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Odds & Picks at Saratoga August 1: Personal Ensign Handicap, Bowling Green Stakes & More

Midnight Bisou
While Saturday's Feature Race at Saratoga is the Whitney, Midnight Bisou is the most accomplished horse running. She competes in The Personal Ensign Stakes. Photo by @HR_Nation (Twitter).
  • Saratoga’s Whitney Stakes undercard Saturday is filled with high-quality races
  • Midnight Bisou will be a tough customer in The Personal Ensign Stakes
  • Can you beat Midnight Bisou? Where can we find wagering value Saturday a The Spa?

This Saturday and next are the two biggest days of racing at Saratoga in 2020. While The Whitney Stakes this weekend, and Travers Stakes next take center stage, the track builds tremendous programs around the feature attractions.

In addition to The Whitney, there are two grade one attractions on Saturday, a grade two, and the card wraps up with a $200,000 stakes race. All in all it is a terrific card with high level and mostly competitive races.

It is debatable how competitive the grade one Personal Ensign is. Older fillies and mares will race one-mile-and-an-eighth but there is a serious question of whether anybody is good enough to derail Midnight Bisou. She’ll be a huge favorite, meaning if you can find an upset it will pay well.

Let’s look closely at the Personal Ensign, and glance at the other big attractions Saturday in upstate New York.

2020 Personal Ensign Handicap Odds

Horse Odds at Bet365
Midnight Bisou -300
Point of Honor +400
Vexatious +900
Motion Emotion +1600
Abounding Joy +6600
Bossy Bride +6600

Odds taken July 31

Fox Sports 2 will have coverage of The Personal Ensign with post time scheduled for 3:28 pm EST. Midnight Bisou is looking to become the first horse in 20 years to win the event in back-to-back years. There is only a 10-percent chance of rain with temperatures expected to be in the mid and high 80’s.

Top Candidates

The defending champ is as tough as they get. Midnight Bisou has 13 wins in 21 career starts and is eight for 10 since the start of 2019. Her loses are by just over a length in the Breeders Cup Distaff, and by less than a length against the boys in the $20 million Saudi Cup. After falling to Maximum Security in the Middle East, she made a joke of a decent field at the end of June at Churchill Downs.

Midnight Bisou’s regular rider Mike Smith is not able to ride at Saratoga this year because he spends most of his time at Del Mar and jockey’s aren’t allowed in and out of The Spa because of COVID-19. Rafael Santana will be aboard for the first time. Midnight Bisou has one win, a place, and a show in three tries at Saratoga.

The rest of the field is less decorated but there are at least a couple of intriguing options.

The Figs Fit for Point of Honor

Beyer Speed Figures are a catch-all handicapping tool that assess how well a horse runs in a race taking into effect level of competition, track bias, course conditions, time of the race, and many other factors. Point of Honor ran a 95 finishing third at Oaklawn Park in April and followed it up with a 94 at Belmont Park in June. While those are the two best marks of her career, and Midnight Bisou has hit 100 or more on six occasions, last time out Bisou ran a 93, and three of her last five marks are 91, 92, and 93. That makes Point of Honor very viable.

Point of Honor often settles, finishing second four times in nine races, but she’s an improving four-year-old and another leap makes her an interesting proposition.

Veteran Vexatious hasn’t won since 2018, but has she been running in the wrong races? For most of 2018 and 2019 she was racing on turf. Last time out on dirt, at 15/1, she popped a 100 Beyer in a runner up performance.

A repeat of that effort would make Vexatious a player on Saturday. Her only career race at Saratoga, on the dirt last summer, she posted a 95 Beyer losing to top-notch Blue Prize by a neck.

Saratoga’s Other Big Races Saturday

The Bowling Green Stakes

This three turn turf route for older horses is a grade two event that has been won by trainers Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott four times each. Mott sends out Channel Maker, who like four of the seven horses entered ran in July’s Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park.

Channel Maker finished fourth, just behind Sadler’s Joy who returns to today’s lineup. Cross Border was a very close fifth in that race, while Dot Matrix was eighth. Cross Border returned to the track July 22 and crushed a four-horse field in a minor stakes at Saratoga.

Pletcher is stepping Pillar Mountain up in class to try stakes horses. He didn’t fair well against better competition last year and was just so so in his 2020 debut on June 20 at Belmont.

In addition to Cross Border, turf specialist trainer Mike Maker sends Marzo to the gate. Off since March, he has doesn’t often win, but has been competitive with horses running in this race before, and scored at 15/1 last October at Keeneland.

The Allen Jerkens Stakes

No Parole should be the favorite among this large group of three-year-olds going seven furlongs. No Parole is five for six in his career and his graded stakes debut was a dandy on June 20.

So what happens if No Parole doesn’t get the early lead? It has only happened once in his career, and he finished eighth. Tap It to Win is cutting back and likely will be battling at the front. He’s capable of winning though but was no match for Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes. Even if Tap It to Win doesn’t go coast-to-coast, he could be a problem for No Parole who wants to control the tempo.

Bob Baffert’s Eight Rings is making just his second start since November. He finished behind Echo Town at Oaklawn Park in April. That pair plus the pricey Shoplifted, and lightly raced Three Technique could all be coming down the stretch if the pace is hot early.

The Caress Stakes

Baffert is trying to find the right race for Mother Mother. Is this turf sprint what the highly touted but disappointing four-year-old wants? She has three wins in 14 races, has hit the board 10 times, but never has run on the grass.

Sweet Bye and Bye has been off since January and is cutting back from two-turn races but has the speed figures to win this one.

Though she doesn’t scream “classy,” the versatile Cariba makes a lot of sense. Trainer Christophe Clement has been hot early in the Saratoga meet, and this horse is second off a layoff having won a turf sprint, turf route, and dirt route. She is stepping up to face better horses in her stakes debut.

Since shifting to sprints Dalika has a win and a place in two 2020 tries against similar competition.

I’llhandaltehcash is another sensible option, coming off a stakes win, in a wide-open field.

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