On Track With Johnny D: Saratoga & Del Mar ‘Fun’ Analysis & Picks

Week 2 of Xpressbet’s entertaining and profitable Fun in the Sun competition is Saturday and it’s your chance to make hay while the sun shines on racing at Saratoga and Del Mar. The competition is limited to Xpressbet account holders only and awards cash and Final Table seats to top players each Saturday.


There’s a $25 weekly registration fee and players may make live $10 Win wagers on one horse in each of 10 competition races. That amounts to $100 in total play. Since wagers are ‘live’ players get to keep what they win. A few nice hits and you could make money even without winning a cash prize.


Of course, the ultimate goal of Fun in the Sun is to gain entry to the Final Table where a $10,000-added pot awaits qualified participants. The top 5 players each week will get a seat at the table, so don’t miss a Saturday chance to qualify for the Sept. 4 main event.


With Fun in the Sun in mind, below is one man’s humble opinion regarding those competition races—the last 5 at Saratoga and the first 5 at Del Mar. We’ve provided some in-depth handicapping angles for contenders and listed ‘Best’ plays along with others worth consideration. As in any tournament competition, it’s advisable for players to lean toward price horses whenever possible. The selections below have been made before scratches, changes and track and course conditions are known. Please, accept the comments as they are intended: To possibly direct you toward a runner at a price you otherwise might not consider.


Oh, and by the way, there’s also are plenty of other wagering options surrounding the covered races below, including the Saratoga Late Pick 5 and the Del Mar early Pick 5, if you’re so inclined.


Great luck playing Fun in the Sun and whatever other wagers you include. See you Saturday for some Fun in the Sun at the Spa and Where the Turf Meets the Surf!



Race 7


One Mile & One Sixteenth (Turf)

Three Year Olds


#1 Performing Arts enters off a maiden score going one mile over Churchill turf. He’s in good form but will need to buck the maiden-to-winners hurdle. He races from off the pace. Like several in here, he’s a new face to the New York circuit.


#2 Shady McGee enters off a longshot effort in Canterbury’s Mystic Lake Derby. This will be his first race in New York after several starts in Great Britain and Kentucky. He would be a surprise.


#3 Shifting Sands hails from the Chad Brown barn and didn’t fare well in the Woodhaven Stakes at Aqueduct in April. Before that he won a Tampa one-mile maiden race with first-time Lasix. He hasn’t distinguished himself so far.


#4 Hombre enjoyed a ‘yielding’ Belmont course last out July 4 and destroyed six rivals to break maiden. Before that he was a troubled and closing fifth in a Belmont turf test. He’s sharp and, if it the soft turf wasn’t solely responsible for his big effort, he fits well while going from maidens to winners. There’s not much pace in this race, so this guy could have a say early under jockey Davis.


#6 Mira Mission ran well last out over a ‘yielding’ Belmont course to finish a close second. He’s won 2 of 5 races with one second. Jose Lezcano returns in the saddle for low-profile conditioner Tom Bush.


#7 Calibrate makes a first turf start for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. He just missed in an optional claimer at Churchill last out and makes his first local start since his first race here in August of ’20 when he won a dirt sprint. Off that maiden score he was pitched against the best in the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Futurity and then Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Neither one went well. He’s at least interesting off a runner-up two-turn dirt effort.


#8 Dream Big Dreams makes a first turf start for 24% trainer Brittany Russel off a pair of runner-up efforts at Pimlico. This guy tried the New York circuit in February without much success. Maybe the turf will propel him forward?


#9 Munqad is one of two Todd Pletcher runners in this race. Johnny V. takes over in the saddle for Joel Rosario who moves to #11 Space Launch. Velazquez is familiar with this colt from an unsuccessful Gulfstream turf try. This one’s claim to fame is a seven and one-half furlong Gulfstream turf victory. The rest of the resume is a bit lacking, but he has shown speed on occasion and there doesn’t appear to be much of that in here.


#10 Never Explain was successful last out going one mile and one-sixteenth on Indiana grass. He now joins the big time at the Spa but will need to step up his game a bit to compete here.


#11 Space Launch seems the most likely winner in here. He was third last out when first-time Lasix back in May at Belmont Park. He broke maiden first out going one mile over the same course and followed that up with a third in the Awad Stakes over a ‘yielding’ surface. Joel Rosario rides for the second time for trainer Christophe Clement, who’s off to a decent Spa start with 2 winners. He’s got enough early speed to be close to whatever pace develops.


#12 Future Victory is another Todd Pletcher runner in this field, and he’s got 2 wins in 6 starts, including a nice score last out in a $50k starter at Bemont. He broke maiden for a $50k tag at Gulfstream in March. He doesn’t have much speed and will need help up front, especially from this post, but he’s got the talents of Irad Ortiz in the saddle to help the cause.


Best: #11

Next: #4, #7, #9


Race 8

Md Sp Wt $100k

One Mile (Inner Turf)

Fillies & Mares Three Years Old & Upward


#1 Split Then Double is one of two Chad Brown-trained runners in here and they seem to hold all of the cards in here. Last out, this one just missed by a head going this distance over a ‘good’ Belmont strip. Jose Ortiz, who rode this filly in her first two starts, returns in the saddle. That most recent race was her first since October, so she should be fit now.


#2 Baby Blythe goes for Shug McGaughey and has Joel Rosario in the irons for the second time in as many tries. They just missed by one length first out going one mile over a ‘good’ Aqueduct course. They had some trouble that day, so better is possible and expected here. She will race first-time Lasix, too.


#3 Rastafara is an Irish-bred 3-year-old filly from the Chad Brown barn who’s had two nice runs in as many tries. She missed a mere nose first out at Tampa going one mile on turf in January. She returned in May to miss by a mere length at a mile and one-sixteenth over a ‘good’ Belmont course. She had notable trouble that afternoon, jockey Irad Ortiz losing an iron at the break and then also taking up. She’s the one to beat off that effort.


#5 Midnight Choir goes for trainer Jonathan Thomas and she’s got some interesting stats in her favor. Her trainer is 25% with runners off 180-plus days; 30% with maiden second-time starters; 22% with first-time blinkers and 33% with first-time Lasix runners. First out this filly was fourth, with minor trouble sprinting six furlongs on Belmont grass. She was 6-1 in an eight-horse field. Chad Brown holds the cards in here but this one has things to like.


Best: #1, #2

Next: #3

Maybe: #5


Race 9

Allowance N1X

Seven Furlongs

Fillies & Mares Three Years Old & Upward


#3 Enreat ran well first out at Churchill in September to win. She was then rested until June when she returned going seven furlongs at Belmont. She was favored, had trouble at the start and finished well back under Joel Rosario for trainer Chad Brown. Rosario does not ride this race and the 4-year-old filly will have Tyler Gaffalione aboard. He rode her to victory first time out. Tough call.


#5 Amendment Nineteen adds blinkers for trainer Linda Rice off a two-length victory going one mile at Belmont over a ‘sloppy’ track. That score followed a runner-up first out effort in the Aqueduct mud. The winner and third-place finishers both returned to win next out. How will she handle a fast track (if there is one) and why the blinker change off a winning effort? Jose Ortiz returns in the saddle.


#6 Caramel Swirl began her career with three consecutive runner-up efforts before finishing third in a turf try. She then exploded at Keeneland going seven furlongs to win by more than 10 lengths. She was tried in the 8Belles at Churchill going seven furlongs but never really contended. Freshened for this by trainer Bill Mott, she has three bullet works in a series of drills every 8 days. She’s been favored in 4 of 6 starts but has just 1 win. Prefer to play against this type, especially if she takes money again.


#7 Zainalarab broke maiden first out and was second behind next out winner Australasia in a Churchill allowance race. This 3-year-old’s first race came at Belmont in September and her second start was in April. She’s had another break until July. Obviously, there are issues.


#8 Flash Magic made the first 3 starts of her career in California for trainer Bob Baffert. She was switched to the Steve Asmussen stable for a June Churchill maiden start and she romped by more than 5 lengths with first-time Lasix. That brilliant score, combined with 3 runner-up tries against some solid Cali competition like Princess Noor and Beautiful Girl suggests that she’s got some real talent.


#9 Mucho Macho Momma has been second at about this level in two tries at Churchill going a one-turn mile. Those efforts fit okay with this type going seven panels at the Spa. She comes from just off the pace, so she shouldn’t have too much work to do in the lane. She has just 1 win in 8 starts with 3 seconds, so a minor award feels most likely.


Best: #8 Flash Magic

Next: #3, #7, #9


Race 10


$200k – Grade 3

Five and One-Half Furlongs (Turf)

Fillies & Mares Four Years Old & Upward


#1 Caravel is one tough cookie. She’s won 6 of 8 overall, 4 out of 4 at the distance and 4 of 6 on turf. This will be her second try against Big Apple-based competition. She was third in the License Fee going six furlongs over a ‘good’ course at Belmont in April. #2 Robin Sparkles finished three-quarters of a length in front of her in that race. Top jock Irad Ortiz tries his hand for the first time aboard this win-loving 4-year-old filly who’s coming off an over 4-length win at Monmouth going five furlongs.


#2 Robin Sparkle is 6-for-9 overall, 1-for-1 at the distance and 5-for-6 on turf. Like #1 Caravel, she’s got speed. Unlike #1 Caravel, she’s raced solely against New York-based foes. She broke maiden for a $40k tag against state-breds second out at Saratoga going this distance. She romped wire-to-wire last out by more than 2 lengths against OC100k/c foes.


#5 Flower Point comes off a powerful Belmont $80k optional claiming romp at seven furlongs. She’s the one that will be rallying from off the pace with jockey Joel Rosario. This 5-year-old filly wasn’t far behind #1 Caravel and #2 Robin Sparkles when they met in the six-furlong License Fee. If the top pair get silly early, look for this one late.


Best: #1, #2

Late: #5


Race 11

State-Bred Allowance N1X

One Mile & One Sixteenth (Turf)

Fillies & Mares Three Years Old & Upward


#4 Vallarand has just 1 win in 6 tries and that came going one mile on the Aqueduct main. A switch to a turf sprint last out proved little at gigantic odds of 44-1. Top jock Joel Rosario was commissioned for that mount by trainer Baker Charlton. That suggests more was expected from the effort. There’s a chance this one could run better than she did last time. Probably not a ‘win’ consideration, but an exotic finish at a big price wouldn’t be a complete shock.


#5 Electric Youth ran a bit better last time out when a well-beaten third. That was her first try on turf and around two turns. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez returns aboard and they did have a bit of trouble last out. This one could improve enough to threaten at a decent price.


#6 Just OK Is Not OK stalked, took over and drew clear in her third career start last out going one mile on Belmont turf at 7-1 for Todd Pletcher and jockey Luis Saez. Expect a similar effort on or near the front end. Outside early pressure could come from #7 My Lips Are Sealed and one of those two will take this field a long way around the track.


#7 My Lips Are Sealed ran a big one to just miss at this level last out when third by a mere half-length. She’s been pretty consistent with 2 wins in 6 starts plus a second and third. She’ll be part of the early pace in here along with #6 Just Ok Is Not Ok. They should keep each other honest early.


#8 Choose Happiness was claimed out of a $16kNw2L by Orlando Noda and has a win at that level and a runner-up effort and a third placing at higher levels since. This is considered another step up the ladder. Noda chooses to recruit top jock Irad Ortiz to pilot this one and that’s saying something because they are an outstanding 36% with 25 attempts. Noda has a reputation for moving a horse up and this could be another in that universe.


Best: #6, #7

Next: #4, #5, #8


Del Mar


Race 1

Md Sp Wt

One Mile (Turf)

Fillies & Mares, Three Years Old and Upward


#1 Rhythm and Grace starts for trainer John Shirreffs, who’s off to a hot seaside start with 2 wins and a second in five outs. This one has shown a bit of talent, just missing at one mile and also at one mile and one-eighth on grass. She has some early pace, the rail and veteran Victor Espinoza up.


#3 Tmorrowisalongtime has a lot in her favor while making a second career start. Trainer Richard Baltas is off to a solid start this meeting and there are a host of trainer angles leaning in this one’s direction. First, she’s lightly raced, switching from dirt to turf (19%), first Lasix (19%), a maiden making a second start (25%), going sprint to route (18%) and returning off a 180 + day layoff (29%). Jockey Umberto Rispoli moves into the saddle and he’s 25% with Baltas. This filly has worked every seven days for this and lists three San Luis Rey bullet works in her DRF line. Clearly, she’s been pointed for Del Mar.


#5 Buzz of New York starts for Phil D’Amato and gets Prat. They’re 41% together. Off Irish form this filly’s nothing notable but the connections deserve a second look.


#6 Red Diamond has been close sprinting on turf and there’s no reason she shouldn’t respond well to this one-mile journey. She’s capable.


#7 Norma Jean B. has been in the money 5 times out of 9 starts and that’s both the good and bad news. She’s good enough to win, but hasn’t done so, yet. Kent Desormeaux rides for Vlad Cerin and they’ve been a solid team for years.


#8 High Con stretches back out to a one mile Del Mar turf journey first tried in November. This gal also starts for trainer Baltas and will add some early foot to the race with light weight mostly comprised of talented apprentice Jess Pyfer.


Best: #3

Next: #1, #6


Race 2

Claiming $12,500

Five and one-half furlongs


#2 Take Me for a Spin has speed and wins races. The 4-year-old hasn’t raced for this low tag before while performing predominately in Northern California. Trainer Jonathan Wong is capapble and his stock should be especially dangerous in these lower-level Del Mar heats.


#3 Satchel de Ritches just missed by a head one level higher than this at the $16k mark and was claimed by Bob Hess. The slight drop off the claim isn’t a concern and actually is an aggressive move toward the winner’s circle. A bullet, best-of-14 :59 1/5 Del Mar work July 14 suggests fitness. The 4-year-old has 3 wins and 9 of 16 in-the-money overall.


#4 Awhitesportscoat loves Del Mar. The 7-year-old has 3 wins in 4 starts there and has won 10 of 39 overall. He was a popular claim this winter at Santa Anita, taken for $10k and $12k twice in three consecutive starts. This is the lowest level he’s tried since then and comes off a July 4 runner-up Los Al effort in a $12.5k starter. He’s won 3 of 6 at the distance, too.


#5 Outlaw tumbles in class off a poor turf effort going one mile at the $25k level. Connections probably wanted to make sure the 6-year-old couldn’t go long on turf before dropping him at Del Mar. The gelding has shown speed in route races but has been effective as a late-running sprinter. He has a win at Del Mar in 5 starts and a win at the distance. Not hopeless.


#7 Terrible Ted has speed, is drawn outside and gets a weight break with apprentice Pyfer. All positives. Plus, this 6-year-old gelding has 3 wins in 10 starts and 1 of those came in 3 tries at Del Mar. He’s plied his most recent trade at Los Alamitos and going 1,000 yards and prevailed two back over #4 Awhitesportscoat in one of those. The question is: Can he hang with this group at five and one-half furlongs?


Best: #2, #3, #4

Early: #7

Late: #5


Race 3

Md Sp Wt

Six and One-Half Furlongs

Fillies and Mares Three Years Old & Upward


#2 Sea Dreamer is the one to beat. She ran well last out in her first try going six furlongs at Santa Anita June 20. She raced close to the pace and didn’t give up. Top jock Prat returns for trainer Simon Callaghan and they are 44% through 9 mounts together and 33% in the last 36 attempts.


#3 Lil Town Sis is a new face local face for trainer Phil D’Amato and she has some impressive morning moves –a Santa Anita bullet 1:00 3/5 and a :59 3/5 from the Del Mar gate—to suggest there’s more in her tank than she’s delivered in two starts at Churchill Downs.


Best: #2 Sea Dreamer

Race 4

Md Sp Wt

One Mile (Turf)

Three Year Olds & Upward


#3 Hollywoodhellraisr just missed last out when routing off a pair of sprints. A repeat of that effort would work in here and a few of these finished behind this 4-year-old gelding that afternoon. He also has a decent try going a sixteenth of a mile longer than this at Del Mar last August, so it appears he likes the course.


#4 Trainer Please will stretch out and try turf for the first time for trainer Doug O’Neill. This son of Orb has shown solid speed in two dirt sprints, so it’s likely he’ll set the early pace in here. There’s a decent chance he might just keep going with regular rider Mario Gutierrez up. This one’s mare Child Please is by War Front, so ‘turfing’ may be his thing.


#7 Barbwire makes his second start by stretching out and trying turf for the first time. Trainer Baltas is good with maiden second-time starters (25%) and solid sprint to route (18%) and dirt to turf (19%). It will be interesting to see if this colt and #4 Trainer Please hook up in the early going. Top jock Prat takes over for Abel Cedillo on this one and he’s combined with Baltas to win 27% of the time with 94 mounts.


#9 Oncoming deserves a look based on a few factors. The 3-year-old colt’s first start came in October going one mile on turf at Del Mar where he closed finish third after breaking from the 10-hole in a field of 10. That’s a solid first out effort. Saturday he will add Lasix and have jockey Rispoli back again. Trainer David Hofmans has given this colt four six furlong works for this race…an unusual pattern that ought to have this guy very fit.


Best: #9

Next Best: #3, #4, #7


Race 5

Maiden Claiming $20k

One Mile

Three Year Olds & Upward


#2 Sponsored is a new face in SoCal and will stretch out to one mile after two sprints—one at Churchill and one at Keeneland. He’s been a popular claim, tagged out of both starts for $30k. He takes a slight drop to a $20k level for new trainer Bob Hess. He will need to improve.


#3 Bold Voyager makes his first dirt start while invading from Golden Gate Fields straight maiden ranks. His best outings have come on turf and he gets a 5-pound weight allowance with apprentice Ortega. Bit of a reach.


#4 Shackey’s Love also invaded from Golden Gate and makes a first dirt start. He added Lasix last out and tried $25k claimers unsuccessfully. Trainer Jonathan Wong wins at 24%, so respect is given.


#5 Revisionsist stretches out for the first time after some poor sprints. He’s started twice at Santa Anita and once at Los Al for state-bred $50k. This is a class drop for trainer Craig Lewis.


#6 Salah is 0-for-17 and has had chances at the level. He did run OK at this level going one mile at Los Alamitos June 25, so he’s fit enough.


#7 Investment Account has had chances—he’s 0-for-9—but he’s never raced this cheaply. He’s also changing trainers and adding blinkers. At least there’s some stuff going on with him that could produce a changed performance.


#8 Inesperado tumbled from Maiden $50k to $20k and goes from turf to dirt. He’s been 51-1 and 72-1 in two starts, but these are much less than he faced before. At least he’s not been exposed, yet.


#9 Blue Star gets Prat again for O’Neill and the pair were a close third in a state-bred maiden turf race in March. This will be the 3-year-old colt’s only second dirt start in 9 career outings. He was dropped to $50k last out on grass in May and never fired. This is a ‘go’ move and the colt should be able to give a much better account of himself in here.


Best: #9

Next: This is a real scramble. Use as many as you can based on comments above.


Race On!



On Track With Johnny D: Saratoga & Del Mar ‘Fun’ Analysis & Picks

On Track with Johnny D |