Turf Milers Take Center Stage at Saratoga

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

There’s no dispute that two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan is still the king of the turf milers, but with the champ still on the comeback trail after colic surgery, there may be an opportunity for challengers to stake their claim for the throne in a pair of 8.5-furlong turf stakes races at Saratoga this week. Whether they go on to actually unseat Wise Dan at the Breeders’ Cup will not be known for a few more months, but if you’re curious about which horses Wise Dan may have to reckon with this fall, you won’t want to miss these races.

Let’s take a look at who’s running!

National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II)

A total of seven three-year-old colts and geldings have entered this 8.5-furlong turf event, although one—Matterhorn—is entered for the main-track only, leaving a field of six likely to contest the race.

The morning line favorite at 7-5 (and he could potentially go off even lower than that) is Bobby’s Kitten, a horse I have written about extensively in the past. As regular readers of this blog may know, I believe that Bobby’s Kitten possesses as much raw talent as any three-year-old colt in the country, and—down the road—I believe he could even give Wise Dan a scare going a mile, which is not very easy to do!

But at the present time, Bobby’s Kitten has a few issues that make him vulnerable to being upset. For one, he is rather headstrong, and while he doesn’t necessarily have to have the early lead, one never knows when he might over-react to being kept off the pace and turn in a poor effort. He did so three starts back in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I)—in which he finished twelfth, beaten 25 ½ lengths—and again last time out in the Belmont Derby (gr. I), where the ten-furlong distance may have also contributed to his 14 ½-length defeat.

In between those two dismal showings, Bobby’s Kitten successfully rated in second place early on in the $500,000 Penn Mile before going on to score by nearly three lengths with a sharp :23.58-second final quarter mile.

Determining which version of Bobby’s Kitten will show up on Friday is not an easy task, but the presence of So Lonesome makes me think that an upset may be in the offing. In his last two starts, So Lonesome has recorded six-furlong fractions of 1:08.33 and 1:08.81, as well as half-mile fraction of :44.57. With that kind of speed, it’s difficult to envision So Lonesome failing to secure the early lead, which could make things challenging for Bobby’s Kitten, who must either try to match strides with So Lonesome (probably not desirable) or rate off the pace (will he or won’t he?)

So my selection to spring a mild upset is Give No Quarter. Trained by Graham Motion, the colt ran four times as a two-year-old with moderate success, but after a layoff of nearly eight months, Give No Quarter returned in an 8.5-furlong turf allowance race at Belmont Park and turned in by far the best effort of his career. Reserved seven lengths off the early pace, Give No Quarter gradually advanced throughout the race, then burst clear of the field in the homestretch to win by 3 ½ lengths in the quick time of 1:40.07 seconds. Best of all, he ran his final five-sixteenths of a mile in approximately :29 seconds, which is an exceptional time. With that race under his belt, Give No Quarter could certainly be even sharper this Friday, and with So Lonesome and Bobby’s Kitten likely to ensure a quick pace, I believe Give No Quarter will rally past them both in the homestretch to pick up his first graded stakes victory.

Fourstardave Handicap (gr. II)

As mentioned previously, it’s not easy to give Wise Dan a scare going a mile, but that’s exactly what Silver Max did in last year’s Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I), actually defeating the two-time Horse of the Year in a shocking upset. Granted, that was over a rain-soaked Polytrack course, and the race was actually run at a mile and a sixteenth, but that’s beside the point.

Silver Max is the kind of horse I would love to own. From twenty-four starts, he has won twelve, including ten stakes races. At the end of last year, he finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. I) after tracking a blazing pace. Off an eight-month layoff, he won the Firecracker Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on June 28th in gate-to-wire fashion, clocking a mile in a sharp 1:34.21 seconds.

There are other talented horses in this field as well, including Seek Again, who lost the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. I) to Wise Dan by just a head earlier this year. Cutting back in distance to a mile after racing at longer distances should help strengthen his finishing kick. But even still, I can’t see him edging Silver Max at this distance.

Jack Milton won the Poker Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont in a quick 1:33.09 seconds, then finished a respectable fifth behind Obviously in the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. But as talented as Jack Milton is, catching Silver Max could prove a major challenge.

Granted, Silver Max is not perfect. He has lost his fair share of major races. On occasion, he has been badly beaten in races in which he should have run well. But during the last year, he has not turned in a single poor performance, and he figures to improve substantially in his second start of the year.

To put it simply, Silver Max is my selection to win the Fourstardave.

To try and add value to the exacta and/or trifecta, I will be giving Sayaad a close look. The Shadwell colt has won three straight races on the turf, including his seasonal debut on July 4th in the Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont. He seems to be on the rise and certainly has the potential to be involved at the finish. With the three favorites like to draw much of the wagering attention, Sayaad may get overlooked a bit in the betting, despite his solid credentials.

Who do you like this week?

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