Racing Returns to Saratoga!

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

After months of waiting, racing has finally returned to Saratoga! The meet will begin on July 22nd and continue with a terrific card on July 23rd, led by two graded stakes races. We'll focus our attention on the Saturday card, starting with the Diana Stakes for fillies and mares. Let's get started!

Diana Stakes (gr. I)

This nine-furlong turf race has drawn a deep, deep field of ten fillies and mares, and it's not difficult to make a case for any of them. The 3-1 favorite is Miss Temple City, winner of the Makers 46 Mile (gr. I) against males at Keeneland this spring; in her lone start since then, she finished a solid fourth in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot. She's a very talented and versatile filly that can be positioned almost anywhere with success, but I think she might appreciate a little give in the ground, and if the Saratoga turf course is rock-hard and fast--as it has tended to be in recent years--I'm not sure she'd relish those conditions.

In addition, Miss Temple City will be carrying top weight of 121 pounds and conceding weight to all of her rivals; she also tends to finish second or third more often than not and won only one race from seven starts last year. Her win against males and solid showing at Royal Ascot should draw a lot of wagering support, but I think Miss Temple City is vulnerable and could even finish out of the exacta, leading to solid payoffs in the exotics.

One filly that I am very excited about is Onus, a Shug McGaughey-trained daughter of Blame that is 4-for-4 on firm turf courses, with 4 ½ lengths being her minimum margin of victory. She's even broken two course records under such conditions, but she hasn't shown nearly the same brilliance on wet courses and is 0-for-3 when the conditions are "good" or worse. Nevertheless, she ran well last time out to finish third by a length in the Perfect Sting Stakes at Belmont after tracking a slow pace over a yielding course, and if she encounters a firm course on Saturday, I think she'll rebound in a huge way at 15-1. She gets into the race carrying just 115 pounds, will be ridden by the top jockey Jose Ortiz, and could get a great trip stalking the speedy front-runner Isabella Sings. I think all of this adds up to victory, and Onus is my selection to win.

I would also take a close look at any filly emerging from the one-mile Just a Game Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park; in that race, conducted over one of the fastest turf courses seen in recent memory, runaway winner Celestine accelerated the final quarter-mile in :22.01, making it virtually impossible for any of the late runners to gain ground. Rainha Da Bateria and Strike Charmer, who finished seventh and eighth after running very well in their previous races, could be a prime candidates to rebound, while Recepta--who did well to close from sixth place to finish second--should be very much in the mix as well.

Sanford Stakes (gr. III)

This race has only drawn five starters, but could offer an exciting duel between the impressive maiden winners Random Walk and Bitumen. Both looked great in their respective debuts, with Random Walk scoring by 5 ¾ lengths going 5 ½ furlongs at Belmont and Bitumen winning by 6 ¾ lengths going six furlongs at Churchill Downs, and while they look evenly matched on paper, I prefer the chances of Bitumen. Not only does he have a win at the six-furlong distance of the Sanford, he achieved that victory after dueling for the early lead with two rivals. He had every excuse to quit after his early exertions, but instead, he amazingly accelerated in the final quarter-mile, running the fifth furlong in a blazing :11.37 and the sixth furlong in :11.75. It's not every day that you see a turn-of-foot like that from a two-year-old, especially in June at Churchill Downs, and I have the feeling that Bitumen is something special. With the benefit of drawing outside of Random Walk, I think he'll be very tough to beat.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like on Saturday at Saratoga?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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