Arlington, Saratoga Highlight Big Saturday of Racing

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

Fans 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)

Silvertoni could 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.

A 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.

However, 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 exacta.

Arlington St. Leger (gr. III)

A 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 Saturday races.

As 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)

The 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.

However, 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 6-1.

Trainer 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.

Other Thoughts

The 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.

In 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.

Lastly, 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.

Now 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

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