Voting for a Warrior at Saratoga

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

Saturday is shaping up to be a chalky day at Saratoga, at least as far as the graded stakes are concerned.

The Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) and the Jim Dandy S. (G2) highlight the third Saturday of the summer meet, but both have drawn small fields packed with formidable short-priced contenders.

Nevertheless, the possibility to make money exists if we can nail down the top finishers with precision, so let's dive in and review the races:

Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1)

Only six horses have been entered in the Vanderbilt, with #4 Jackie's Warrior (1-5) looming as an overwhelming favorite. Last year's champion male sprinter enters off remarkably easy blowout victories in the Churchill Downs S. (G1) and True North S. (G2), so we know he's in top form. Jackie's Warrior has a ton of early speed, so he isn't reliant on race setup to ensure he gets a favorable trip. And he's 4-for-4 at Saratoga, counting victories in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) and Hopeful S. (G1) on his resume.

I'll be the first to admit 1-5 morning line odds aren't enticing, but I can't think of a good reason to oppose the sensational four-year-old speedster. Playing against Jackie's Warrior requires a belief he'll produce something less than his A-game, and I have no reason to think he'll falter.

Therefore, to make any meaningful profit betting the Vanderbilt, we'll have to turn our attention to exotic wagers and play them boldy—we can't afford to cover too many options underneath. To that end, might I recommend a cold exacta keying Jackie's Warrior over #3 Ny Traffic (6-1)?

Ny Traffic initially made a name for himself in route races; as a three-year-old in 2020, he cracked the trifecta in four straight graded stakes running 1 1/16 miles or farther, most notably finishing second by a nose against future Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic in the Haskell S. (G1). Ny Traffic also competed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness S. (G1).

But here are some stats you might not have noticed: Ny Traffic is 1-for-11 lifetime in route races and 5-for-8 in sprints. In fact, he's won his last four sprints (including three stakes) by margins as great as 8 3/4 lengths.

Ny Traffic enters the Vanderbilt off back-to-back stakes wins, including a one-length triumph over six-time stakes winner Beren in the six-furlong Chocolate Town S. at Penn National. Ny Traffic has tactical speed, but he's versatile in terms of running style and should be able to avoid hooking up with Jackie's Warrior for early supremacy. The Saratoga main track has been slow so far this meet, so Ny Traffic—with his ability to compete at a high level running long—should handle the testing conditions just fine and stay on for a strong finish behind Jackie's Warrior.

1st: Jackie's Warrior
2nd: Ny Traffic

Jim Dandy S. (G2)

A small but deep field has assembled for the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy S. (G2), a local steppingstone toward the prestigious Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga next month. Two of the four entrants are Grade 1 winners, another has placed in a pair of classics, and another has won multiple Grade 3 events.

The slim morning line favorite is #2 Epicenter (3-2), winner of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and runner-up in both the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness S. (G1). Epicenter ran impressively in the Kentucky Derby, rallying early into a hot pace before fighting on to finish second by less than a length against stretch-running Rich Strike.

Epicenter also ran well in the Preakness, closing ground gamely along the rail to finish second by 1 1/4 lengths, but he lacked his customary early speed and got squeezed off the pace as a result. Epicenter competed seven times between November 2021 and May 2022, so it's possible his long and productive campaign was catching up to him by Preakness day. I also wonder if Epicenter—as a January foal—was losing his maturity advantage by the time the classics rolled around.

That's why I'm going to oppose Epicenter with #4 Early Voting (8-5), a lightly raced March foal possibly offering more upside for improvement. I loved Early Voting's runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial (G2) during the spring, in which he carved out a solid pace and then finished strongly to come home second by a neck against future Belmont S. (G1) winner Mo Donegal.

This effort foreshadowed an even sharper performance in the Preakness. After showing a new dimension rating off the lead in second place, Early Voting pounced to a clear lead down the homestretch and stayed on nicely to defeat Epicenter by 1 1/4 lengths.

In terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, Early Voting has run faster than Epicenter. He also has enough speed to secure an easy lead in this small field. In short, I believe Early Voting holds a tactical advantage in the Jim Dandy, and this advantage—coupled with his obvious talent and improving profile—can lead to victory at Saratoga.

1st: Early Voting
2nd: Epicenter

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


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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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