TimeformUS Weekend Stakes Plays - Grade 2s at the Spa: The Fourstardave & the Saratoga Special

The Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap
Saratoga / August 9 / Race 10 / 6:10 EDT

by TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer

With two-time defending champ Wise Dan sitting this one out, a talented field of six turf milers will get a chance to pick up some Grade 2 hardware at Saratoga on Saturday.

Four of the six entered are already graded stakes winners over turf, and the other two, Dorsett (#4, 20-1) and Sayaad (#5, 5-1), are stakes winners in their own right, as well as 4yos who are open to further improvement.

The race would appear to go directly through Silver Max (#1, 9-5), who happens to be the last horse to defeat Wise Dan. Silver Max has won half of his 24 career starts while approaching $2 million in earnings, and since coming back to his preferred surface after a brief two-race detour to dirt last summer, he has rung up TimeformUS Speed Figures of 118-117-125 (rained off to synthetic) -119-115. He is a fast horse who likes to make the running in his races, and Pace Projector has him on the early lead from his inside post in the Fourstardave. In our view, he is the most likely winner of this race.

For those looking to play against Silver Max, it appears that the second and third choices on the ML, Seek Again (#2, 3-1) and Jack Milton (#3, 5-2), are the logical alternatives. Both of them will be looking for someone to go after Silver Max early on, as they have done their best work from off the pace. Seek Again wasn’t quite able to defeat Wise Dan when returning from a layoff on Kentucky Derby Day, but he put quite a scare into the defending Horse of the Year before falling just short of pulling off the upset. He turns back today out of a solid try over 1 1/4 miles, and he has run new top speed figures in his last two races.

Jack Milton was run off his feet early by the speedy Obviously, and then outfinished late, as well, when shipped out to try Grade 1 competition in California last time. He is another who has shown improvement since returning as a 4yo, and the 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure he put up in his Grade 3 win two starts back gives him a chance even if Silver Max runs one of his best races.

Pace help could come by way of Sayaad, who also earned a new top speed figure last time out. That figure of 118 was earned over yielding ground, and it came with the benefit of a loose early lead, which is an unlikely scenario for Sayaad today, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless, and it made it three straight victories for the improving son of Street Sense.

Grand Arch (#6, 8-1) recently garnered his first graded stakes victory when closing strongly through the stretch to win the King Edward up at Woodbine. He starts for a dangerous trainer and is a horse who seems to fire every time, but he may be a cut below the best horses in this race.

We think Silver Max is in position to control this race from the start. We are dubious of the idea that Sayaad will sacrifice his chances by sending into an early duel, so we will make Silver Max our top pick in the race. If that is indeed the way things play out early, we think that Sayaad is talented enough to settle in after Silver Max on the lead, and last for second over Seek Again and Jack Milton.



The Grade 2 Saratoga Special
Saratoga / August 10 / Race 10 / 6:04 EDT

by TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer

No one said that handicapping a graded stakes race containing 11 lightly raced 2yos would be easy. Do you simply rely on the available speed figures and take the (as of now) fastest horse? That would be Tizcano (#4, 8-1), who earned a 92 TimeformUS Speed Figure for his debut win at Gulfstream Park. But that race was contested over 4.5 furlongs, and Tizcano will now have to travel an extra 1/4 of a mile against experienced rivals. Seems a tough task to us.

How about going with experience? Going with a prior graded stakes winner? It's only August 10th, after all, and there aren't all that many 2yo graded stakes winners out there yet. That would make Cinco Charlie (#7, 9-2) the right horse. He sure has looked good for trainer Steve Asmussen so far. He won the Grade 3 Bashford Manor after engaging in a race-long duel, and it could rather easily be argued that he ran the best race of anyone when forced to settle for 3rd in the Grade 3 Sanford over this track on opening weekend.

Maybe a strong trainer angle could be the key? Tony Dutrow has excelled with his second-time starters at Saratoga for a while now, and, in fact, he won the Sanford Stakes with...wait for it...a second-time starter, Big Trouble at 11/1. Dutrow gets perfect 100 trainer ratings across several categories relevant to his Saratoga Special entrant, I Spent It (#1, 7-2).

A positive trainer change for a promising horse? We have two to consider. Majestic Affair (#10, 8-1) barely took a deep breath en route to crushing maidens first time out at Canterbury Park, and he has since been transferred to the care of Chad Brown (100 trainer rating with horses making their first start out of his barn). Or there's the more experienced W V Jetsetter (#11, 10-1), who switches to George Weaver's barn (100 trainer rating with horses making their first start out of his barn).

Maybe we should just look to the obvious trip horse, and take the unlucky Mr. Z (#3, 5-1), who had to steady more than once prior to bulling his way out to the clear with a hard bump in mid-stretch before coming up just short in the Sanford. He's going to be tough if he can produce a similar effort paired with a clean trip.

Wait a minute. A 2yo graded stakes race at Saratoga? When in doubt, go to Pletcher. Fair enough, but which Pletcher horse? He will saddle a pair, and we do think that he has a good chance to win the race with one of them. Nonna's Boy (#6, 4-1) will be the logical choice of many. He debuted in impressive, and fast, fashion at Belmont, running away from the field over a muddy track and earning a 91 TFUS Speed Figure. Returned to contest the Sanford in his next start, he went to post favored and wound up in a duel with Cinco Charlie before succumbing to closers late. He's a big player in this race, as are his two aforementioned rivals from that hotly contested Sanford.

But we'll take our chances with the "other" Pletcher in the race, Stanford (#8, 12-1).

Stanford debuted at Monmouth prior to the opening of Saratoga, making an impressive showing after failing to break sharply from the gate. He was toward the back of the field early before coming with a sharp outside run through the turn to quickly get on top of the leaders, and he kept it going through the stretch, ultimately being taken in hand late while wrapping up a highly promising maiden win. We think Stanford may be a horse with more to give, and he'll have to be just that to prevail in this strong edition of the Saratoga Special. We also believe that he'll be an attractive price for such a talented young horse from this barn. What more could we ask for?

The play:

We'll make a win bet on Stanford at odds of 10/1 or better and pair him with #s 3, 6, 7, and 10 in vertical exotics.

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