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.
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
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
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.