J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
of my favorite days of racing each year is "Super Saturday," when Santa Anita and Belmont Park put on a show with massive
cards filled with graded stakes races. Some of the best horses in the country
will be in action this Saturday, and these races will undoubtedly have a large
influence on the outcome of the Breeders' Cup.
this is such a special weekend, I'll be analyzing six of the graded stakes
races at Belmont and Santa Anita, including a very competitive edition of the
Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I). Without further ado, let's get started!
Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II)
been a big fan of Wonder Gal since
her two-year-old campaign in 2014, and while she won just one race last year,
she competed admirably in top-class competition and hit the board in two grade
I races at Belmont Park, including a close third in the one-mile Acorn Stakes.
She started off 2016 with two disappointing runs in the Ladies Handicap and
Barbara Fritchie Stakes (gr. II), but a layoff and surgery to correct breathing
issues did wonders for Wonder Gal, who returned on September 2nd at
Saratoga to crush a 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming race by 11 ½
her effort, Wonder Gal received a Beyer speed figure of 100, and a repeat of
that effort would give her an edge over her Gallant Bloom rivals. She figures
to work out a nice trip stalking Hot
City Girl and Momaeamaria through
the early stages of the race, and she even gets a weight advantage, carrying
just 117 pounds compared to 121 for favored Wavell Avenue and 120 for Paulassilverlining.
This looks like the perfect spot for Wonder Gal to pick up the first graded
stakes win of her career.
Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III)
there are plenty of horses to consider in this field of nine lightly-raced
two-year-olds, I believe that Oscar
Performance is a standout. A son of Kitten's Joy out of the Theatrical mare
Devine Actress, Oscar Performance was stunning while breaking his maiden at
Saratoga on August 20th, setting the pace before accelerating the
final five-sixteenths of a mile in a rapid :28.85 to win by 10 ¼ lengths.
Granted, he was able to set easy pace fractions of :48.87 and 1:14.04, but it's
not every day that you see a two-year-old showcase such a spectacular
turn-of-foot, and I think Oscar Performance has the potential to be something
fast as Oscar Performance finished in his maiden win, J.S. Choice actually finished slightly faster while breaking his
maiden by 3 ¼ lengths on September 5th at Saratoga, getting the
final five-sixteenths in about :28.40, and that was after tracking fractions of
:48.34 and 1:12.98. However, the turf courses at Saratoga were incredibly fast
on September 5th--Ring Weekend set a course record of 1:38.29 for 8.5
furlongs while winning the Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. II)--so I wouldn't take
J.S. Choice's times at face value, although he still looms as a major contender
and a must-use for the exotics.
Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I)
six-furlong sprint is loaded with speed, including the multiple graded stakes
winners A. P. Indian and X Y Jet, two of the best sprinters in
the country. A. P. Indian is 5-for-5 this year and swept the Alfred G.
Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) and Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, while X Y
Jet won five straight races last fall and winter before finishing second by a
neck in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) in March. Throw in the very fast Green Gratto and the consistent
pace-presser Holy Boss and you have
the makings of a very quick pace.
A. P. Indian is capable of rating just off the pace and should work out a nice
trip, the possibility of a wet track is something to keep in mind--rain is
expected on Saturday at Belmont Park, and A. P. Indian didn't fire when sixth
in the Phoenix Stakes (gr. III) over a sloppy, sealed track last year.
you're looking for a big longshot to add to your plays, Dannie's Deceiver could be a great choice. This late-running colt
has shown steady improvement this summer, most recently finishing fourth behind
A. P. Indian in the Forego Stakes (gr. I) when a modest pace hurt his chances,
and he clearly relishes Belmont Park, compiling a 6-2-3-0 record here compared
to a 6-1-0-0 record at all other tracks. But perhaps more significantly, he's
been fantastic on wet, sealed tracks, with two wins and a strong second from three
starts. If the track is sealed on Saturday and fast pace unfolds, Dannie's
Deceiver could be closing a lot of ground in the homestretch.
Beldame Stakes (gr. I)
Forever Unbridled has
been in fantastic form this year, winning the Houston Ladies Classic Stakes
(gr. III) and Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) while placing in the Ogden Phipps
Stakes (gr. I) and Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I). She's held her own against
some of the best fillies and mares in the country, including Cavorting,
Curalina, I'm a Chatterbox, and Tara's Tango, and now she finds herself as a
standout favorite in the Beldame. The one-turn nature of this nine-furlong race
should be fine for Forever Unbridled, and her pace-tracking style should help
her secure a perfect position in a race that lacks speed on paper. She looks
like a possible single in the multi-race wagers.
only filly I can envision pulling off an upset is the three-year-old Off the Tracks, who stretches back out
in distance after finishing third in the seven-furlong Test Stakes (gr. I) and
fourth in the six-furlong Prioress Stakes (gr. II). Trained by Todd Pletcher,
Off the Tracks has a lot of speed and won the 8.5-furlong Mother Goose Stakes
(gr. I) here at Belmont in gate-to-wire fashion earlier this year. Beating
Forever Unbridled could be a tough task, but Off the Tracks should enjoy the
conditions of the Beldame and looks like a clear-cut second choice. A Forever
Unbridled/Off the Tracks exacta might not pay much, but if you're confident
that they're the two best fillies in the race, it will certainly pay better
than a straight win bet on Forever Unbridled.
FrontRunner Stakes (gr. I)
field of seven two-year-olds will face the starter in this 8.5-furlong race,
including Klimt, Straight Fire, and Midnight Pleasure, the 1-2-3 finishers from the seven-furlong Del
Mar Futurity (gr. I). While it's always appealing to try and find a longshot
when lightly-raced two-year-old tackle two turns for the first time, I find it
hard to look past Klimt. Trained by
Bob Baffert, this talented colt has won three straight races by a minimum of 2
¾ lengths and ran a huge race in the Del Mar Futurity, staying within striking
range of a fast pace before powering clear in the homestretch to win by 4 ¼
strikes me as a colt that will only get better when stretched out in distance,
and his workouts in preparation for this race have been impressive, culminating
with five furlongs in :59 4/5 on September 26th. He looked great in that
workout, starting two lengths behind his workmate before easily reeling him in
to cruise across the wire two lengths in front and gallop out powerfully. He'll
likely be a short price, but Klimt looks like a budding star and should be
poised for a big effort this Saturday.
Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I)
a betting perspective, this ten-furlong turf event might be the best race of
the week, as it's drawn a huge and competitive field of fourteen fillies and
mares that lacks a standout favorite.
being held in California, the Rodeo Drive has been dominated by shippers in
recent years, with five of the last six renewals being won by horses that
prepped outside of California. More specifically, three of the last six Rodeo
Drive winners came out of the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington Park,
which makes Zipessa an appealing
choice. Trained by Michael Stidham, Zipessa was forwardly placed throughout the
2016 Beverly D. Stakes--tracking a solid pace set by a rabbit--and took command
in the homestretch before tiring slightly to finish third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths
by Sea Calisi and Al's Gal, two of the best turf mares in the country. Al's Gal
has since returned to win the Kentucky Downs Ladies Marathon Stakes, while 8th-place
finisher Secret Someone rebounded with a win in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf
Stakes and 13th-place finisher Lots o' Lex won the One Dreamer
Stakes in her next start.
addition, several other Beverly D. runners have returned to place in their next
starts, further demonstrating the depth of the field. For Zipessa to finish
third after chasing the rabbit was a huge effort, and she looms as one of the
speediest fillies in the Rodeo Drive, a race that doesn't have a ton of pace on
paper. Her races prior to the Beverly D. were solid as well, including a
decisive gate-to-wire score in the Dr. James Penny Memorial Stakes (gr. III).
Add in the fact that Zipessa will be ridden by the top turf jockey Florent Geroux,
and I think you have a winning combination.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Super Saturday races?
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.