Race of Week: The Saratoga Special
By Scott Shapiro
The Sunday afternoon feature in Saratoga Springs is the Grade II Saratoga Special Stakes for two-year olds. The race is now conducted at the challenging distance of six and a half furlongs. For many young colts this will be the first trip beyond the traditional sprint distance of six panels and often times begins to separate those with just speed from those that have a bit more stamina and therefore the ability to move towards the Breeders Cup Juvenile. While the quickest horse will often win this race, it certainly is a different game than the races most of the colts have competed in prior to Sunday.
The Saratoga Special was not always run at its current distance. In fact, it was first contested in 1901 at five and a half furlongs before they increased it to six in 1907. It was added again to the current distance of six and a half furlongs in 1994. Interestingly, before 1959 the event was a winner-take-all event before taking its current status of a normal stakes race.
Like most sweepstakes at Saratoga Race Course, the Saratoga Special has a strong list of past winners. The twentieth century saw such greats as Regret, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Conquistador Cielo, Swale, Gulch, Summer Squall, Dehere and Favorite Trick brace the winners’ circle after victories in the two-year old stakes event. The first twelve versions of this century’s Saratoga Special (there was no race held in 2004) saw such precocious stars as City Zip, Jump Start, Henny Hughes, Union Rags and last year’s winner Corfu take the down the highly coveted juvenile contest. Jockey Eddie Arcaro is not only the lone jockey to have won the Triple Crown twice, but he also has won an amazing seven versions of the “Special” from 1935 to 1959 including back to back victories in both 1954-1955 and 1958-1959. The ultra quick Caller I.D. won the 1991 version in an amazing 1:09.55 and currently holds the stakes record.
This year’s version of the Saratoga Special offers horseplayers a full field of eleven two-year old colts competing for a purse of $200,000. This is about as wide-open as a race can get. Several runners return from the Grade III Sanford where we gave out the exacta several times in our “suggested wagers.” The early pace in that one was hot and the same should be expected on Sunday. Nonna’s Boy for Todd Pletcher and Cinco Charlie for trainer Steve Asmussen were both a part of the hotly contested early fractions on July 19th, and are both back as well for the “Special.” In addition, the quick Tizcano returns for trainer Peter Miller after a maiden score at Gulfstream Park in June. They may not completely compromise their chances again upfront, but an honest pace is all but a given.
Much like the Sanford Stakes, our top two choices will be Anthony Dutrow and D. Wayne Lukas runners. Lukas trainee Mr Z had an extremely tough trip for a youngster and showed grit and professionalism to battle until the wire before being gunned down by Big Trouble. He has been training well and the added half-furlong should not be a problem. Jockey Corey Lanerie has not had a good meet at just 3 for 54 before Saturday began, but has a golden opportunity here with the son of Malibu Moon. We also really like Anthony Dutrow’s son of Super Saver I Spent It. This colt is coming off an impressive maiden score at Belmont Park on July 2nd, but will have to overcome the rail draw on Sunday. If he can avoid a poor break, Javier Castellano should have this one ready to roll when they turn for home. Our only concern is having to force speed into him from his inside post. If Javier can relax him early and avoid excessive kickback from the frontrunners, he should be rolling late.
While we think Mr Z and I Spent It are the most likely winners, we also have a few value horses that we think have a shot on Sunday as well. Stanford is the second of the Todd Pletcher entrants coming off a visually impressive maiden score at Monmouth Park. This Stonestreet Stables colt broke a bit slow, but made a monster move around the turn to pull away from a ten-horse group of two year-olds at the Jersey Shore. The added distance should not be a problem for this well-bred son of Malibu Moon and the price should be right. West Point Thoroughbreds Cleveland Sound is the other price horse we like. This More Than Ready colt was not as visually impressive as others in his debut victory at Delaware Park, but ran hard the entire race from his inside post and showed much more determination than your average juvenile. This Graham Motion runner gets Irad Ortiz, Jr. up for the mount and gets a more favorable outside draw in his first try against winners. If Ortiz can relax this one, he could be running on late at a huge price.
This race should be a great one, but it is quite challenging for the handicapper. We suggest going relatively light here and hope we can once again catch some luck in Saratoga’s two-year old stakes events.
$1 TRIFECTA WHEEL
1+3, 1+3+8+9, 1+2+3+7+8+9+10
$2 EXACTA BOX
#3 Mr Z
Sunday is a great card if you are like me and love to play two-year old races. I cannot wait!
Best of luck!