J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
of top-notch horse racing will have plenty to enjoy this Saturday when
Arlington Park and Saratoga host a total of seven graded stakes races,
including four grade I events. There's lots to cover, so without further ado,
let's get started!
Adirondack Stakes (gr. II)
be favored after starting her career with two straight wins, including a
victory against colts in the Kentucky Juvenile Stakes, but she enters the
Adirondack off a ninth-place finish in the Coventry Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal
Ascot, and she could be vulnerable while stretching out to 6 ½ furlongs off that
trip to England.
stronger contender might be the Todd Pletcher filly Nonna Mela. Her past performances note that she stumbled at the
start when breaking her maiden going five furlongs at Monmouth, but that doesn't
begin to describe what a significant stumble it was-the head-on replay shows
that her face went nearly to the ground. Despite this poor start, Nonna Mela
recovered to track a solid pace while racing wide, then took command in the
homestretch and drew off under urging to win by 7 ¼ lengths. She ran her final
furlong in a sharp :11.99 flat, suggesting that the extra distance of the
Adirondack won't be an issue, and while her work tab does show a gap between
July 22nd and August 6th, she also shipped from Monmouth
to Saratoga during that timeframe. If she's runs back to her Monmouth form, I
think Nonna Mela will be right in the mix for victory.
she could face a stiff challenge from Ever
So Clever, who overcame a slow start from post one and a subsequent inside
trip to break her maiden by 7 ¼ lengths sprinting six furlongs at Churchill Downs.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Ever So Clever made a great visual impressive and
looked professional in the homestretch while running her final quarter-mile in
less than :24 seconds, a very sharp time. In the Adirondack, she has drawn the
outside post in a field of six, and if she gets off to a more alert start, she
could find herself closer to the early lead and positioned to take command in
the homestretch. She is my selection to win, with Nonna Mela to round out the
Arlington St. Leger (gr. III)
lot of emphasis will be placed on the European invaders Wasir, Clondaw Warrior,
and Billabong, but I think the U.S.
runner Da Big Hoss has a huge chance
to win one for the home team. A consistent win machine with 10 victories from
19 starts, Da Big Hoss has absolutely thrived since being claimed by Mike Maker
and stretched out in distance, becoming a force to reckon with in turf races at
a mile and a half or longer. He's won three of his four starts this year,
including the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup, so the 13.5-furlong distance of the
Arlington St. Leger shouldn't be any issue at all. Furthermore, Da Big Hoss is
versatile in terms of running style, winning major races while tracking the
pace and coming from ten lengths back, and he's handled wet turf courses in
addition to firm, which could be valuable if rain hits Arlington before the
if that isn't enough reason to like Da Big Hoss, he also won his only start over
the Arlington turf course in impressive fashion. Throw in the fact that he will
be ridden by Florent Geroux, a top-notch turf rider that has been highly
successful at Arlington, and I think Da Big Hoss looks like a single in the
multi-race wagers. I think he'll relish everything about this race and win easily.
Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I)
turf course conditions could have a big impact on this race. Sea Calisi is the decisive 7-5 favorite
on the morning line and could be almost unstoppable if the course comes up wet.
After a successful European campaign in 2015 that saw her win the Prix de
Malleret (Fr-II) and finish a close third in the Yorkshire Stakes (Eng-I), Sea
Calisi was transferred to Chad Brown and brought to the U.S. for her 2016
campaign. She started off with a terrific win in the 11-furlong Sheepshead Bay
Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park over a yielding turf course, but a troubled
trip over a firm course in the 10-furlong New York Stakes (gr. II) saw her
finish second by three-quarters of a length. It was a bit of a disappointing
defeat, but her performance has looked better since New York winner Dacita came
back to win the Diana Stakes (gr. I) and third-place finisher Guapaza returned to
win the Waya Stakes (gr. III). The 9.5-furlong distance of the Beverly D. is
shorter that Sea Calisi is accustomed to-in fact, she's never run in a race
this short-but Sea Calisi should still be tough to beat, especially if the course
comes up wet.
if the turf stays firm, then I really like the chances of Faufiler. A capable group stakes competitor in France, she came to
the U.S. at the end of 2015 and disappointed in two races while encountering an
unfavorable pace scenario and then a yielding turf course, but the Graham
Motion-trained filly unleashed a terrific turn-of-foot when encountering a
proper setup in her 2016 debut, rallying to win the one-mile Sand Spring Stakes
by a length in a fast time. Since then, she's traveled the country to finish
second in the Royal Heroine Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita, fifth in the Just a
Game Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont despite a very unfavorable pace setup, and first
in the Modesty Handicap (gr. III) over the same course and distance as the
Beverly D. Stakes. A firm course is a must for Faufiler, and if she gets the right
ground and a respectable pace, she should be flying at the finish at odds of
Aidan O'Brien also holds a strong hand in this race with Coolmore and Ballydoyle,
a pair of three-year-old fillies that finished third and thirteenth in the
Belmont Oaks (gr. I) on July 9th. Based on their form from that
race, Coolmore appears to be the better of the two, but Ballydoyle has a ton of
back class, having won the Prix Marcel Boussac (Fr-I) at Longchamp last October
before finishing second to the sensational Minding in the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas
(Eng-I) at Newmarket. Don't be surprised if Ballydoyle rebounds with a huge run
in the Beverly D., and thanks to her poor showing in the Belmont Oaks, she
might even go off at a decent price.
Arlington Million has drawn a very deep field of thirteen, and while I think World Approval is the horse to beat, I'd
also like to mention Danish Dynaformer as
a longshot with a big chance to hit the board. The son of Dynaformer was a
Canadian classic winner last year, winning the 12-furlong Breeders' Stakes by 7
¾ lengths, and he showed a nice turn-of-foot to win the Singspiel Stakes (gr.
III) last time out at Woodbine. I don't think we've seen the best he has to
offer, and drawing the rail should help him save ground and hopefully produce a
career-best effort. If he goes off at anywhere near his morning line odds of
30-1, I think he would be a huge overlay.
the Secretariat Stakes (gr. I), Aidan O'Brien sends out Belmont Derby (gr. I)
sixth-place finisher Long Island Sound,
who should be a factor regardless of the course conditions. O'Brien has won
three of the last five renewals of this race, and it would be no surprise if
Long Island Sound improves that record, but I'm also intrigued by American Patriot. With the exception of
a tenth-place finish in the American Turf Stakes (gr. II), American Patriot
hasn't finished out of the trifecta and most recently scored a course
record-breaking victory in the nine-furlong Kent Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware
Park. For the Secretariat, he picks up the services of the top European jockey
William Buick, and American Patriot could be a colt to include on multi-race
wagers-if Long Island Sound misfires, American Patriot could be poised to
capitalize and add value to the sequence.
the one-mile Fourstardave Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga has drawn an incredibly competitive
field that couldn't look more wide-open on paper. Finding the winner might
prove to be as easy as finding a needle in a haystack, but I do like the
chances of 12-1 shot A Lot. His last
two starts have come in sprint races, including a fourth-place finish in an
unbelievably fast renewal of the Jaipur Stakes (gr. III) that didn't set up for
A Lot's late-running style. However, A Lot has shown solid form at a mile and consistently
produces sharp bursts of acceleration in the final two furlongs of his races. Plus,
he races for the powerful team of Chad Brown and Javier Castellano. A Lot may
not win, but at 12-1, I think he can definitely finish on the board and spruce
up the exotics.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the major races this weekend?
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 www.theturfboard.com.