By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Heading into this week, my tentative plan was to analyze
the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at
Saratoga for today's column.
But the race came up short on entries, and after
handicapping the half-dozen runners, I landed on the Belmont Stakes (gr. I)
runner-up Tacitus as my top choice. That's all fine and dandy, but he's 7-5 on
the morning line and I'm not particularly enthusiastic about playing him at
such a short price.
So let's stick with the general theme of handicapping
three-year-olds at Saratoga and instead examine Friday's $100,000 Curlin Stakes and Sunday's $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes (gr. II), two races that offer greater potential
for rewarding payoffs.
The Curlin has attracted an interesting blend of horses either
stepping up in class or dropping out of tougher company. There are plenty of horses
to consider (and part of me wants to stubbornly stick with my Belmont Stakes
play #1 Intrepid Heart one more time),
but to be honest I never really considered picking anyone other than #7 Endorsed.
Call it a hunch, but I think Endorsed has the talent to
be something special. I was impressed with his debut at Saratoga last summer,
in which he rallied from behind a slow pace to win a six-furlong maiden special
weight by a neck with an 89 Beyer. Recognizing the slow early/fast late race
shape, RacingFlow.com assigned the race a speed-favoring rating and made the
late-running Endorsed an upgrade out of the race.
Unfortunately, Endorsed failed to fire when finishing
sixth in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), after which he disappeared from the work
tab for months. We can only assume he suffered an injury in the Champagne, but
he looked as good as ever in his return on June 23rd at Belmont
Park, rallying smoothly and efficiently to win a six-furlong allowance race
with a big burst of speed down the lane. From a visual perspective he looked
like he was just getting going and had something left at the finish.
Endorsed received a 92 Beyer for his allowance victory,
and considering only two runners in the Curlin field have ever earned a higher
Beyer (Rowayton tops the field with a 97), Endorsed doesn't need to step up
much to compete for victory on Friday. The bigger question is the 1 1/8-mile
distance—Endorsed has never run around two turns—but as a son of Medaglia d'Oro
out of Dance Card (a Grade 1 winner going 1 1/8 miles), Endorsed is actually
bred to thrive over longer distances. If his 6-1 morning line odds hold up, I'll
be eager to play him in the Curlin Stakes.
Stakes (gr. II)
A dozen horses have been entered in this 6 ½-furlong
sprint, but despite the seemingly wide-open nature of the race, I'm optimistic #12 Shancelot will emerge victorious.
Trained by Jorge Navarro, this son of Shanghai Bobby has
shown flashes of brilliance in two career starts. In his debut sprinting seven furlongs
on February 16th at Gulfstream Park, Shancelot threw down blazing
fractions of :22.27, :44.29, and 1:08.82 before hanging on to win by a neck
over future Florida Derby (gr. I) runner-up Bodexpress. Finishing much farther
behind were the next-out maiden winners Fort Worth and Bandon Woods.
Four months later, Shancelot stepped up in class for a
six-furlong optional claiming race at Monmouth Park and was breathtaking in
victory. He opened up a four-length lead through an opening quarter in :22.16,
extended his advantage to six lengths through a half-mile in :44.56, and
coasted home an uncontested, unchallenged winner by 6 ½ lengths in 1:08.43
seconds. The third-place finisher, First Deal, came right back to win a similar
race at Monmouth by nearly four lengths.
Shancelot's two victories have earned him Beyer speed
figures of 91 and 100, and his sensational early speed will be tough for any of
his Amsterdam rivals to match. Navarro has gone so far as to call Shancelot the
best horse he's ever trained—high praise coming from the man who conditioned
top sprinter Private Zone—so even while breaking from the far outside post
position, I expect Shancelot's brilliance to win the day.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the stakes races
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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.