Super Saturday!

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

There’s little doubt in my mind that of all the days of racing throughout the year, "Super Saturday" is one of the greatest. As usual, an incredible ten grade I races—five at Belmont, five at Santa Anita—are scheduled to be run on Saturday, along with the grade II Kelso Handicap at Belmont. It’s going to be a terrific day of racing, and since we have a lot to cover, let’s get started!

Kelso Handicap (gr. II)

Itsmyluckyday will be heavily favored off his gutsy victory in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), but he’s run two very, very hard races in a row, and I wonder if that will have an effect on him this Saturday. I like the chances of River Rocks, who fired off a 110 Beyer last time out and has won three straight at Saratoga and Belmont. He will be receiving six pounds from Itsmyluckyday, and figures to be difficult to catch on the front end.

Beldame Invitational (gr. I)

The absence of Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar has left this race wide-open, and I believe that Stanwyck can capitalize. She won the Turnback the Alarm Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont last fall, and has finished second or third in all six of her starts since then, three of them being in grade I races. Furthermore, her speed figures stack up well against this field, and she should get a decent pace to set up her late run. Belle Gallantey failed to fire in the slop last time out, but won the Delaware Handicap (gr. I) two starts back when she secured an easy lead, and ran very well when finishing fifth in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont. A return to peak form would definitely put her in the mix. Stopchargingmaria has won three straight graded stakes against three-year-old fillies, but will be facing her elders for the first time and may find this a tough challenge.

Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. I)

Stephanie’s Kitten was unlucky to lose the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) and Diana Handicap (gr. I) by the combined margin of one length, and while she no longer possesses the tactical speed of her youth, her finishing kick is absolutely explosive, and the ten-furlong distance of the Flower Bowl should aid her chances. She is my selection. Abaco won the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga last time out, but seems to be at her best going a mile and a sixteenth.

Vosburgh Invitational (gr. I)

Palace was exceptional while picking up two grade I sprint victories at Saratoga, and should have every chance to pick up another grade I on Saturday. But since he’ll likely be a heavy favorite, I’ll take a chance with Private Zone, who won this race last year in impressive fashion. In his lone start this year, Private Zone ran fourth in the Turf Monster Handicap (gr. III) over the Parx turf course on September 1st despite a troubled trip.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. I)

Only seven horses are entered in this twelve-furlong turf race, but all have a serious chance to win. Main Sequence won the United Nations (gr. I) and Sword Dancer (gr. I) in narrow fashion, but his edge over fellow Joe Hirsch starters Imagining and Twilight Eclipse appears to be small, and he is unlikely to offer appealing odds as the expected favorite. Big Blue Kitten was second in this race last year and most recently second in the Cliff Hanger Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth over a distance much too short for him. The return to twelve furlongs should help his chances, and his tactical speed should enable him to stay within striking distance of the leaders in what could be a slow-paced race. I’ll take him as my selection.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I)

Moreno will receive a great deal of support off his victory in the Whitney (gr. I) and runner-up effort in the Woodward (gr. I), but the speedy front-runner has drawn post eleven with a very short run into the first turn, and it’s worth noting that his record at Saratoga is much better than his record at other tracks. Therefore, I shall try to beat him with Tonalist. The Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner most recently ran third by 2 ½ lengths in the Travers, an impressive effort given that he did the dirty work of pressuring lone front-runner Bayern through respectable fractions. The return to Belmont, at which Tonalist is 2-for-2, should also aid his chances. For a longshot, I like Stephanoatsee, who closed well to finish fifth in the Woodward over what appeared to be a speed-favoring track.

Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I)

This race marks the return of two-time Eclipse champion Beholder, who was injured while finishing fourth in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) earlier this year. The speedy Beholder won the Zenyatta last year in completely dominating fashion, and since she has trained well for her return, I would be very surprised if she lost this race.

FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I)

Bob Baffert’s American Pharoah was very impressive winning the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) by almost five lengths, but will be making his first start on dirt and his first start around two turns on Saturday, and might be vulnerable as the expected favorite. With this in mind, I’ll side with Baffert’s other colt Lord Nelson, a well-bred son of Pulpit that won a five-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar on July 19th. Lord Nelson should appreciate the stretch-out in distance, and he has recorded a trio of sharp workouts on the dirt at Santa Anita. He looks like a promising colt.

Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I)

Fourteen fillies and mares will enter the starting gate for this ten-furlong turf race, and finding the winner could be almost as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. Emollient is a three-time grade I winner with good form at Santa Anita, but she has finished well back in her last two starts. Miss Serendipity must be respected off her victories in the Yellow Ribbon Handicap (gr. II) and Gamely Stakes (gr. I), the latter in which she beat Emollient, but the filly I like is Stormy Lucy. She has been running well at distances that are a bit short for her, and earlier this year won the Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. III) over the same ten-furlong distance as the Rodeo Drive. I think she can close late to pick up the victory.

Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I)

Shared Belief has been spectacular in winning the first six starts of his career, and his brilliance and versatility should make him very difficult to beat in this spot. His main challenger will likely be Majestic Harbor, who won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) at Santa Anita by 6 ¼ lengths two starts back. But he did get an ideal pace setup that day, so he would have to offer very good odds—6-1 or more—before I would consider choosing him over Shared Belief.

Chandelier Stakes (gr. I)

Conquest Eclipse and Dad’s Princess warrant respect off their third- and fourth-place efforts in the Del Mar Debutante (gr. I), but time will tell if they can transfer their form to the dirt at Santa Anita. Of the pair, I prefer Conquest Eclipse, but I also like the chances of Sharla Rae, who is 2-for-2 on the dirt at Los Alamitos. Majestic Presence also deserves consideration off her last-out maiden win going a mile at Del Mar.

Who do you like this weekend?

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