturday Saratoga, Race 10, 5:45 pm ET
The G1 Whitney, 3-and-up, 1 and 1/8 miles, Dirt

Betting Strategy: Ron the Greek to win.  Box him in an exacta with Alpha.

One of the cooler things about TimeformUS past performances is that you can scroll through the lifetime PPs of a horse and learn things like the following: Believe it or not, 7/5 morning line favorite Fort Larned has made the lead at the first call only three different times in his entire career.

He won in wire-to-wire fashion each time, and did so at odds of 7/2, 9/1, and 3/1. Moreover, the two highest TimeformUS speed figures Fort Larned has ever run, a 130 in the Breeders' Cup Classic and a 129 in the Stephen Foster, both came with front-running tactics. Want more evidence that Fort Larned loves to be on the early lead? Watch a replay of his seasonal debut in this year's Gulfstream Park Handicap. After losing jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. at the start, he blitzed his way to about a 20-length early lead and stayed on through the wire, in one of the most memorable riderless performances in many years.

Obviously, we would select Fort Larned at almost any price, against any field of horses, if we thought he would get an uncontested early lead. However, the TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates that he won't get one this time. The brilliant Pletcher-trained four-year-old Cross Traffic has too much natural speed.

It is fair to point out that Fort Larned won last year's Whitney Handicap with the same stalking tactics he will be forced to use this year, but since he is a short-priced favorite and handicap highweight today, it is best to oppose him.

Cross Traffic has exceptional speed figures of 130 and 125 in his two most recent starts and is getting a five-pound weight break from Fort Larned, but he is also making his first start around two turns and will have to survive the inevitable confrontation with Fort Larned, whether it comes early on (as we hope) or around the far turn.

Mucho Macho Man has great back form. However, he has barely shown signs of a pulse in his only two starts this season.

The two horses we are interested in are Ron The Greek and Alpha, and especially so if we get a wet racetrack. Ron The Greek's career-best speed figure of 130 came in the slop when he won this year's edition of the Sunshine Millions Classic by more than 11 lengths. Alpha's career-best speed figure of 117 came over a sloppy Saratoga track as a three-year-old while winning the Jim Dandy.

Scrolling through Ron The Greek's lifetime past performances makes it clear that he is a horse who loves a fast early pace. The last three times you see fractions posted in red in his PPs, indicating a race with a very fast early pace, you also see that Ron The Greek was the winner. He closed from 16 lengths back to win the Grade 3 Lecomte at 7/1 odds. He closed from 14 lengths back to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap by 3.5 lengths at 7/2 odds. And he closed from 9.5 lengths back to win the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at 9/1 odds.

Ron The Greek was second to Fort Larned in last year's Whitney Handicap, a race that had just a fair early pace, and he was beaten only about a length, and now he gets a seven-pound shift in weights. Sure, he was drubbed by a loose-lead Fort Larned in the Foster last time, but going from one extreme last time to (it is hoped) another this time, he has a chance to turn the tables at generous odds.

Alpha is 3-for-3 lifetime at Saratoga and dead-heated for the win in a weak edition of the Travers last year. However, his form has been so muddied that it is tempting to give him a look on the return to his favorite racetrack. Alpha obviously tailed off after the Travers last year, and most American dirt horses have performed so miserably in Dubai that it is fair to call his four-length defeat in the Godolphin Mile an encouraging performance. In his stateside debut as a four-year-old, Alpha broke through the gate before the start and was quickly reloaded. Horses who break through the gate before the start usually perform dismally, and so we think he will better his most recent performance by a great bit.

With a return to his favorite track, and his 115lbs impost, and a chance of him catching a wet racetrack after numerous races where he had an excuse, Alpha has a chance to jump up and be very competitive today.

Betting Strategy: Ron the Greek to win.  Box him in an exacta with Alpha.

Free Whitney Past Performances at TimeformUS.com

Saturday, Del Mar, Race 8, 8:40 pm ET
The G1 Clement Hirsch, Fillies and Mares, 3-and-Up, 1 and 1/16 Miles, Synth

The Hirsch has attracted a solid field of nine fillies and mares, including last year's winner, Include Me Out, and according to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, it figures to unfold at an honest pace, with neither frontrunners nor closers at any particular advantage. The longshot Sister Kate projects to have the early lead, with Great Hot and Include Me Out tracking and the others falling in behind them.
Include Me Out is certain to go off the favorite, and on our speed figures, this is as it should be. A splendidly consistent mare, she hasn't run a number that deserves to be called "bad" since her debut, in 2010, and even that effort came with legitimate excuses. More recently, she has run off number after number that would make her tough to beat if repeated today. She is proven at this distance and over this surface. She won her six-furlong prep race in fine style. She has reportedly been training very well. Beating her today figures to take some work--and maybe a little luck, too.

One piece of good luck for her opponents was that she drew the outside post, which should lead to some groundloss on the first turn and very likely the second as well. In addition, they are catching her second-off-the-layoff today, and her trainer, Ron Ellis, does not have great TimeformUS trainer ratings in that category. But if Include Me Out is at her best today, these factors are going to look like mere quibbles when this race is over.
We believe that if an upset is coming, More Chocolate has the best chance to pull it off. Although they don't match up to those of Include Me Out, she has some fine speed figures of her own, and she has been training splendidly at Del Mar as she prepares to make her second start over a synthetic surface. Her TimeformUS pedigree rating of 91 indicates that she should be well-suited to routing on synthetic surfaces, and she had better be if she plans on winning this race.

Free Clement Hirsch Past Performances at TimeformUS.com

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