Why I'm Endorsing Shancelot at Saratoga

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.

Curlin Stakes

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.

Amsterdam 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 this weekend?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


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.

Recent Posts

More Blogs