HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, August 24, 2023 – If your favorite handicapper approaches you and says he knows who’s going to win the Race of the Year with certitude, don’t believe him. Race shape and tactics will decide it and, at this posting, that’s not knowable.
The term “play it off the break” was never more apt. It’s extremely where when the race goes through the co-longest chance on the early line, Scotland at 12-1, but that’s the case here.
Does he run with speedy Preakness winner National Treasure early on, or take back a bit and sit off his flank? Why would his connections give up a chance to make upset history? Jim Dandy all over again.
If there is a contested pace, Forte will be sitting in the garden after Irad Ortiz encourages him to break sharply then ease his way into a comfortable position off the fence.
In that scenario, it’s likely Mage would track them, not too far off Forte’s hindquarters, with Arcangelo tracking all the major contenders until Javier Castellano, Mr. Travers, gives the big gray his cue.
If the pace gets out of hand early, Tapit Trice, if allowed to make one-run instead of being tip-toed for position, is capable of making a successful late run in his new blinkers.
Forte—presently the best three-year-old, and Arcangelo—who has a license to become the division’s best, will be at the top of my vertical plays. We’re picking Forte to win the Travers.
In the remaining slots, it’s those two, of course, with Mage and the blinker-less National Treasure in the second and third slots, with ALL horses to complete the superfecta.
Pressing the issue, trifectas with Forte and Arcangelo first, over each other with Mage and National Treasure underneath.
THE SKINNY ON MULTI RACE SEQUENCES
Led by the most anticipated Midsummer Derby of the modern era, Travers Stakes day offers handsful of established and would-be stars.
Indeed, the small-field trend in major Saratoga stakes continues but handicappers will be hard pressed to find a layover single in the five multi-race sequences offered from race seven through the race 13 finale.
There are two five-horse fields and two seven-horse lineups within the seven races referenced but the heavy early line favorites will face the strong challengers lined up against them.
Thumbnail Sketches of races seven through 13, providing a short overview of a few the more prominent contenders:
G1 FOREGO Pick 6 Race 7
The Skinny: Five-horse field is reduced to two contenders; any other result would be a scoop of the first order: Assuming a clean break, Gunite (6-5) is the speed of the speed. Narrowly beaten by the country’s top-ranked Thoroughbred, Elite Power (1-2), it took a career best to get that job done.
Virtually, the exact scenario exists here and we believe the added furlong out of the G1 Vanderbilt could allow Gunite to flaunt his speed without the same intense early pressure—and he gets six pounds, 118 to 124, from the favorite. They figure thisclose.
Alllowances Mandatory Pick 5 Race 8
The Skinny: Chaos will reign; standard operating procedure in turf sprints. Course condition is unknown at this posting, with some precipitation promised for Thursday and Friday. It was dry and firm the last two days.
What makes this race particularly vexing is there are a number layup returnees, turf debut types, and horses in various stages of their form cycle. Educated guessing and spreading contenders will be in vogue.
Those who peeked our curiosity are Talkin Pharoah (6-1)—very hard used in turf debut in his lone grass start at 2—now returns to the grass for Linda Rice; 2-for-2 since her APR 14 claim.
Highly Flammable (9-2) returns in logical spot following his winning turf debut on this course, at this trip. He’s responded to Javier Castellano’s recent handling.
Southern Horse (7-2) makes his Spa debut, his first start for David Jacobson. If set for best, the mini-turnback to 5-1/2 furlongs should accentuate his strong late foot; gets Irad.
Finally, AE-Souper Quest (3-1) was an excellent second in his season’s debut for Mark Casse adding first-Lasix and returns with favorable spacing. Should he draw in, he would be Irad’s first call.
GI ALLEN JERKENS Pick 4 & Late Pick 5 Race 9
The Skinny: Four of the six entered could win this. Turnback Verifying (4-1) has the right style to handle today’s sprint trip with plenty of speed setting the table for the Cox/Prat team. Fort Bragg (5-2), an extremely talented miler, comes from the rapidly run Dwyer score and another suited by the shorter trip.
New York Thunder (5-2) has quite the varied resume, winning on three disparate surfaces. His last in the G2 Amsterdam was his best, making two moves on the lead, repulsing a turn challenge, then separating himself from rivals despite fast fractions and staying on his left lead until the dance was done.
Arabian Lion (2-1) is the quintessential Baffert speedster–fast but with a strong late kick as he demonstrated taking the G1 Woody Stephens. Outside slip and Johnny makes him the one to fear most.
G1 BALLERINA Pick 4 Race 10
The Skinny: An eight-horse field in which champions collide. Will it be the speedy Echo Zulu, or the strong tactical finisher, Goodnight Olive?
If Echo Zulu (7-5) runs her G2 Honorable Miss back, all will be running for the minors. Her outside draw gives Florent Geroux options, stalk a speedy pretender or control the race from the start. She’s 3-for-3 at Saratoga and 2-for-3 at the trip with a placing.
Goodnight Olive (9-5) is a champion whose consistency is her best virtue. She’s looking for her third Spa score without a defeat and is an amazing distance specialist, winning 6-for-7 at the trip with a show finish. Positioned just outside the early favorite, Irad likely will pull the string on the turn and the battle will be joined.
G1 SWORD DANCER Race 11
The Skinny: Unlike the Travers, not one of the stronger renewals of this Grade 1. Chris Clement has an uncoupled pair in this seven-horse lineup.
Soldier Rising (5-1) lacks a winning PPs profile but always competes and knows how to distribute his energy efficiently; that will help on a course cut by recent rains. Stone Age (6-5) was second in last year’s BC Turf then left the country and was unplaced twice. Has a class edge for sure but lacks good recent form.
Bolshoi Ballet (5-1) always always brings his ‘A’ game but not as reliably as in the past. Still Aidan O’Brien and Johnny will not be ignore. Pioneering Spirit (8-1) was scratched from the list John’s Call and entered here at a more favorable trip. Razor sharp and 4-for-4 in blinkers, he owns the best recent form and gets Irad.
Maiden Allowances Race 13
The Skinny: Chaos will reign in the finale to all live sequences as a gate-load of non-winners for three year olds and up go one mile on the inner turf–if indeed turf races, with the exception of the Sword Dancer, go as scheduled on grass.
The most likely suspects are a coupled pair from Chad Brown, and two others with promising winning form. Right To Win (7-5) returns fresh with blinkers added off two good-figure efforts; mate Growth Capital (7-5) makes his first start in a year and never had run a poor race; 4YO vs 3s and gets Irad.
Prior to recent off-the-turfer, Fly Right (3-1) had two very good seconds in quickly run grass routes and gets Javier. Torigo (6-1) jumped up big time in three year old debut, showing expected improvement from 2 to 3.
this is a live column and will be updated throughout the weekend