By Ed McNamara
The leaves and acorns have begun to fall, and the calendar says September. Vans are arriving on the backstretch to carry horses back to their bases, and by Tuesday Saratoga no longer will be “The Summer Place to Be.”
The 40-day meeting ends Monday, Labor Day, after a stakes-filled weekend. Besides Saturday’s loaded card — Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Grade 1 Flower Bowl, Grade 2 Prioress, Grade 3 Saranac — there will be Grade 1, 7-furlong events for 2-year-olds on Sunday (Spinaway) and Monday (Hopeful).
The marquee colt in the Hopeful is trainer Todd Pletcher’s Wit, who’s 2-for-2 by a total of 14 lengths after taking the Grade 3 Sanford by eight. He’s dominated despite breaking slowly both times, and he might produce a grand finale on closing day.
Showing a profit at Saratoga is so difficult, but no matter how your betting went, there’s always a letdown when the meet ends. It’s been fun watching Fox’s coverage of every race, especially the stakes that brought together dozens of the country’s best runners.
Last Saturday’s Travers card felt like a Breeders’ Cup day, and we won’t see fields like that until Del Mar hosts the year-end championships Nov. 5-6.
Let’s enjoy the final weekend at the Spa and see if we can cash a few tickets on Saturday.
$250,000 Prioress Stakes (G2), 6 furlongs, 3-year-old fillies
Trainer Timothy Hills knows what to do with a good 2-year-old, and he ships in Oxana (1) after two overwhelming wins (by 18 and 10 lengths) at Parx. Her stakes debut is a big class jump, but her early speed may overcome her relative lack of experience. Likely favorite Souper Sensational (5), a strong closer, faces a softer field after running a distant second in the Grade 1 Test. Edie Meeny Miny Mo (2) turns back after running second as the 6-5 chalk in the 1 1/16-mile Monmouth Park Oaks.
1. Oxana 2. Souper Sensational 3. Edie Meeny Miny Mo
$200,000 Saranac Stakes (G3), 1 1/16 miles, inner turf, 3-year-olds
Todd Pletcher wins 27% of the time off layoffs of at least 90 days, and Never Surprised (4) looks like a contender in his first race since January. The meet’s leading rider, Luis Saez, takes the mount on a colt who’s 2-for-3 on grass and training well. Likely favorite Public Sector (1) won the Grade 2 Hall of Fame over the course, but that field wasn’t anything special. The stronger of two Chad Brown runners will be overbet and is worth opposing. Brown’s other horse, Founder (5), is a grinder who rallied to take an ungraded stakes at Monmouth. He ran sixth to Public Sector while making his grass debut in June.
1. Never Surprised 2. Public Sector 3. Founder
$600,000 Flower Bowl Stakes (G1), 1 3/8 miles, inner turf, fillies and mares 4 years old and up
Full disclosure: War Like Goddess (3) is my personal Horse of the Year after going 3-for-3 for me, including a nose victory at 5-1 odds that helped me hit a $428 pick 3. She’ll be 3-5, maybe even lower, after her effortless, 3 1/4-length domination of Saratoga’s 1 1/2-mile Glens Falls. Brown’s My Sister Nat (4) was second that day for the seventh time in 18 starts. Great Island (6), another Brown runner, blitzed the final furlong in about 11 2/5 seconds to take Monmouth’s Grade 3 Matchmaker.
1. War Like Goddess 2. My Sister Nat 3. Great Island
$1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), 1 1/4 miles, 3 and up
The 102-year-old Gold Cup, a longtime fixture at Belmont Park’s fall meet, is being run for the first time at Saratoga. It switched places with the Woodward, which had been staged at the Spa since 2006.
Defending champion Happy Saver (4) should rebound from his first loss in six career starts, a third behind Max Player in the Suburban Handicap. I blame the track condition for that. Max Player (2) is 2-for-2 on off going, and it was Happy Saver’s first time on a wet surface. Brad Cox’s Night Ops (5) is 0-for-6 this year — four seconds, two thirds — but should handle 1 1/4 miles.