Will Bricks and Mortar Win Again in the Saranac?

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

How fast the summer has flown by! Believe it or not, this weekend will bring the Saratoga and Del Mar meets to a close, but fortunately for racing fans, the two tracks will go out in a burst of excitement with many top-notch graded stakes races scheduled to be run. There are actually four such events scheduled for Saturday at Saratoga, with the two turf races--the $300,000 Saranac Stakes (gr. III) and the $200,000 Glens Falls Stakes (gr. III)--looking like the most interesting from a handicapping perspective. Let's take a look...

Saranac Stakes (gr. III)

While this nine-furlong turf race is filled with talented horses (many of them proven stakes winners or stakes-placed runners), I believe that Bricks and Mortar is a potential standout. Trained by Chad Brown, the son of Giant's Causeway is unbeaten in four starts thus far and has repeatedly shown a sensational turf-of-foot that could be hard for any of his Saranac rivals to match. Two starts back, he rallied from last to win the one-mile Manila Stakes at Belmont Park while running the final quarter-mile in a sensational 21.44 seconds, and last time out he showed pace-tracking speed in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga before shifting out and finishing powerfully to win going away in the time of 1:39.47 seconds for a mile and a sixteenth. Better still, he ran the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a terrific :27.79 seconds!

To put it simply, I believe Bricks and Mortar is a star in the making, and it might not be a stretch to believe that Bricks and Mortar could win the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) later this year. The extra sixteenth of a mile in the Saranac Stakes shouldn't be an issue for Bricks and Mortar--it might even help him--and the improved tactical speed that he showed in the Hall of Fame Stakes could prove useful if the pace of the Saranac is slow. With anything resembling a good trip, I believe Bricks and Mortar will keep his unbeaten record intact and extend his win streak to five straight races.

Yoshida, runner-up to Bricks and Mortar in the Hall of Fame Stakes, warrants respect once again and would be a logical runner-up, but one up-and-comer that could offer a bit more value in the wagering is Mr. Havercamp. The son of Court Vision won his debut by 3 ½ lengths while sprinting seven furlongs on the Tapeta track at Woodbine, but he rose to another level when giving turf a try in an 8.5-furlong optional claiming race on August 13th. Racing over a course labeled "good" (though the course seemed to be playing quite fast), Mr. Havercamp settled in third early on behind a solid pace, then took command and drew off effortlessly under no urging from his rider to win by 8 ½ lengths, finishing the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a respectable :30 flat. He'll be taking a big step up in class and facing much tougher competition in the Saranac, but Mr. Havercamp also figures to work out a perfect ground-saving trip while breaking from post position one, making him an intriguing contender to include in the exacta or trifecta.

Glens Falls Stakes (gr. III)

Turf races in New York--particularly long-distance turf races--have a tendency to unfold at a very slow pace. The 11-furlong Glens Falls Stakes figures to be no exception, as the majority of the nine fillies and mares in the field prefer to rally from off the pace, which could potentially lead to a perfect setup for Grateful.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, who generally does quite well with long-distance runners on both dirt and turf, Grateful has never finished out of the trifecta in seven starts and has shown steady improvement since stretching out in distance earlier this year. Two starts back, she won a 10-furlong allowance race at Belmont Park in gate-to-wire fashion, sprinting the final quarter-mile in :22.45 after getting away with slow fractions of :51.63 and 1:16.16. Grateful was even better in a 12-furlong allowance race on August 7th at Saratoga, settling in last place (she broke in the air) behind modest fractions of :49.17 and 1:14.76 before accelerating strongly in the homestretch to win going away with a final quarter-mile in about :23 1/5.

As a three-year-old filly, Grateful will carry just 111 pounds in the Glens Falls, five to nine pounds less than her older rivals. She's already proven she can beat older mares, as both of her recent victories were achieved against her elders, including the multiple graded stakes-placed mare Achnaha. Jockey Manny Franco will ride Grateful for the third straight time, and he's enjoyed terrific success at the current Saratoga meet, particularly in turf routes. Franco is more than willing to put his mounts on the lead when the pace is slow, which frequently leads to upset victories--check out his gate-to-wire win aboard 22-1 shot Marshall Eddy in a 9.5-furlong allowance race on August 26th at Saratoga, which featured a pace so slow Equibase described it as "glacial."

In a race that looks wide-open on paper, I think it's worth taking a shot with an up-and-coming young filly that figures to be setting or tracking a very slow pace. Best of all, Grateful is 15-1 on the morning line, and at that price I think she's definitely worth a play.

For the exacta, I would consider pairing Grateful with Sarandia, a German-bred filly that recently finished sixth in the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington Park. That race was conducted over a distance of 9.5-furlongs, arguably short of Sarandia's best, yet she was only beaten 2 ½ lengths while facing a field much deeper than the one she'll face in the Glens Falls. Sarandia is now stretching back out to 11 furlongs, a distance at which she has won three of her last four starts (the lone defeat coming in the Group 1 German Oaks last August), and Sarandia should be one of the main threats from off the pace. She's 9-2 on the morning line, but I wouldn't be surprised if she goes off a bit lower.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races at Saratoga?


The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. 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.

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