TimeformUS Weekend Plays: Saratoga and Del Mar Graded Stakes Races

The Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes, Del Mar, Polytrack, Three-and-Up, One Mile and One Quarter
Local Post Time - 5:10pm PT Sunday

Get Pacific Classic Day PPs at TimeformUS

The Pacific Classic has 13 entrants this year and no shortage of long resumes and good recent form. Richard's Kid has already won this race twice and he signalled that he's back in form by winning the Grade 3 Cougar II over this surface a month ago. Dullahan won this race a year ago but has struggled since. Game On Dude has won seemingly every race in California except this one and will be the toteboard favorite to fill that gap in his resume on Sunday. Jeranimo is fresh off a win in the Grade 1 Eddie Read on the grass. Kettle Corn gave Game on Dude a scare in the Hollywood Gold Cup, finishing second, and then won the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap. The Canadian invader, Delegation, blitzed a Grade 3 field over Woodbine Polytrack in the Dominion Day, setting a track record in the process, and now makes a return trip to California, where he finished third in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last fall. The filly, Byrama, while somewhat overmatched on paper, is only three starts removed from a dominating victory in the Grade 1 Vanity. To these horses one can add the "other" Baffert entrant, Liaison, plus horses who have made their marks in Europe and Brazil, and a couple of local horses exercising their right to take a shot at the moon. Add it all up and handicappers will have plenty to chew on in the 2013 Pacific Classic.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates that this race will have a contested pace, with Game On Dude, Delegation, and Blueskiesnrainbows neck and neck for the lead after the opening half mile. However, given his post position draw, we expect Game On Dude to back off the pace a little bit today and employ stalking tactics.

There has been much talk about Game On Dude supposedly disliking the Del Mar Polytrack. There is indeed evidence that it is not his best surface. But we believe that one should be careful not to take this too far. After all, Game On Dude ran a speed figure of 129 in this race last year despite not breaking with his field.

A horse who can run a 129 in those conditions, on a surface he genuinely dislikes, is a special horse indeed.

Game On Dude enters this race off a five-race winning streak during which he has run speed figures of 132, 128, 133, 121, and, most recently, a 131--numbers none of his opponents can match with any sort of consistency. He has reportedly been training well for this race, and he is capable of winning from off the pace. We consider him to be far and away the most likely winner of this race.

Much as we respect Delegation's most recent race (and his trainer, who gets a TimeformUS Trainer Rating of 86), we would be very surprised if he can match his previous speed figure against this sort of competition on the ship.
Dullahan is off form, and at the expected odds, we are disinclined to play him to get back to form.
Kettle Corn is coming off of two strong races and has a running style that should allow him to benefit if a speed duel develops. If an upset is coming, he looks like the horse who is most likely to pull it off. 




The Grade 1 Travers  Stakes, Saratoga, Main Track, Three-Year Olds, One Mile and One Quarter
Local Post Time - 5:46pm ET Saturday

Get Travers Day PPs at TimeformUS

Triple Crown races aside, the Grade 1 Travers Stakes is the premier race in the country for three-year-olds.  This year’s field includes the winner and runner-up from the Kentucky Derby, the winner and runner-up from the Belmont Stakes, and the winner of the Haskell Invitational, as well as the winners of several other stakes run this year.

A field this contentious almost always leads to an honest or fast pace.  The pace projector shows that is exactly what is expected here. 

While not designated as “hot,” the pace sure looks as if it will be contested.  None of the horses in the front group should be able to steal the race.  What follows is a brief review of each of the colts entered. (Click any horse's name for free TimeformUS lifetime PPs)

#1 - Romansh (12-1 morning line) exploded in his last race, the Curlin S., earning a career-best speed figure of 103 despite enduring a less-than-ideal trip.  He broke poorly, and then was very wide the entire way, ultimately finishing a strong second.  He was elevated to 1st when his entry mate that day, Transparent, was disqualified for fouling another horse in the race.

#2 - Orb (4-1) is, of course, the Kentucky Derby winner. That race capped a five-race winning streak, and for it he earned a speed figure of 110.  However, he disappointed at low odds in the next two legs of the Triple Crown and now returns after a 77-day layoff.  Given his come-from-behind style, he’ll need a hot pace to have a chance.

#3 - Verrazano (2-1) is the “now” horse.  He has only one blemish on his record, and that came in the Kentucky Derby, when he faced a very fast pace and received a wide trip.  His speed figure of 116 last out in the Haskell is the best in the field by a few lengths, though one should add that he enjoyed an easy trip in that race because the only real threat to him was pulled up early, leaving him all alone on the lead against overmatched competition.

#4 - Golden Soul (20-1) was the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby at huge odds when the beneficiary of a dream trip, rating well behind the supersonic pace and closing late.  He had not done much before that race, nor has he done much since, and a win from him would be a shock.

#5 - Will Take Charge (10-1) was the runner-up in the Jim Dandy.  He is a solid horse, but has run a speed figure of over 100 only once in his career (his 101 in the Rebel S.) and appears a cut below the best horses in the Travers.

#6 - Moreno (12-1) didn’t break his maiden until his 10th start.  He followed that with a wire-to-wire win in the G2 Dwyer S. next out, then was a pace factor and ran a respectable 3rd in the G2 Jim Dandy.  That race gave him his lifetime-best speed figure, a 100, which still leaves him well below the best in here.  However he will surely be a part of the early pace.

#7 - War Dancer (15-1) enters off a win in the grassy G2 Virginia Derby.  While proven at the 10-furlong distance, he has a lot to prove on dirt. Indeed, his only race on dirt resulted in the lowest speed figure of his seven-race career.

#8 - Palace Malice (5-2) has run four very good races in a row, three of them rated 104 on TimeformUS speed figures.  The lone outlier was his 98 in the Kentucky Derby, a race where a failed blinkers experiment resulted in him running off early and contributing to the pace meltdown that day.  Since then, unburdened by blinkers, he has recorded easy, impressive pace-pressing wins in the Belmont S. and Jim Dandy.

#9 - Transparent (10-1) was the first horse to cross the finish line in the Curlin S., but was disqualified for interfering with another runner when forcing his way out of a tight spot.  He finished impressively and was given a 106 speed figure.  He was highly touted as a juvenile, but it wasn't until his last two races that he really put it all together.


Contenders:   Romansh, Orb, Verrazano, Palace Malice, Transparent
Pretenders:  Golden Soul, Will Take Charge
Outsiders:  Moreno, War Dancer
Selections:  9-3-1

Saturday Saratoga, Race 10, The G2 Ballston Spa
Scheduled Local Post Time: 4:38pm ET

Get Travers Day PPs at TimeformUS

In what situations does a trainer really excel? TimeformUS trainer ratings answer this question on a simple 100-point scale, but only after we do the work for you, crunching years of data, with emphasis both on a trainer's results (winning or hitting the board) and on your return on investment if you had wagered on his horses.

The trouble, so often, with betting on Shug McGaughey's horses is the return-on-investment part.

TimeformUS Trainer RatingsParticularly with respect to his runners in New York: They get bet--get treated with tremendous respect--if they have even the slightest whiff of a chance. And so while McGaughey has been super, winning with 21% of his starters over the trailing year, for example, his overall trainer rating from TimeformUS is a fine-not-great 83. More of the same: His last year of results at Saratoga has registered at an outstanding 19% winners at this highly competitive meet, yet his rating at Saratoga is an unthrilling 80. And so you have to ask yourself: When do I really want to wager on a Shug McGaughey horse?

We think the answer is: shortly before 4:38pm today, in the G2 Ballston Spa Stakes. We think Hungry Island is sitting on her best race, and her best race is going to hit very hard in here.

Hungry Island's last race was in the G1 Just A Game, on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Over a yielding Widener turf course, Hungry Island ran something short of her best, breaking a beat slow and grinding evenly through the lane. Running a 103 speed figure (below her best performances, which are in the 112-114 range), she finished an unthreatening third to America's leading filly/mare miler, Stephanie's Kitten, who particularly relishes yielding turf.

Hungry Island's Last Race

We feel it's worth noting that Hungry Island is winless in 3 tries over the Widener at Belmont, but has registered 3 wins in 4 tries over Belmont's inner turf course. Although she's a closer, Hungry Island has shown some preference for tighter turns, and she gets those tomorrow over Saratoga's inner course.

But it's more than the tightness of the turns that leaves us with the impression that Hungry Island is a strong candidate to run a lifetime top performance tomorrow. What else?

  • Maturity. Typically, McGaughey's best horses have matured and run their best races later in their careers, and Hungry Island is a 5-year-old who has raced only 19 times.
  • Track Preference. Hungry Island is returning to Saratoga, where she has run her THREE top TimeformUS speed figures.
    Hungry Island's last three races at Saratoga
  • Most of all, rest. By all accounts a tightly wound filly, it makes sense that Hungry Island would run well after training in the relaxing Saratoga environment, and it makes perfect sense that McGaughey sent her someplace even more relaxing after that mildly sub-par Belmont Day performance, shipping her (as well as Travers contender and Kentucky Derby winner Orb) to the elite and bucolic Fair Hill training center in Maryland. This sort of time off between starts has served McGaughey well in big races. In stakes races for older horses with spacing comparable to today's, Shug is rated a 96/100 on our trainer rating scale.

The TimeformUS Pace Projector shows Pianist essentially alone on the lead, and we agree that Mike Smith will send her, compromising the chances of all who chase her, including likely second and third choices Laughing and Centre Court.

TimeformUS Pace Projector

We expect Hungry Island to be the best of the closers, and will play her in exactas with Pianist, Somali Lemonade, and Miss Ida. With a field of big-name stars, will McGaughey's horse get bet down well below her 5/2 Morning Line? We don't think so, but we'll set the minimum price for a win bet at 2/1.


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