Key Races & Bets for Saturday, August 24
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Personal Ensign Stakes – Race 9 at Saratoga- Post Time 4:12 PM Eastern
There’s a time to play favorites, particularly when they help turn multi-race bets like the pick three into the equivalent of a daily double, and that’s the case here as Midnight Bisou should not lose if she runs as she did in either the Ogden Phipps in June or in the Molly Pitcher last month. In both cases, Mike Smith was sitting on a powder keg in the last quarter mile and barely needed to give her a cue before she accelerated and won. Perhaps there were lesser quality horses in those two races compared to what she faces here but right now, Midnight Bisou is an “alpha” horse and refuses to lose. If she’s in form she wins.
I’ve been a big fan of Elate before she missed by a head in the C.C.A. Oaks over the track two summers ago then crushing the Alabama and Beldame. In the C.C.A. Oaks she probably would have won but Mike Smith, aboard Abel Tasman, kept her inside and intimidated on the rail. The next time she met Abel Tasman was in last year’s running of this race, and once again Smith “race rode” Ortiz enough to win by a neck. Then Elate finished second to Midnight Bisou twice this year in her first and second starts as a five year old and even though she won the Fleur de Lis and Delaware Handicap since then, the fact Midnight Bisou has her number and just as importantly the fact Smith is one of the best at knowing what to do during a race, Elate is unlikely to win in my opinion.
There’s some value in a couple of others under Midnight Bisou for exactas and the trifecta, most notably Coach Rocks, who finished second to Midnight Bisou in the Molly Pitcher at six to one but who opens at 20 to 1 here, and also Golden Award, who has run two big races in a row at this nine furlong trip including the Shuvee last month over the track.
Bets: The most important bet in this race is the pick 3, because it’s the bet to make instead of a win bet on a prohibitive favorite like Midnight Bisou. I like two tickets in this sequence:
Race 9 Midnight Bisou
Race 10 Channel Cat, Ya Primo, Annals of Time, Channel Maker
Race 11 Mucho Gusto, Tax
Race 9 Midnight Bisou
Race 10 Channel Cat, Ya Primo, Annals of Time, Channel Maker
Race 11 Mucho Gusto, Tax, Owendale, Code of Honor, Highest Honors, Tacitus
Exacta: Midnight Bisou over Coach Rocks and Golden Award.
Trifecta: Midnight Bisou over Elate, Coach Rocks and Golden Award over Elate, Coach Rocks and Golden Award.
Sword Dancer Stakes – Race 10 at Saratoga – Post Time 4:49 PM Eastern
As usual, or as it seems is always the case, Chad Brown has a bunch of horses in this race, three to be exact. Two of them – Proven Reserves and Annals of Time, are both owned by Klaravich Stables and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why Proven Reserves was entered as he’s still eligible for the first allowance level. Then I realized there’s NO Early Pace in this race so it’s highly likely Proven Reserves is entered as a “Rabbit” to insure a decent pace for his stablemate. However, rabbits often assist other horses, and that’s why I am giving Ya Primo slight preference here because, unlike Annals of Time, Ya Primo has won at this marathon 12 furlong trip. Winner of three straight graded stakes races in his native Chile, Ya Primo took four months to acclimate before making his U.S. debut in the Bowling Green Stakes over the course at 11 furlongs last month. After some early trouble, Ya Primo rallied but could not hold off Channel Cat, who had led from the start. Trying to keep that scenario from occurring again is EXACTLY the reason Brown entered Proven Reserves here, to go with Channel Cat from the start and keep him honest so he isn’t allowed to crawl on the lead as he did in the Bowling Green. Likely to improve nicely second off the layoff and tied for the best last Equibase figure (118) in the field, Ya Primo could earn his first grade 1 win in the Northern Hemisphere to go along with his Group 1 win in Chile last March.
Annals of Time made his second start off a long 21 month layoff a winning one last month, over the course, three days before Ya Primo ran, earning a 108 figure which can be improved upon again. As a three year old in the fall of 2016, Annals of Time won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in only the fourth start of his career, then took nine months off and won again before the long layoff he came back from in June. He’s a supremely talented horse and it must be noted BOTH he and Ya Primo put in the same TWO workouts coming into this race, both on the Saratoga turf, on August 9 and 16 so they could come together at the wire here.
Channel Cat and Channel Maker round out a quartet of contenders for bets we make involving this race. Channel Cat may not need the lead to win as he did last time out, because he won the Bald Eagle Derby last September when second for the first six furlongs, four lengths behind the leader. However, since this race looks devoid of early speed on paper, unless Brown tips his hand or Pletcher (who trains Channel Cat) figures it out, they will use the same tactics which worked last month in the Bowling Green. However, if Proven Reserves is sent to the lead, Channel Cat is capable of repeating his Bald Eagle Derby effort and can stalk the pacesetter and perhaps hold off the pair of Brown runners. Channel Maker was beaten less than a length in a blanket finish in the Bowling Green, which he won last year before a runner-up effort in this race. Rosario rides him well and he too can lay close up early so has a shot to make the last run and win.
Bets: Ya Primo to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Exactas: Box Ya Primo, Annals of Time, Channel Cat and Channel Maker.
Play the King Stakes – Race 9 at Woodbine – Post Time 5:28 PM Eastern
Admiralty Pier NEVER HAD A CHANCE to run in the stretch in his last race, a $100K classified allowance which two of the other five come out of. Winner Silent Poet was ridden marvelously by Boulanger as he protected the rail the entire lane and El Tormenta closed outside for second while Admiralty Pier was hopelessly trapped. He gets a jockey change to Contreras and although leading rider Da Silva gets off, Contreras knows how to ride the colt as he was aboard for an eighth to first rallying win in the Display Stakes aboard the horse in the fall of 2017. With two nice workouts coming into this race and making his second start after five months off, Admiralty Pier can spring the slight upset and make us money as he opens at 6 to 1.
Bets: Admiralty Pier to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Travers Stakes – Race 10 at Saratoga – Post Time 5:44 PM Eastern
I’ve been lucky enough to catch a couple of upset winners in the Travers Stakes in two of the past five years in Catholic Boy and V. E. Day and I’m hopeful to have the same success with Tax or Mucho Gusto this year, as the pair look to have the bulk of the probability to succeed even in this deep and talented field. I’ll give Tax the slightest preference of the two, given that he won the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga last month. Earning a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, Tax showed excellent tactical speed while stalking the pacesetter in second during the early stages. Taking the lead with about a quarter mile to run, Tax then dug in to hold off Tacitus by three-quarters of a length in very good fashion. Earlier this year, Tax proved himself at the level with a win in the Withers Stakes before finishing second behind Tacitus in the Wood Memorial. After a no-excuse 15th place effort in the Kentucky Derby, Tax stalked the pacesetter in second in the Belmont Stakes from the start before tiring to fourth. Since the Jim Dandy, Tax has shown he is in even better physical condition, with a sensational half-mile workout at Saratoga eight days ago which was the best of 64 that day at the distance. The mile and one-quarter distance is of no concern either as Tax is a son of Arch, whose sons and daughters (according to a STATS Race Lens query) have won or placed in three of six races at the classic distance to date, including 2019 Suburban Stakes winner Preservationist. As such, and with the second leading jockey at the Saratoga meet, Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle, I think we will see Tax running the best race of his career to win the Travers.
Mucho Gusto shipped cross-country from trainer Bob Baffert’s base at Del Mar following a strong five furlong workout on August 19 in 59.2 which was the best of 46 on the day and impressed Baffert enough to make the trip. Having won the Travers back-to-back in 2016 with Arrogate and 2017 with West Coast, Baffert certainly knows when a horse in his care is good enough for this race. Mucho Gusto has never finished worse than third in eight races. His most recent effort, when second in the Haskell Invitational on July 20, was his best yet as he earned a 107 figure and was eight lengths clear of the third horse while beaten a length and one-quarter by Maximum Security. That being his fourth straight race in which he improved his figure, Mucho Gusto also appears likely to run even better in the Travers than he did in the Haskell, setting up what could be a memorable battle with Tax in the stretch.
About some of the others:
Tacitus has run very consistently all year, with 105, 106, 107, 103 and 105 figures. In two of those races, the Jim Dandy and the Wood Memorial, Tacitus had significant trouble at the start. He overcame the trouble to win the Wood Memorial but only managed second in the Jim Dandy and some people feel he might have won without stumbling at the start in that race. Blinkers go on for the Travers and although Bill Mott is undoubtedly one of the best trainers around, I have concerns about an equipment change for a big race such as this one, particularly as a STATS Race Lens query tells us Mott’s record with adding blinkers for the first time is 4-for-78 in the past two years. As such, I will consider Tacitus a contender to finish second or third but not as a win contender in this race.
Similarly, Code of Honor appears to be a cut below Tax and Mucho Gusto in that he earned a 101 figure winning the Dwyer Stakes in early July. Prior to that, Code of Honor finished third in the Derby then was moved up to second via the disqualification of Maximum Security, earning a 108 figure. He’s certainly proven competitive at the top level in the division but even a repeat of his effort in the Dwyer doesn’t appear good enough to beat either Tax or Mucho Gusto if they repeat their most recent efforts, and certainly not if they improve upon them.
Owendale earned a 114 figure winning the Ohio Derby in June, which is the best figure earned by any horse in the Travers field. However, the time off between that race and the Travers is a concern in that physical condition is a key to running well at this mile and one-quarter distance. However, with his late running style, Owendale is likely to be last or nearly so in the early stages of the Travers and could pass many tired horses in the last quarter mile to get in the money.
Highest Honors is one more who may have a say in the minor awards. He has finished first or second in all three races including winning the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga last month. The 102, 96 and 101 figures he has earned are decent enough but there’s no pattern suggesting improvement and no suggestion he can jump up to the level needed to win the race.
Bets: Mucho Gusto and Tax to win at 2 to 1 or more.
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Exactas: Mucho Gusto and Tax over Mucho Gusto, Tax, Owendale, Highest Honors, Code of Honor and Tacitus.
Mucho Gusto, Tax, Owendale, Highest Honors, Code of Honor and Tacitus over Mucho Gusto and Tax.
Trifectas: Mucho Gusto and Tax over Mucho Gusto and Tax over ALL.
Mucho Gusto and Tax over ALL over Mucho Gusto and Tax.