Saratoga Weekend Preview – Woodward Weekend
After an eventful, exciting summer at the Saratoga Race Course, the 144th meet of this historic venue winds to a close this weekend. In one final attempt to hold off the coming reality, we preview each of the weekend's feature races.
Friday - Riskaverse: A 100K, mile-long Stakes race over the inner turf opens the weekend's features in Friday's eighth. Chad Brown's Dayatthespa has been installed as the morning-line, 7/5 favorite; and as the winner of three straight stakes races, it's hard to imagine another claiming that title. Her front-running ways are worrisome over an inner turf that can favor closers, and could provide a chance for the attractive prices on Assateague - who steps up in class after two straight wins - and Bill Mott's Alaura Michele. Still, Dayatthespa is the class here, Chad Brown has been lights out over the Saratoga grass this summer, and she should be the one to clip the wire first.
Saturday - Grade Two Bernard Baruch: Three graded stakes highlight Saturday's card, and are ushered in by the Grade Two Bernard Baruch Handicap. Shug McGaughey's Data Link will sit atop both the post parade and the morning-line, as the four year old colt who will break from the inside position has been installed the race's 7-5 favorite. The race won't set up perfectly for this John Velazquez mount, however, as the closer will likely have little pace at which to run. Still, with his biggest competition represented in the form of Dominus, a ridgling who's never run on the turf, he is a just favorite. Dominus will likely be the one to take up the mantle as pace-setter, so this Todd Pletcher trainee boasts a puncher's chance, but it's hard to trust solely pedigree when handicapping his turf chances. Perhaps Dale Romans' Guys Reward presents a more likely challenger having already collected a Grade Two win and shown the ability to close on a less than hot pace. Data Link is surely the legitimate favorite, but don't be surprised if he's challenged.
Saturday - Grade One Forego: The infinitely more competitive Grade One Forego Stakes - with no less than five Graded Stakes winners in this eight horse field - will follow. It's Dale Romans's Shackleford representing the 2-1 morning-line favorite in this seven furlong sprint, but talent is cheap in the field, and the former Preakness winner will have to battle for it. He certainly won't be given the early lead as he has in past wins, with the likes of Isn't He Perfect and Pacific Ocean likely to vie for such a slot. Romans said Thursday that he doesn't care if Shackleford takes the lead, so expect the colt to sit second or third early, with Pacific Ocean the most likely to be on the lead. Pressed by the favorite and Kiaran McLaughlin's Emcee - who McLaughlin said he'd like to see stalking Shackleford - expect the frontrunner to boast some quick fractions. As the field turns for home, I look for Emcee and Shackleford to break away from the field, but with the pace at the front, watch out for closers like Jackson Bend and Caixa Electronica. Given the set up of the race, I love the feisty Nick Zito trained Jackson Bend to close with a furious kick that could very well find him on top. D. Wayne Lukas' Hamazing Destiny is also an interesting choice given his likely price. He's 15-1 on the morning line, and that number will likely creep up. He hasn't been a prolific winner, but is consistently finishing near the front. As his price drifts up, look to bet this closer against a hot pace. In the end, though, Shackleford has "looked as good as he could look," according to Dale Romans, so he needs to be included at the betting window, but I'd look to play Emcee, and the closing run of Jackson Bend, as well. To me, the winner comes from one of those three.
Saturday - Grade One Woodward: The weekend's highlight comes next, in the form of the Grade One Woodward Stakes. The mile and an eighth dirt run will feature seven older horses, with Kathy Ritvo's Mucho Macho Man leading the field as the 8-5 favorite. A winner of four of his last five races, Mucho Macho Man has undeniably found his stride over the past twelve months and there's no reason to think it won't continue Saturday. This Saturday's feature figures to set up like a carbon copy of his last, with Trickmeister out to an early, quick lead. The favorite will likely sit just off that lead, stalking and waiting to make his move at the top of the stretch. His biggest challenge is likely to come from Bill Mott's To Honor and Serve, but bested by Ritvo's favorite his last time out, I don't expect a huge run. To me, this is Mucho Macho Man's race to lose (famous last words).
Sunday - Grade Three Saranac: The Grade Three Saranac will open Sunday's feature races, and it's Graham Motion's Lucky Chappy the early favorite. Running a mile and an eighth over the inner turf, this colt's closing style will help, especially when considering the speed that figures to be on display early. Given those tactics, and the fact that he just seems better raced and of a higher class than most of the field, Lucky Chappy is absolutely the just favorite. Excaper, who has spent much of his career in Canada, has a real shot at the upset - with eight races all within four lengths of the lead. He'll sit closer to the lead than Lucky Chappy, and the race will likely come down to which closing run can get it done first.
Sunday - Grade One Spinaway: The Grade One Spinaway will wrap up the season's weekend features in grand, exciting fashion. This seven furlong sprint for two-year-old fillies features four undefeated runners, and the authors of two of the more impressive finishes of the 2012 Saratoga meet. Teen Pauline set a track record in her July 25th Maiden romp, under a ride from Julien Leparoux that you'd struggle to classify as enthusiastic. Similarly, Dreaming of Julia claimed her first career start by more than ten lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher, and joins Teen Pauline as 7-5 favorites in the race. It's likely that only one will run on Sunday, but whichever does should be a prohibitive favorite. Whomever it is will be rivaled by Javier Castellano's mount, So Many Ways, who is the only horse in the field with a Graded Stakes win, and who won her only other start by an emphatic eight lengths. It's hard to say who wins this race, but heading in you can be sure of a few things: It's going to be fast, it's going to be fun, and it's likely to be damn impressive stuff.
Though it is certainly not for any want of mine, the Saratoga Race Course will close its historic doors on Monday, so let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who came along with me on this forty day journey. It is my hope that these articles have been an informative, fun look at a Capital Region tradition, past time, and love affair - if you'll permit me a bit of hyperbole. Good luck in the meet's final days, everyone! Cash often!