WEATHER: 81*F, SUNNY
Race 1: Claiming $25,000, 3yo and up, 1 1/8 Miles
WINNER: 6, Bad Student
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Robert Bone, Robertino Diodoro, Ricardo Santana
OFF ODDS: 5.90/1
FRACTIONS: 24.19, 48.02, 1:12.27, 1:37.02, 1:49.54
Bad Student was the recipient of the ideal trip here. He rated off leader Too Fast to Pass, who set the early pace and who figured to need a golf cart to get 1 1/8 miles. Bad Student, meanwhile, pulled clear of the rest of the field, sitting about a length clear of the rest while just off the inside. When Too Fast to Pass predictably gave way on the turn, Bad Student seized control.
As they turned for home, Hardly a Secret, who raced wide throughout, including a three-wide journey on both turns, gave a challenge to the leader. Bad Student quickly brought down the rebellion, however, and drew off to an easy win in the opener. After his wide trip, Hardly a Secret stopped badly in the last eighth and faded, losing second to ground-saving Turco Bravo.
Race 2: Maiden Special Weight, 2yo, Fillies, NY-bred, 5 1/2 Furlongs (Mellon Grass)
WINNER: 4, Drynachan
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Wise Racing, Chad Brown, Javier Castellano
OFF ODDS: 2.10/1
FRACTIONS: 22.16, 45.21, 57.24, 1:03.33
In races like these, bettors look for familiarity. Although Chad Brown is not exceptional with first-time starters (19%), people liked that he and Castellano were sending out a two-year-old on the grass, and made his horse the 2/1 favorite. Too Foofoo for You, who was second against open company last out, and Asumussen firster Mike’s Girl also got quite a bit of play.
As it turned out, a 36/1 shot almost stole the show. Andarta, going out for the Tom Albertrani barn (that is to say: not a barn that does well with firsters), went right to the lead and got into a speed duel with Too Foofoo for You. Andarta put away her rival turning for home, and as they passed the three-sixteenths pole, looked as if she was ready to spring a big upset. Drynachan had been sitting right off that duel, and really got going at around the eighth pole, powering on to win by two lengths.
Andarta hit a brick wall in the last eighth of a mile and was passed by several horses late, including runner-up Shady Shady Shady. The Michelle Nevin first-timer had a few strong workouts at Belmont Park on her tab, and got going in the last eighth to get a solid second. Watch for her next time out. Molly’s Party also didn’t look like a threat on paper, but closed sharply wide to finish third. Andarta faded to fifth, but given that she finished 2 1/2 lengths clear of her early sparring partner, the performance was certainly no disgrace.
Race 3: Claiming $40,000 (n/w2L), 3yo and up, 6 Furlongs
WINNER: 2, Strong Side
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Silver Ranch Stable/Wachtel Stable, Chris Englehart, Jose Lezcano
OFF ODDS: 1.90/1
FRACTIONS: 22.86, 45.76, 57.73, 1:10.53
The race changed fairly significantly right away, when Monteleone, who figured to press the pace, broke in a tangle and lost just about all chance. Without him to keep the pace honest, Parx shipper Comeoncomeoncat was allowed to set a comfortable early tempo, with Fortythreeoeight N on the outside and Strong Side getting a great trip stalking on the inside. Bettors may have recalled that when Comeoncomeoncat stopped badly last out, it was after getting involved in a stiff early tussle for the lead. With an easier time up front, could he take them all the way around?
The answer was no. Fortythreeoeight N drew close to the leader on the turn, and they set a swift second quarter mark of 22.90 seconds. Tiring from his exertions, Comeoncomeoncat started to drift to the outside, taking his rival with him. Jose Lezcano, seeing what was developing in front of him, immediately shifted his mount to the inside, enabling him to save ground and get a clearer path. Formal Start, dropping from NY-bred allowance company, made a strong rally up the inside late, but it wasn’t enough to catch Strong Side, who got up in the last few jumps to win as the favorite. Bettors were banking on his ability to duplicate his last dirt race, which he won by nine lengths while earning a brisnet figure of 96. I doubt he earned anything close to that here, but he was good enough to get the job done.
Race 4: Maiden Claiming $75,000, 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 4, Dominant Strategy
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Klaravich Stables, Chad Brown, Jose Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 4.60/1
FRACTIONS: 23.74, 48.78, 1:12.90, 1:36.34, 1:42.28
Here’s a dominant strategy for bettors: play Chad Brown horses on the grass. He was sending this one to the lawn for the first time, after two mediocre efforts on dirt. Notably, Dominant Strategy had a strong five-furlong workout on July 16, going 1:02 2/5 on the grass, the fastest of twelve times that day. Despite that, bettors were lured by Azzedine, dropping in for a tag for the first time after trying maiden special weights (and ignoring that MSWs at Monmouth Park are usually about as strong as high-priced MCLs at Saratoga), and made him the 7/5 favorite.
A dominant strategy if you are a jockey: try to get as advantageous of a pace setup as possible. Jose Ortiz did just that, going to the lead with his mount and setting a slow early tempo. Notably, the second quarter went in just 25.04 seconds, killing off the chances of any closer. Dominant Strategy kicked clear on the turn, and no one else had any chance as he drew off to victory, paying a generous $11.20. Big Agenda stalked the entire way around but couldn’t keep up with the winner, and held on to win a photo for second over Teryn it Up. Azzedine had no kick and finished fifth.
Race 5: Maiden Special Weight, 2yo, Fillies, 5 1/2 Furlongs
WINNER: 6, Lyrical Lady
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Phoenix Thoroughbred III, Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana
OFF ODDS: 6.90/1
FRACTIONS: 22.29, 45.49, 57.66, 1:04.24
Like sirens luring sailors to the rocks, the sight of a Todd Pletcher-trained firster at Saratoga will send bettors flocking to the windows. Here, he sent out Blahnik, a $575,000 purchase, to make her debut. She was the 6/5 favorite when the wagering settled. While it is a small sample size, astute horseplayers may have recalled last year, when Pletcher sent out two first-timers on opening weekend, and both bombed. If someone wanted to toss this really low-priced maiden because of that, they were bound to find value elsewhere.
Not many settled on Lyrical Lady, who went off at close to 7/1. She went eight to the lead and endured a challenge from Mertz, making her first start since May 19. The two of them pulled clear on the turn, with only Mott’s debuter Teletype in pursuit. As they turned for home, Lyrical Lady put away Mertz and drew away from the rest, opening up three lengths by the eighth pole. She coasted to the wire well in front, rewarding those who looked towards another first-time starter for their wagers.
That’s not to say Blahnik ran badly, though. She checked hard at the start, then was rushed four-wide on the far turn. Unsurprisingly, she flattened out and wound up a distant last. While she will almost certainly be bet to the moon next time, it is a debut worth keeping in mind.
As for the others: She’s Got a Shot, a Lukas second-time starter, was sent off at an improbably high 21/1, despite Lukas’s good record with second-timers at Saratoga. She saved ground the whole way and rallied well late to score second, keying a $143.50 exacta. Winandyourin Gin, for the Mark Casse contingent, closed furiously late to get third.
Race 6: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, 6 1/2 Furlongs
WINNER: 3, Hay Field
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: James Riccio, Jeremiah Englehart, Joe Bravo
OFF ODDS: 8.00/1
FRACTIONS: 22.13, 44.75, 1:09.70, 1:16.25
It was a wide-open race on paper, and without much else to go on, bettors flocked towards Miss Mimosa, a Mott trainee who went off as the 8/5 favorite. No one thought much of Hay Field, who won a n/w2x allowance against NY-bred company a few days prior.
At the start, Palladian Bridge, who acted up behind the gate before the race, went right to the lead, instantly encountering a stiff challenge from Dancing All Night, making her first start in almost a year. Despite a host of pursuers throughout the race, Palladian Bridge held sway turning for home. Hay Field finally got going in the last eighth of a mile, and powered on by to win her fourth race of the year, and proving horses don’t always need long layoffs to run well. Dancing All Night grinded past Palladian Bridge late to steal second. That mare will be one to watch next time; she ran big first off the long break.
Race 7: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, NY-bred, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 12, Giant Zinger
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Team Penney Racing, Bill Mott, Junior Alvarado
OFF ODDS: 4.20/1
FRACTIONS: 23.77, 47.89, 1:11.70, 1:35.79, 1:41.73
As noted many times in this very column, Mott/Alvarado on the grass is a potent combination on the grass. The duo sent out Giant Zinger here, who broke her maiden first off the layoff by a head bob. She earned a brisnet figure of 82 in that race, and considering her peak as a 2-year-old was an 83, it was not unreasonable to think she would take another step forward here. The public went towards Myhartblongstodady, though, sending her away as the 5/2 favorite.
Giant Zinger got the job done, but once again, she won by inches. She raced in the three-path throughout, pouncing in the stretch. She had a slight jump over Myhartblongstodady, who closed at about the same time as her rival. The two came flying down to the wire, and hit it together in a very close photo. The camera disclosed that Giant Zinger got her nose down just in time; had the race been a few inches longer, the head bob would probably have gone the way of Myhartblongstodady. As it were, though, Giant Zinger is now undefeated as a three-year-old, while Mott/Alvarado add another one in the win column. Way Smart, running for the third time on a season and a three-time loser at the level, closed mildly in the stretch to finish third, just clear of 43/1 bomb Unbridledadventure.
Race 8: Schuylerville Stakes, 2yo, Fillies, 6 Furlongs
WINNER: 1, Catherinethegreat
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: John Oxley, Mark Casse, Jose Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 3.20/1
FRACTIONS: 21.78, 44.64, 56.92, 1:09.98
In a salty field of mostly impressive maiden winners, Catherinethegreat stuck out like a sore thumb. She crushed the field at Gulfstream Park last out, winning by ten lengths and earning a very fast brisnet figure of 92. That was eight points higher than anyone else had run last out. However, many people believed that she couldn’t run as fast on a dry surface. The public’s choice was Nonna Madeline, who went off as the 8/5 favorite on the strength of a sharp maiden win at Monmouth Park. Her figure of 84 was the fastest last-out dry track number in the field of ten.
Catherinethegreat went off at 3/1 after getting some late action, and ran as if that price was a bargain. She went right to the front and set blazing early fractions, including a torrid half-mile. Despite that pace, Catherinethegreat only looked stronger as the race got longer, pouring it on in the stretch to win easily. The final time is very impressive for horses of her caliber, and indicates that she may have a bright future ahead of her.
Nonna Madeline got a great trip stalking that leader on the rail, and angled two-wide into the stretch looking ready to roll. She wasn’t able to keep up with the winner, and just held off Maryland invader Congrats Gal for second.
Race 9: Lake George Stakes, 3yo, Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles (Mellon Grass)
WINNER: 3, Daddy is a Legend
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Jim and Susan Hill, George Weaver, Manny Franco
OFF ODDS: 1.65/1
FRACTIONS: 23.92, 47.71, 1:10.92, 1:34.27, 1:40.42
Going into this race, 2018 had been the year of “close, but no cigar” for Daddy is a Legend. She had been close in three graded stakes races this year, but didn’t have a win to her name on the year coming in here. She was the only graded stakes winner in the field, however, having won the Jimmy Durante Stakes at Del Mar at age 2. That was one of the main reasons she went off as the favorite.
There was some concern that Punked, second in the Wild Applause Stakes last out, would once again be pace-compromised, with the apparent lack of early speed on paper. Javier Castellano took matters into his own hands, sending his mount right to the lead. Goodthingstaketime, third-place in the Penn Oaks, sat a perfect trip and pounced on the turn, while Chad Brown trainee Altea looked like a strong threat with a bold move on the turn. Daddy is a Legend, however, angled inside as they turned for home, and kicked by Altea to win it. Goodthingstaketime flattened out badly after that burst of energy and ended up finishing a clear third.
Race 10: Claiming $40,000 (n/w2L), 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 6, Cape Angel
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Anthony Damiano, Joe Sharp, Jose Lezcano
OFF ODDS: 9.70/1
FRACTIONS: 22.80, 47.27, 1:11.84, 1:35.97, 1:42.00
It was almost impossible to have a strong opinion in a field like this, especially when one of the favorites, Prognostication, scratched. County Court, dropping from the n/w1x allowance level, was the slight 3/1 favorite.
55/1 shot Foolish Ghost, running on grass for the first time, set the pace early, and was still in front turning for home. Dark Energy made a bold move entering the stretch and seized control, opening up a clear advantage as they neared the wire. If you had in-race betting in this one, 1/10 would have been an overlay on Dark Energy as they passed the eighth pole.
As they approached the wire, however, Dark Energy’s stride started to shorten. Meanwhile, Cape Angel, making his first start since breaking his maiden at Suffolk Downs last September, came absolutely roaring on the outside, gaining on the leader with every step. In the last few strides, he rolled past Dark Energy and won by a neck, with the margin growing ever more as they ran. It was a very tough beat if you had Dark Energy, but a heart-stopping way to end the day if you had Cape Angel. I wonder if the people who hit the late pick 5 for almost $11,000 used Cape Angel, but not Dark Energy. That had to be a trip.