What a difference a few weeks makes.
Just two weeks ago in this space I was advising fans to sit on their wallets and watch Arrogate walk over an overmatched field in the San Diego Stakes (G2) at Del Mar.
Now we’re left to wonder if the Classic division, that former island of stability, is suddenly up for grabs after the Great One threw in a clunker and finished fourth behind Accelerate.
The next chapter likely will be written Aug. 19 in the Pacific Classic (Grade 1) at Del Mar, but this weekend we can look for some clues as to whether there’s a new world order in the Whitney Stakes (G2) at Saratoga.
Gun Runner, 4-year-old son of Candy Ride whose record since last summer would be nearly spotless if he hadn’t had the misfortune of running against Arrogate twice, is the 4-5 morning line favorite in the 1 1/8 mile race on the main track.
He’s deserving of favoritism, but this doesn’t look like a walkover.
Keen Ice, the 2015 Travers Stakes winner who had not won in nearly a year, suddenly found a spark and comfortably won the Suburban Stakes at Belmont on July 8. He signaled that turnaround with a pair of uncharacteristic bullet works before the race and has continued to work well since.
War Story, who drew off to win the Brooklyn Invitational Stakes at Belmont in June, and the speedy Tu Brutus, who tired late in that race, add to the intrigue.
If the Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner can turn in his usual professional performance, he’ll win this race. Then we’ll have to wait two more weeks to find out if there is indeed a new division leader.
#RJhorseracing featured race
While the Whitney will generate interest, Saturday’s seventh race at Saratoga — the Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes — is a much more intriguing betting race.
The 1 1/16th mile turf race for 4-year-olds and up on the Mellon course drew a contentious field of 11, and that’s the kind of puzzle that gets the #RJhorseracing handicappers champing at the bit. We’re also handicapping the weather, as there is a good chance of rain in Saratoga Springs.
Our crowd ‘cappers this week favor the 9-5 favorite, Projected, who will break from the rail. The Chad Brown-trainee has been knocking on the door in graded stakes and looks primed for victory, says Mas Yoshinaga.
“Good recent form, C.Brown, gets rail and tries (jockey Javier) Castellano,” he wrote.
The voting on the other placings was tight, with No. 8 Ring Weekend (6-1 in the morning line) narrowly edging out No. 11 Camlot Kitten (9-2).
Ring Weekend is my pick. I’ll take him at 5-1 or higher and use in an exacta with live long shots Our Way (No. 4) and Fire Away (No. 10).
You’re invited to join the crowd ‘capping fun next week. Simply download free past performances for the featured race, courtesy of Equibase.com (reviewjournal.com/horseracing), unravel the puzzle and email me or post to Twitter (using the tag #RJhorseracing) your top three picks in order, a bit of analysis and your wagering strategy by 5 p.m. Thursday.
If I feature your thoughts when I update the column this evening, you’ll win a fabulous package of Review-Journal breath mints.
Another new wrinkle this week to encourage participation on Twitter. I’ll be posting after this week’s race a “lessons learned” post or two, which could include anything from pace or trip notes to discussing a handicapping angle that pointed out the winner.
I also encourage all to do the same, using the #RJhorseracing hashtag, so we can create a truly interactive forum where we can discuss and debate our contest races and handicapping in general.
Contact Mike Brunker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.
Ellis Starr’s analysis
Ring Weekend showed he’s approaching top form with a game runner-up effort when last seen in mid-June. With the winner having come back to win and returning to the Saratoga turf where he won the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap last summer, Ring Weekend gets slight preference in this race.
Projected opens at 9-5 odds, a bit too low in a 12 horse field as he’s not a standout. With two wins and five runner-up efforts in 11 career turf races, he’s proven competitive but either had found one better horse much of the time or may lack winning spirit. He’s the favorite because he drops from two graded stakes in a row to this restricted stakes but many in here are graded stakes winners and he is not. Nevertheless, from the rail and with Castellano riding, Projected must be considered a contender to be used at the least on exacta, trifecta and multi-race tickets (like the pick 3).
Vorticity opens at 30-1 mostly because he’s never run on turf. Certainly he fits at this level as he finished second last year in a pair of graded stakes on dirt, and he’s in top form coming off a sharp dirt sprint win. He’s run well around two turns so there is no concern about the distance, only the turf experience he may be giving away to others. However, as a 4 year old he’s not done maturing and as a son of Distorted Humor there’s no doubt he can run as well on the sod as he has on the dirt.
None of the other Lure Stakes entrants can be completely discounted so if the odds are right, bet!
Ring Weekend to win at 2-1 or higher. Also bet Vorticity across the board (win, place and show) at 7 to 1 or more.
Play an exacta of Projected, Vorticity and Ring Weekend over ALL.
Play an additional exacta of ALL over Vorticity.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.