On Track With Johnny D: To Recap… And Saratoga’s Saturday Late Pick 4

Last weekend, in this space, yours truly suggested that Uncle Chuck could make Tiz the Law cry ‘Uncle’ in the Travers. We were half-right. Although there was plenty of ‘Uncle’ crying, unfortunately, most of it was done by Uncle Chuck instead of Tiz the Law.

The weeping actually began long before the million-dollar featured race. It commenced in that elegant Spa paddock beneath tall shade-producing trees where Uncle Chuck screamed at foes as if one of them had stolen his favorite blanket. When it comes to equine pre-race behavior, yelling in the paddock is rarely a positive omen. It suggests that the animal in question is distracted; has his mind elsewhere—one can guess at possible topics. Clearly, from the start, Uncle Chuck was unfocused on the task at hand.

The race developed early according to Hoyle–Uncle Chuck on the lead attempting his best Arrogate impersonation. Tiz the Law assumed a great position–three-wide and just off the leader. Through a quarter in :23 3/5 and a half in :48 1/5 little changed up front. Uncle Chuck continued comfortably on the lead; Shivaree raced second and Tiz the Law third, both closely staggered off the leader’s flank.

A tad past halfway home, Shivaree called it a day and jockey Manny Franco quizzed Tiz the Law about promptly collaring Uncle Chuck. There would be no ‘walking the dog’ on the lead today. As they hit three-quarters in 1:11 4/5 jockey Luis Saez began to scrub a bit on Uncle Chuck’s collar, urging him to repel the favorite’s creeping advance. Uncle Mo’s son did not respond with enthusiasm.

Midway around the far turn, the much anticipated Tiz the Law/Uncle Chuck matchup appeared. It was, perhaps, a bit earlier in the running than most expected, but what we had tuned in to see. “And the battle is joined here,” proclaimed veteran track announcer John Imbriale, at NYRA since ’79 and, amazingly, making his maiden Travers-call voyage at 64.

Immediately, savvy race-watchers knew what the outcome would be. Uncle Chuck was feeling the heat, about to crack, muttering ‘Uncle.’ In respective cockpits, Saez scoured away like a washerwoman erasing a chocolate stain from a white shirt; alongside, Franco remained as still as the desert night. Only movement in Tiz the Law’s saddle came when Franco, confident he ‘had’ ‘Chuck, turned to scan behind for any potential threats. He saw none.

In 1:36 2/5 for the mile, turning into the stretch, as Saratoga sunlight illuminated his splashy blaze, Tiz the Law and Manny Franco possessed, in poker parlance, the ‘stone cold nuts.’ Franco turned his partner loose, gave him an un-cocked backhanded tap and added a ‘smooch’ or two. In response, ‘Law dropped his head, extended his stride and awaited further instructions. None were required, although Franco did administer another un-cocked backhand. The gravity of the Travers stage and an accompanying $1 million purse probably stimulated Franco to un-cock his stick and raise his right arm to deliver a blow. However, a quick underarm glance behind fittingly suppressed the urge. The jock sheathed his sword and hand rodeto the finish in 2:00 4/5, as Imbriale exclaimed, “Here he is, Saratoga’s hometown hero!”

The performance was a tour de force. A landslide victory. A proper rout. Tiz the Law will arrive in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday in September as the overwhelming favorite to win the postponed Kentucky Derby. California-based Honor A. P. and streaking Ellis Park Derby winner Art Collector appear most logical challengers and distant Louisville co-second choices.

Just how good is Tiz the Law? From an historical perspective, a COVID-convoluted sophomore season has made evaluating this colt’s talent level tricky. Earlier this year, when the Gr. 1 stakes batting order was altered to include Belmont, Travers, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup, respectively, yours truly suggested to a compatriot that if Tiz the Law were to run the table, he would hit knees and kiss the colt’s hooves. With two down and three to go, it may be time to pucker up.

Probably the most impressive aspect of Tiz the Law is how much he’s developed since his impressive, but not overwhelming, 2-year-old season. The colt has blossomed under the seasoned eye of veteran conditioner Barclay Tagg and his career has been managed expertly for a complete calendar year—coincidentally, his Travers score came exactly one year to the day since he broke maiden first out in a state-bred race at Saratoga. That’s no meager accomplishment. Tiz the Law’s owners Sackatoga Stable, led by Jack Knowlton, teamed with Tagg to campaign Funny Cide to a near Triple Crown that was upended by Empire Maker in the 2003 Belmont Stakes.

Tiz the Law is an example of three types of sophomores rolled into one: First, he was an early Kentucky Derby future book contender based on 2-year-old accomplishments. Second, he was a winter/spring Florida Derby-winning sensation. And finally, he also is a continuously developing sophomore that came to hand for the Travers and, apparently, beyond. Based on previous accomplishments Tiz the Law is a star. If he adds the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic to his resume, well, he’ll go down in history as one of the all-time greats.

Like with everything in 2020, there will be an asterisk beside a possible Tiz the Law Triple Crown. And there should be. The most difficult aspect of turning the Triple is the spacing between races and distance sequencing. If successful, Tiz the Law will have stretched his domination out over several months. Impressive? Absolutely. But not, from this chair, as difficult as rattling them off back-to-back in a few weeks.

No matter. As Tiz the Law cantered home to win the Travers Stakes, it was clear we were watching a Thoroughbred at his very best, dominant over inferior foes, over a racetrack with history full of upsets. Again, Travers was fun to watch and it sets the stage for an incredible next act.

Below is one man’s view of Saturday’s Saratoga Late Pick 4:
This could be a tricky sequence. Great analysis, Einstein, when are they ever easy? We’ve hit a few in this space this season, but they’ve paid little. We’ve missed more than we’ve hit and there’s a reason for that: Pick 4s are difficult! Hope you find the analysis worthwhile. Adding or subtracting a horse sometimes can influence you toward a winning wager.

The first question to answer this week is: Do you rate #5 Swiss Skydiver in the second leg as a single? If so, where will the wager’s value appear? #2 Decorated Invader looks best in the first leg, but maybe not a cinch. If you can beat him, the ticket becomes more interesting. If you can beat #5 Swiss Skydiver, and that’s a big ‘if,’ value is yours.

Saratoga Race 8—Saratoga Derby Invitational

#1 Bama Breeze woke up in his second start for trainer Rusty Arnold at Churchill. He’ll need to improve on that to win this. He finished behind #7 Field Pass in his last 2 races.

#2 Decorated Invader can’t be overlooked in here. He’s won 5 of 7, including 2 of 3 at Saratoga. At 2 he won the Gr. 1 Canadian Summer Stakes at Woodbine over yielding turf. Recently, he’s scored back-to-back Gr. 2 wins—one at Belmont and one last out at the Spa. Jockey Joel Rosario is unbeaten on his back, by coming from well off the pace and by stalking leaders. A solid 4-furlong bullet turf breeze is a great sign. He had trouble in his last race and a return to either of his first two this year would fit.

#3 No Word is the only runner in the field to have travelled further than the mile and three-sixteenths distance– next to last time out, third going a mile and one-quarter. He’s looking for his first stakes win for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Jose Ortiz. His best race came last out, as he made a slight forward step through his maiden-breaking figure. He’ll probably need another forward step to win this but it’s not impossible, especially with these connections.

#4 Domestic Spending hails from the Chad Brown stable and retains the services of jockey Irad Ortiz. Those are all positives. He’s lightly raced with just 3 starts, but he has 2 wins. His lone loss came last out in the Gr. 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga when he finished behind a few common foes in this race. He needs to do better than he has before but Brown and Irad work wonders on Spa grass.

#5 Gufo, like #2 Decorated Invader, hails from the Christophe Clement stable. That outfit was sizzling hot earlier this meeting but, at this writing, is in a bit of a slump. Like #2 Decorated Invader, #5 Gufo is a win machine. He’s been successful in 4 out of 5 starts, including a win last out in the Gr. 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park. He’s improved a great deal since his 2-year-old season, but one wonders how much more forward movement he’s got left in the tank. A repeat of his last fits but he’s not at Delaware this time.

#6 Colonel Liam takes a step up in class after a powerful tally in his first turf start—a Spa first-level allowance win. Trainer Todd Pletcher is on a roll this meeting and Javier Castellano is the jockey. It’s notable that Irad Ortiz moves from here to #4 Domestic Spending. This guy needs to move forward in here to win but improvement isn’t out of the question. He’s sharp and dangerous, even moving way up in class.

#7 Field Pass Is a multiple Gr. 3 stakes winner from the strong Mike Maker barn. He won the Transylvania Stakes last out at Keeneland and has a first and second in 2 Spa tries. He’s the most experienced runner in the race with 11 starts and 5 wins. Both his last and next to last races—an ungraded Churchill Stakes—were strong but the rest of his resume is below par in this field.

#8 Get Smokin figures to show the way early in here from a far outside post. He hasn’t won a race since breaking maiden nearly a year ago. He’s also been defeated by #2 Decorated Invader in 2 of his last 3 outs and has finished behind both #4 Domestic Spending and #7 Field Pass.

Saratoga Race 9—Alabama Stakes—Grade 1

#1 Envoutante hails from the dangerous, bomb-producing Ken McPeek stable. A win by this filly would require a bit of an explanation to certain owners because McPeek also saddles the favorite in #5 Swiss Skydiver. This filly is working well, including a nice bullet :47 2/5 training track blowout. She’ll need to do a bit better than ever before.

#2 Spice is Nice ran a corker last out for 33% winning trainer Todd Pletcher, getting back to her best race earlier this year. She’s fast enough to challenge favored #5 Swiss Skydiver, but she lacks seasoning. She’s a slight threat.

#3 Crystal Ball is a Bob Baffert trainee who tried hard last out in the Coaching Club Oaks, missing by a mere head to Paris Lights. She’s improved a great deal this season and may not have another forward move in her. Then again, she’s a Baffert and she has speed.

#4 Bonny South is improving with each start for trainer Brad Cox, who’s had a great year but not an outstanding Spa season, so far. Irad Ortiz rides this Munnings filly who didn’t fire much in the Gr. 1 Ashland at Keeneland last out. She has won 3 of 5 starts, including the Gr. 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. Could be that she’s sitting on a big one here.

#5 Swiss Skydiver is the most accomplished of this bunch with 4 wins in 8 starts, including multiple Gr. 2 scores. She has speed and that usually puts her in a great position. Last out, in the Gr. 2 Blue Grass against males, she finished second to Art Collector, the talented recent Ellis Park Derby winner. Before that she won 3 consecutive graded stakes at Gulfstream, Oaklawn and Santa Anita. She’s clearly the one to beat and those willing to topple her might argue that she’s raced quite a bit already this season and may be ‘over the top.’ The Alabama is a mile and one-quarter, longer than any in this field have travelled. Usually, longer races, especially at classic distances, go to the most talented in the field. If that’s the case, she’s a single.

#6 Harvey’s Lil Goil comes into this race off a series of nice works off a Gr. 3 turf victory at Churchill. Her best dirt races, including one that was incredibly fast, came at Aqueduct in December and February.

Saratoga Race 10 –Allowance Optional Claiming

#1 Maxwell Esquire romped last out in his first start against elders. He has a first and a second in two Spa turf starts. He’s sharp but will need further improvement to win this race on the rise in class.

#2 Shiraz was 0 for 9 last season and is 2 for 2 this year—7 furlongs turf at Belmont and 5 ½ furlongs on turf at Saratoga. He’s got speed and has a win over the Spa turf course. This 6-year-old gelding was claimed for $35k from Mike Maker off a layoff. Maker then promptly claimed him back for $25k in his next start. He’ll need to fire his best to win in here.

#4 Call Me Harry has been off since November but ran well first time out so he can run well fresh. He’s a 4-year-old gelding from the lower profile Kelsey Danner outfit. He starts first-time Lasix and is 2 for 2 at the Spa—all positives. He’s been training steadily at Palm Meadows. He’s got lots going on this time out and must be included.

#5 New York’s Finest is a 6-year-old gelding facing fellow state-breds for the first time in a long time. He’s run races fast enough to win this and has Irad Ortiz aboard to help him. He loves Saratoga and is 4 for 6 on the Spa lawn and 9 for 17 at the distance.

#6 Valmont, #8 Royal Asset and #9 Bustin Shout finished third, second and first, respectively, the last time they ran this type race at Saratoga. Only 2 ½ lengths separated this trio and they all were relative longshots at 13-1, 13-1 and 6-1, respectively. #9 Bustin Shout made the lead in the common race and held on at the finish. #6 Valmont stalked the pace but couldn’t follow through. #8 Royal Asset closed from fourth to just miss. They all could be used on larger tickets in the following order of preference: #9 Bustin Shout, #8 Royal Asset and #6 Valmont.

Saratoga Race 11— State Bred Maiden Claiming

#4 Bricco was second at this level last out and hasn’t been off the board in 3 tries, a level of consistency others in here can’t boast. He should be just off the pace and get first run on the leaders.

#6 Michael’s Bad Boy was second at this level two back and is a steady campaigner who’s produced similar Thoro-Graph figures in each of 4 starts over 2 seasons. He could jump forward today and that would make him the winner. He doesn’t have much speed, so he often goes wide. That’s a bit of a drawback, but there seems to be some pace in this race to set up a late charge.

Both #8 Mommies Jewel and #9 High Tone have run well enough to be added to larger tickets. Prefer the former over the latter based on number of starts. #8 Mommies Jewel has had just 3 outs, 2 on turf, including a close third last out behind #4 Bricco in second. There may be some improvement in him. Less likely to jump forward is #9 High Tone from the Mike Maker barn, ridden by Irad Ortiz. One back he finished third behind #6 Michael’s Boy in second at this level and trip. He’s made 6 lifetime starts.

The Ticket:
Saratoga $.50 Pick Four ($40)
Race 8: #2, #4, #5, #6
Race 9: #4, #5
Race 10: #4, #5, #6, #9, #8
Race 11: #4, #6

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: To Recap… And Saratoga’s Saturday Late Pick 4

On Track with Johnny D |