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Every week during the Saratoga meet, we will post early in the week a “jump start” on the Graded Stakes coming up at “The Spa.” This jump start will highlight the key probable horses from the nominations. These articles will try to start your week off right when approaching each week at the premiere meet in the United States.
We'll attempt to not “regurgitate” the Past Performances and “go beyond” to provide an early analysis of the graded stakes fields including: injury and insider news, trainer talk, trip notes from previous races, workout evaluations and links to key replays to evaluate for the big races.
Here's a look at Week 1:
Fri., Jul. 22 – Grade-3 Schuylerville (2-year old fillies, 6 furlongs dirt)
The Schuylerville is always a tough race to handicap with lightly raced juvenile fillies early in their careers able to jump up with a big performance or not show up at all as they learn to run.
Sweet Loretta put in a sharp four-furlong work over the Saratoga main track on July 16 denoting that she may be primed for this Schuylerville start.
Olive Branch (sired by Speightstown) looked like one of the top choices entered in the Astoria, but was scratched in the paddock when she decided that it would be a good idea to bust through the paddock portable rail! Trainer Rick Violette reported that she was not injured in the incident. She's one to watch as she's probable for Violette, who is always dangerous with juveniles this time of year.
Fri., Jul. 22 – Grade-2 Lake George (3-year old fillies, 1 & 1/16 mile turf)
Trainer Chad Brown won this race last year with Mrs. McDougal and looks like he has another strong hand to play this year. He has entered two fillies in this year's edition of the Lake George with Ancient Secret and Elysea's World.
Undefeated perfect 3-for-3, Ancient Secret will take a boatload of money as the top Chad Brown off her Wild Applause Stakes win on June 19 at Belmont.
Elysea's World was getting tons of hype before the Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont on June 5, but got a wide trip and could only muster a sixth-place finish, so will need to bounce back.
A filly that I have followed for almost a year is Graham Motion's Tin Type Gal, after she broke her maiden at Saratoga last year and went onto win the Grade-3 Ms. Grillo at Belmont. She had to scratch before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies last year with an illness. It took her a long time to come back to the track, but she popped up in the Wild Applause in June 19 as her 2016 debut. She got a ridiculously wide trip called 6 wide on the chart, but she may have been 8 wide into the stretch. She showed good foot late to get fifth, but should be sharper second off the bench and gets an extra 1/16 mile for her closing kick. Graham Motion was very high on her discussing Tin Type Gal on the Steve Byk show before the Breeders' Cup, so she is one to play at a price, but is only a possible for this race.
Other probables include Baciami Piccola; Irish import Diamond Fields; Gone Away; Outsider Art; last-out allowance winner Sky My Sky; and Try Your Luck.
Sat., Jul. 23 – Grade-3 Sanford (2-year olds, 6 furlongs dirt)
The Sanford is lining up to be a showdown between top juveniles Random Walk and Bronson. The hype machine was out in full force after Random Walk (sired by Super Saver) received a gaudy 90 Beyer Speed Figure in his debut maiden win at Belmont on June 3. That number is huge for a 2 year old this early in the year! Trained by Rick Violette, his Saratoga barn was abuzz with excitement after the win.
Todd Pletcher has a barn of top juvenile colts that he is ready to unleash at Saratoga, so it should be noted that Bronson (sired by Medaglia d'Oro) is the only nomination he made in this race (besides Silver Mission who ran third in the Rockville Center on July 16). Pletcher mentioned Bronson quickly when I started discussing his two-year olds, so there is no doubt he is a major contender and will take a ton of wagering dollars.
One item to note is that both Random Walk and Bronson put in their final works for the Sanford on the morning of Saturday, July 16. Bronson got experience over the Saratoga main track in his work while Random Walk worked at Belmont.
Other probables include Bitumen, Star Empire and Zartera. Talk Logistics and Thurman Merman are possible.
Sat., Jul. 23 – Grade-1 Diana (3-years old & up fillies & mares, 1 & 1/8 mile turf)
You'll see a theme in all turf stakes at Saratoga: Chad Brown will be entering multiple horses! Similar to the Lake George mentioned above, Brown may be entering four fillies and mares in the Grade-1 Diana.
The Brown-trained Dacita has been pointing to this top turf race for older fillies and mares at the meet. After nipping champion mare Tepin last year by a head to win the Grade-2 Ballston Spa at Saratoga in her U.S. debut, Dacita went on a three-race losing streak, but scored at Belmont on June 10 winning the Grade-2 New York Stakes.
Other fillies and mares that Brown may look to enter in the Diana include the aforementioned Mrs. McDougal and Rainha da Bateria, who ran third and seventh, respectively, in the Grade-1 Just a Game on June 11 at Belmont.
Chad Brown was quoted as saying on the Steve Byk show after the Just a Game that Rainha da Bateria is better around two-turns and was up against a speed-favoring hard turf track that didn't match her late closing kick. She closed nicely two back in the Grade-2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill (after moving from the Graham Motion barn) to get 2nd behind top turf mare Tepin. She's one to not forget underneath in exotic plays.
Speaking of Graham Motion, one of his favorite fillies, Miss Temple City ships back from a strong 4th at Royal Ascot. She beat the boys two back in the Grade-1 Maker's Mark Mile, so there is no doubt that she will take a good amount of money here, if not go off as the favorite.
The impressive winner of the Just a Game, Celestine, will try to add another Grade-1 win to her resume for Bill Mott in this spot, but trainer talk recently was that Mott wouldn't push Celestine into this spot if she wasn't ready.
Other probables in this star-laden affair are Grade 3 Eatontown winner Isabella Sings; 2015 Grade 1 Belmont Oaks runner-up Itsonlyactingdad; Grade-3 Beaugay winner Strike Charmer; and Grade 1 Gamely runner-up Wekeela (another Brown trainee). Recepta, who returned to get second in the Just A Game after a troubled trip in the Beaugay, is also probable. Lexie Lou for the Mark Casse barn is questionable.
Sun., Jul. 24 – Grade-1 Coaching Club American (CCA) Oaks (3-year old fillies, 1 & 1/8 mile dirt)
The weekend will be headlined by undefeated champion filly Songbird in the CCA Oaks. She returned to impressively win the Grade-2 Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita on June 18 after having to skip the Grade-1 Kentucky Oaks due to a fever.
Many have doubted the competition that Songbird has beaten this year on the West Coast. She will now ship cross-country and face a stern test in Grade-1 Acorn winner Carina Mia. Daily Racing Forum's Mike Vesce was quoted as saying that Carina Mia's bullet workout over the Saratoga Oklahoma training track on July 15 was one of the best works he had ever seen. Carina Mia looks primed to give Songbird here toughest race since she won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last year.
Pletcher has seven fillies nominated for the CCA Oaks and has said that he will enter at least one of them. With Rachel's Valentina pointed to the 7–furlong Test and Grade-1 Mother Goose winner Off The Tracks possibly skipping this race off short rest to go to the Grade-1 Alabama, Pletcher will choose from his “B-team” of Kinsley Kisses, Lost Raven, Mo d'Amour, Thrilled and Unbridled Mo. A recent NYRA press release has said that Off the Tracks, Unbridled Mo and Kinsley Kisses are possible, so it should be very interesting who Pletcher enters in the CCA Oaks.
Late closing Grade-1 Ashland winner Weep No More will look to bounce back after her seventh-place finish in the Grade-1 Kentucky Oaks for trainer Rusty Arnold.
Paolo Queen is another probable and may be a pace presence if she can keep up with Songbird and Carina Mia early. Another probable is Flora Dora.
Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for coverage opening weekend and throughout the Saratoga meet.
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