Three Stakes Picks to Wrap Up Saratoga

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

Closing weekend at Saratoga is packed with graded stakes. Seven such events are slated to take place between Saturday and Monday, including a quartet on Saturday's action-packed agenda.

Let's highlight three of the best graded stakes taking place on Saturday, including the Flower Bowl S. (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1):

Prioress S. (G2)

Normally, handicappers expect to see plenty of speed entered in six-furlong graded stakes. But the Prioress actally doesn't contain much pace, which may provide an insurmountable advantage to the exciting up-and-comer #1 Oxana (3-1).

Conditioned by Timothy Hills, who has quietly compiled a solid 5-1-0-3 record at Saratoga this summer, Oxana is unbeaten and unchallenged in two starts since switching from turf to dirt. The daughter of Uptowncharlybrown absolutely obliterated a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight against Pennsylvania-breds at Parx Racing, running the half-mile in :44.89 before drawing off to win by 18 lengths. Then in a six-furlong allowance over the same track, Oxana again blazed the half in :44.89 on her way to an easy 10 1/4-length score.

These efforts produced excellent Brisnet Speed ratings of 101 and 95, stamping Oxana as one of the fastest fillies in the Prioress field. If she shakes loose on an easy lead from the rail draw, watch out—she may prove impossible to catch.

#6 Souper Sensational (6-5), winner of the Victory Ride S. (G3) and runner-up in the Test S. (G1) sprinting this summer, can round out the exacta.

Flower Bowl S. (G1) at Saratoga

I've been a big fan of #3 War Like Goddess (4-5) ever since she dominated a 1 3/8-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs last fall. On that occasion, the stoutly bred daughter of English Channel somehow overcame snail-like fractions of :25.55, :52.95, and 1:20.69 to rally from last place and trounce the pacesetter by 3 1/4 lengths.

It turns out this epic turn-of-foot wasn't a fluke. War Like Goddess has gotten even better as a four-year-old, unleashing powerful rallies to win the Orchid S. (G3), Bewitch S. (G3), and Glens Fall S. (G2) in succession. In the latter race—held at Saratoga—War Like Goddess exploded from last place to beat 2020 Flower Bowl runner-up #4 My Sister Nat (5-1) by 3 1/4 lengths.

The Glens Falls marked War Like Goddess' first start off a 3 1/2-month layoff, so I'm optimistic she can run even better in the Flower Bowl. I view War Like Goddess as a serious threat to win the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) this fall, so in the meantime, I expect her to deliver another resounding victory in the Flower Bowl.

My Sister Nat can battle with stablemate #6 Great Island (4-1) for spots in the exacta and trifecta.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga

Reigning Jockey Club Gold Cup champion #4 Happy Saver (9-5) and Suburban S. (G2) winner #2 Max Player (5-2) are logical contenders in this 1 1/4-mile qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), and both are capable of hitting the board. But for win purposes, I'm tempted to oppose them both with #1 Forza Di Oro (8-5).

A seemingly delicate but abundantly talented four-year-old, Forza Di Oro has won his last three starts on the New York circuit. His biggest win came in the 1 1/8-mile Discovery S. (G3) at Aqueduct last fall, when he rallied from a couple lengths off the pace to trounce stakes winners Monday Morning Qb and Shared Sense by 3 3/4 lengths.

But Forza Di Oro's most impressive victory came in a 1 1/8-mile allowance optional claimer at Saratoga last month. Tackling a muddy track in his first start off an eight-month layoff, the son of Speightstown pressed the early pace before taking command to win by three lengths.

This effort produced a strong 108 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest figure in the Jockey Club Gold Cup field. Even better, Forza Di Oro earned a massive 117 Brisnet Late Pace rating, suggesting he'll relish racing 1 1/4 miles on Saturday.

There's hardly any speed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup field, so I think there's a chance Forza Di Oro will seize the early initiative from post one and secure an uncontested lead. From there, I'm willing to bet no one catches him.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the graded stakes at Saratoga this week?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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