- The Travers Stakes undercard at Saratoga features five Grade 1 races
- Three of the stakes are Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In events
- How can we make money betting at The Spa on Saturday?
This is as good as it gets when it comes to fast horses in peak form and it goes down Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
When you think about the best horse racing of the year, the Kentucky Derby and it’s star studded undercard is great, but a lot of the entrants are really just starting their season. By the time the Breeders Cup comes around, some horses are out of gas. This year only Belmont Stakes Day in New York has had more grade 1 races than Saratoga features this Saturday.
The Travers is the main event, but don’t tell the horses running earlier in the day. They think they’d knock the socks off of Essential Quality if given an opportunity, and that isn’t ridiculous.
Right before The Travers is the $750,000 Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes. Let’s look carefully at the turf marathon, and then go over the rest of the big time attractions Saturday at The Spa.
2021 Sword Dancer Stakes Odds
Odds as of August 25th
A Breeders Cup Win and You’re In event for the BC Turf, the mile-and-a-half Sword Dancer has been run since 1975.
Sword Dancer was a Hall of Fame horse who won the Belmont Stakes after finishing as the runner up in the first two Triple Crown races. He won The Travers too, one of his 15 career victories.
Trainer’s Chad Brown and Bill Mott are each seeking their record fourth win in the Sword Dancer.
Post time is scheduled for 5:25 pm EST. Fox will air the race. The earlier graded stakes on the card will be on FS2.
One of Brown’s two entrants here, Tribhuvan was bred in France and ran across the pond until late in 2019. Though his first two races in America were unremarkable, he has won three of four.
He didn’t beat an amazing field at Monmouth last time out, and was a well beaten second in June on Belmont Stakes Day in New York. He rather easily has finished ahead of today’s rivals Gufo and stablemate Rockemperor recently. To some degree his quality is still unclear.
British bred Japan makes his North American debut after seven wins and 18 career races in Europe. He won as the favorite last time out in a Group 3 event in Ireland.
Trained by top European conditioner Aidan O’Brien, Japan was probably at his best when he finished fourth in the Arc de Triomphe in 2019. Since then he has been reasonably competitive against top horses, and beaten second tier opponents. Often times European racing at the top levels is better than what we have in America.
Cross Border almost always gives an honest effort and rarely gets bet abundantly. He was a good value at +620 when he scored in the Bowling Green.
That was Cross Border’s first win in a year. He loves Saratoga. The New York bred has won six of seven career races at The Spa and his only setback was a second place effort behind Channel Maker in last year’s Sword Dancer. That said, he has not won in five tries going a-mile-and-a-half.
Often times in horse racing there are question mark entries who have been off for a long time. How will they react to a freshening? Are they rested and ready to run, or do they need a race to get their legs under them. This race is just the opposite. Everyone has been on the track recently. The most well rested horse is Gufo, and that could be valuable.
After finishing a-length-and-a-quarter behind Tribhuvan, in third place, in June’s Manhattan Stakes, Gufo stretched out in distance and excelled in early July.
The youngest horse in the race at age four, Gufo has won a grade one race, and may sit a decent trip here. If Tribhuvan, Channel Maker, and Moretti engage in a speed duel, Gufo will be coming with a late kick. Even if the tempo isn’t super fast, Gufo had a lot of racing trouble in The Manhattan. Maybe he turns the tables on Tribhuvan at a decent price.
Mott won this race last year with Channel Maker, who went on to take the Turf Classic Invitational at Keeneland, and finished third in the Breeders Cup Turf.
At the age of seven, Channel Maker has been used as a cash crop this year. He was second in a $10 million race in Saudi Arabia, and didn’t do much running in a $5 million event in Dubai. After three months off he ran poorly at Saratoga, falling to Cross Border and Rockemperor in last month’s Bowling Green Stakes.
Horses often don’t run well after long international travel. If you give Channel Maker a mulligan for his last appearance, and chalk the two races in the Middle East up to trying to raise his career earnings, which now sit at more than $3.2 million, maybe he looks like the horse from last year on Saturday.
If you are betting the Pick 6, you probably need to cover several of these.
Pick: Japan (+450)
Other Grade 1 Races at Saratoga Saturday
The first of the All Grade 1 Pick 6 is the Ballerina Handicap (3:02 pm EST). A $500,000 seven furlong dirt race for girls, it features Gamine, arguably the most dominant horse in the USA right now. The $600,000 Forego Stakes (3:37 pm) is also seven furlongs, this time for older boys. Perhaps the most interesting race of the day is the $500,000 Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (4:12 pm).
The field of six three year olds sprinting seven furlongs includes six time winner Jackie’s Warrior, and the return of Life Is Good. He was the Kentucky Derby favorite early in 2021 before getting injured. The mile-and-an-eighth Personal Ensign Stakes (4:47pm) for fillies and mares is highlighted by 15 time winner Letruska.
A berth in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Sprint is on the line when six competitors try to do the near impossible, beat Gamine.
While the Pick 6 is a very hard bet, essentially a six race parlay, if you think Gamine is a cinch in this race, and Essential Quality is locked and loaded in the Travers, it becomes a much more manageable sequence.
Gamine has never lost in a race contested at one turn. She was upset in the Kentucky Oaks last year. That was a-mile-and-an-eighth event that saw Shedaresthedevil set a 100 year old stakes record in beating her.
Last time out Gamine romped facing a weak field in Southern California. What we saw on Derby Day at Churchill Downs could be more of what this looks like.
On paper there doesn’t look like a horse that really wants to press Gamine early on and perhaps weaken her for the stretch drive. That said, can Sconsin and Estilo Talentoso really allow a repeat of the race above to take place?
If one of them makes an early move, maybe Ce Ce can pick up the pieces late. She’s the only other $1 million earner in this field, and is coming off a decisive win over Estilo Talentoso. Like Gamine, Ce Ce prefers one turn races.
Half of this eight horse field ran last time at Saratoga in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt Stakes. Mischevious Alex was the favorite, but wasn’t feeling right and ran very poorly. At +3400 Lexitonian shocked everyone.
Lexitonian entered The Vanderbilt without a win in more than a year, and only one career graded stakes victory. That was against three year olds at Pimlico in 2019.
Whitmore finished third to Lexitonian. The eight year old hasn’t won since an upset victory in the Breeders Cup. He really prefers The Vanderbilt’s six furlong distance to this extra eighth of a mile challenge.
Mind Control was going good late in 2019 and early in 2020 but hit the skids last summer. He finished third in this race last year, and regularly has been beaten by participants in this race. That said, he won a Grade 2 stakes at Belmont in July and posted the best speed figure of his career. Maybe his form is on the uptick.
Yaupon was four-for-four entering the Breeders Cup Sprint last year. He ran eighth in that race, more than six lengths behind Whitmore. In March he didn’t make much of an impact in a $15 million race in Dubai. On July 4 he beat a small and overmatched field at Pimlico.
In the Pick 6 this is a “spread” race. You need to pick a bunch of them, maybe all of them, and hope for a longshot. If you give a mulligan to Mischevious Alex, who had a horse version of hiccups while racing last time, he feels like the most logical winner in a wide open event.
Pick: Mischevious Alex
Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes
Life Is Good didn’t feel like a solid Kentucky Derby horse late last year and into early 2021, he felt like a realistic Triple Crown winner.
When last seen Life Is Good was beating Medina Spirit, who won the Run for the Roses, by eight lengths. That was March. Injuries derailed the $525,000 son of Into Mischief. At that point he was trained by Bob Baffert, but now Todd Pletcher is handling Life is Good. Will we get the A-effort in his first start back? Doe he need it?
Before Life Is Good was the 2021 Derby favorite, Jackie’s Warrior was. He started his career four-for-four, but it became obvious this winter he was a sprinter.
In one-turn races Jackie’s Warrior is six-for-seven. She avenged the lone setback, against Drain the Clock, last time out.
If you are playing the Pick 6 safe, you probably need to use Life Is Good, Jackie’s Warrior, and Drain the Clock. The first two more than likely will do the trick.
Pick: Life Is Good
Personal Ensign Stakes
A Breeders Cup Win and You’re In race for the BC Distaff, this comes down to how you feel about Letruska. Is she as obvious a favorite as Gamine and Essential Quality? Letruska has won 15 of 20 career races.
A winner of three straight, the best three races of her career, Letruska has been off for two months. She may face pace pressure in this race from Miss Marissa or As Time Goes By.
If Letruska has to go faster than she really wants early, could that lead to Preakness Stakes winner Swiss Skydiver coming off the pace for a win? Letruska beat her handily in April. Swiss Skydiver returned three weeks ago, and finished fourth, facing top boys at Saratoga in the Whitney Stakes. She should be more comfortable against fillies and mares.
Harvey’s Lil Goil could sit a nice trip right off the pace. Her last two races aren’t great against top foes, but she missed by only a neck in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf, and ran big winning a stakes race at Belmont Park in May.
It is hard to knock Royal Flag. She has won five times in 10 starts and never finished worse than third. She missed by a length against Letruska a year ago at Saratoga. This is her first Grade 1 race.
If you have a tight budget singling Letruska in the Pick 6 is reasonable. She is by far the most likely winner. If you are betting to win, or looking for a price in horizontal wagers, there are a lot of options, and anyone else will pay pretty well.