On Track With Johnny D: Saturday Bi-Coastal Stakes Analysis

The $100,000 Shared Belief, to be contested Saturday at Del Mar, has never been a prep for the Kentucky Derby. Makes sense. Del Mar’s meet normally extends from late-July through Labor Day and the Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May. However, in case you haven’t noticed, nothing’s ‘normal’ this year.

Not since 1918 have people worldwide simultaneously sacrificed so much so quickly. While critical issues continue to swirl about, we turn to horseracing for entertainment and momentary shelter from reported growing totals of infected and deceased.

This year, the Kentucky Derby will be contested September 5, and Saturday’s one mile and one-sixteenth Shared Belief serves as a significant Louisville prep race, especially for top ranked contender Honor A. P. and emerging Cezanne. The Shared Belief isn’t much of a wagering event but, as the second race on an 11-race card, it represents leg B of the early Pick 5.

Another shift in this season’s schedule is that Xpressbet’s Fun in the Sun tournament begins Saturday with a revised format. Saturdays in August, register for Fun in the Sun for a $25 entry fee and make a $10 win wager on one horse in the last 5 races at Saratoga and in the first 5 races at Del Mar ($125 total). Remember, those are ‘live’ wagers, so you keep what you win. That means you can make money playing Fun in the Sun even if you don’t qualify for a prize.

Seventy percent of weekly entry fees is returned to players in weekly prizes and 30% is applied to a new ‘Final Table’ prize structure. The top 2 players each week earn 60% and 25% of the weekly pot, respectively, and qualify for seats at a restricted September 7 ‘Final Table’—do the math: 5 Saturdays, 2 qualifiers per week equal 10 ‘Final Table’ seats. Weekly third-place finishers earn 15%.

Additionally, Xpressbet will add $10,000 to the ‘Final Table’ kitty and award eligible players $100 for tournament wagering. Final table prize structure is: 70% to first; 20% to second and 10% to third.

Based on 200 weekly players, top three finishers each Saturday will earn $2,100; $875 and $525, respectively. ‘Final Table’ top 3 finishers will collect $12,250; $3,500 and $1,750, respectively. And that’s not including the ‘live’ cash players accumulate while wagering on races at the Spa and Where the Turf Meets the Surf!

Below is one man’s horse-by-horse analysis of the Shared Belief Stakes, followed by horse-by-horse comments on runners in three Grade 1 races from Saratoga:

Del Mar—Race 2—Shared Belief Stakes

1. Uncle Chuck has plenty of talent. He’s a good-sized, long-striding colt with natural speed and the look of a distance horse. Trainer Bob Baffert usually wins Kentucky Derbies and sometimes Triple Crowns with this kind. The colt has only had two races, so he’s a bit inexperienced. He changes leads back and forth in the stretch but never stops running. Expect this son of Uncle Mo to be scratched from this race in favor of a start against number one ranked Tiz the Law in next Saturday’s Travers at Saratoga.

2. Thousand Words is one of two Bob Baffert-trained runners that will start in this race. The other is #6 Cezanne. This son of Pioneerof the Nile won his first three races but has managed just one in the money finish in as many races since—a well-beaten second to stablemate #1 Uncle Chuck. He’s got a stalking style and should ride the rail early.

3. Anneau d’Or hasn’t improved much since his 2-year-old season. He is expected to scratch from this race for a start in the Ellis Park Derby. No matter where he actually races, he will need to show more than previously shown at age 3. He seems a classic example of a colt that didn’t improve from age 2 to 3.

4. Kiss Today Goodbye seems completely overmatched in here but probably will earn fourth money just by showing up.

5. Honor A. P. upset Baffert’s highly regarded Authentic last out in the Santa Anita Derby and is near the top of anyone’s sophomore rankings. This son of Honor Code has developed nicely for patient trainer John Shirreffs and may have even more in the tank. The colt won wire-to-wire to break maiden, but probably is best from a few lengths off the pace. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is the regular rider and he will need to make some critical decisions in this short field that lacks much early pace. It should be noted that this last out Grade 1 stakes winner normally wouldn’t make his next start in an un-graded $100k stakes race but he needs this outing as a tune-up for the rescheduled September 5 Kentucky Derby. A win isn’t critical. A solid effort and a forward move are the goals.

6. Cezanne draws the outside in this six-about-to-be-four-horse field and he’ll likely use his speed to clear foes early. He’s unbeaten in two starts—a maiden at six and one-half furlongs and a first-level allowance/optional $40k claiming race at Los Alamitos. He’s talented but maybe not quite as gifted as stablemate #1 Uncle Chuck. His weapon in this heat is his speed and he will use it. An important question is ‘How close can/will #5 Honor A. P. be to #6 Cezanne early?’ If Cezanne is able to clear as expected, he will win.

Bottom Line: #5 Honor A. P. doesn’t need to win this race and the pace picture doesn’t favor him. #6 Cezanne does need to win to garner Kentucky Derby starting gate points—50-20-10-5. Therefore, the prediction is that #6 Cezanne goes wire-to-wire for the win under jockey Flavien Prat for trainer Bob Baffert.

Saturday, on the opposite coast, at Saratoga, they will run a trio of Grade 1 races that include some of the nation’s top Thoroughbreds. Midnight Bisou headlines the $500,000 Personal Ensign at one mile and one-eighth; Tom’s de’Etat and Code of Honor top the $750,000 mile and one-eighth Whitney Stakes and No Parole is the big dog in the $300,000 seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens.

Here’s a horse-by-horse look at each of these Grade 1 Spa main events:

Saratoga–Race 5–Personal Ensign

1. Abounding Joy is a 5-year-old mare that’s at her best right now, winning the Iowa Distaff by more than 5 lengths last out. This is her first graded stakes race and she should find the water much deeper than ever before. Jose Ortiz is aboard this winning-type mare seeking her fifth score in 10 starts.

2. Motion Emotion was well-beaten by Midnight Bisou last out in the Gr. 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill. It’s difficult to figure out how she’ll flip the script on that foe in here. She does have some speed and ought to be able to enjoy a rail-skimming trip. That and the presence of jockey irad Ortiz will help.

3. Midnight Bisou is a legitimate star. She’s won 13 of 21 and over $7.3 million, but her most impressive performance may have come in a three-quarter length losing effort when she fell just short of Maximum Security in the Gr. 1 Saudi Cup. She won 7 of 8 starts last year, with her only loss coming when second behind Blue Prize in the BC Distaff. Last out, the 5-year-old mare romped by over 8 lengths in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill. She’ll be a deservedly short price to win this race under trainer Steve Asmussen’s main man Ricardo Santana, Jr. who’s substituting for Mike Smith. Many runners in this race will have new jockeys because of a restriction at Saratoga that prevents those from outside the local colony to ride there. Midnight Bisou has a first, second and a third in three tries over the Saratoga main track and she’s got three firsts, three seconds and two thirds in eight starts at the one mile and one-eighth distance.

4. Vexatious delivered a lifetime-best effort last out to be second by two lengths to the accomplished Monomoy Girl in the Gr. 2 one-mile Ruffian at Belmont around one turn. The 6-year-old mare never has been good enough to win a race like this.

5. Bossy Bride romped home in a $50,000 allowance starter at Belmont last out over a sloppy track. She also completely dominated six foes by more than 13 lengths in a $25k non-winners of two. This Grade 1 test ought to be much more difficult than either of those two triumphs.

6. Point of Honor is the kind of filly that could pose a problem for #3 Midnight Bisou. She’s a 4-year-old that’s in great form—second by a nose to She’s a Julie in the Gr. 1 Ogden Phipps last out at Belmont. She has been second twice in two starts over the Saratoga main track—in the Grade 1 Coaching Club Oaks and in the Gr. 1 Alabama. She doesn’t have early speed but doesn’t get too far out of it either. Javier Castellano has been aboard her for the majority of her 9 lifetime starts. She has three wins and four seconds. The Black-Eyed Susan winner probably has a Grade 1 with her name on it, but she’ll need to go through #3 Midnight Bisou in here to win.

Bottom Line: There’s really not much to be gained by wagering on #3 Midnight Bisou, but she looks strictly like the one to beat and should handle this field. #6 Point of Honor is the most likely to make ‘Bisou earn it.

Saratoga—Race 9—The Whitney

1. By My Standards needs to find about four and one-half extra lengths in order to turn the tables on #5 Tom’s d’Etat. They ran 1-2 in the one mile and one-eighth Stephen Foster roughly a month ago. Jose Ortiz takes over for Corey Lanerie aboard this 4-year-old colt. The loss to #5 Tom’s d’Etat was only this colt’s second defeat in his last seven races and it snapped a three-race 2020 winning streak. By My Standards has some pace and should be close up on the rail to whatever early action develops. The millionaire’s quality, with five wins and 3 seconds in 10 lifetime starts. He’s also been successful in 3 out of 4 attempts at the distance.

2. Improbable hails from the Bob Baffert barn and posted the best effort of his 12-race career last out in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. He was able to take control of the race early, open up and keep going for a three and one-quarter length win over Higher Power. That was his first win since he took the Shared Belief at Del Mar last August. In the start before that, #5 Tom’s d’Etat ran him down by three-quarters of a length in the Oaklawn Mile in April. Irad Ortiz, Jr. takes over aboard Improbable and there’s good reason to expect this guy to be running with the early pace.

3. Code of Honor loves Saratoga with two wins in as many tries here including a first-out maiden sprint in 2018 and last season’s Gr. 1 Travers. He fired an accurate shot last out in the Gr. 1 Metropolitan Mile, but it wasn’t quite enough firepower to drop red-hot, speedster Vekoma. A mile and one-eighth is a better distance for Code of Honor but in this small 6-horse field there’s concern that there might not be enough pace to set things up for his grinding finish.

4. Mr. Buff has speed and can be counted on to attempt to use it early under Junior Alvarado. Unfortunately, this New York bred really will need to run much better than he has before against open company to have a say in this one. He will be heard from early and that’s music to #3 Code of Honor’s ears because he could add spice to the early pace. It’s just doubtful he’ll be able to maintain an early advantage against these.

5. Tom’s d’Etat is among the top older horses in the nation. What’s notable is that he seems to have found the fountain of youth at age 7 and is performing at a consistently high level this year and last. He’s working on a string of four consecutive wins, including the Gr. 1 Clark and Gr. 2 Stephen Foster. This son of Smart Strike has enough speed to sit comfortably off whatever early pace develops. He has won 5 of his last 6 and 11 of 18 overall. He’s banked just over $1.5 million. Oh, and he also loves the Spa with 3 wins in 4 starts there and 6 wins in 9 tries at the distance. He’s strictly the one to beat.

Bottom Line: #5 Tom’s d’Etat has plenty going for him and will be a deserving favorite. #3 Code of Honor is the major threat. The 4-year-old will run well and, if he gets enough early pace, could win.

Saratoga—Race 10—H. Allen Jerkens

1. Hopeful Treasure he’s not fast enough to win this race and will be a big price from the rail.

2. Eight Rings burst onto the scene in 2019 with three initial notable races. First out, he broke maiden at Del Mar by six and one-quarter lengths going five and one-half furlongs. Next out, heavily favored in the Del Mar Futurity, he ducked in after the start and lost his jock. He then returned triumphantly to win the Gr. 1 American Pharoah at a mile and one-sixteenth at Santa Anita by six lengths. He hasn’t been able to regain that winning form since, showing speed and fading in two races–2019 BC Juvenile and Oaklawn Park’s Bachelor in April. He’ll need to turn the ship around and run much faster than he ever has before.

3. Sonneman’s maiden and optional claiming $75k wins at Belmont and Gulfstream are respectable, but he’s got to do way more to have a say in this one.

4. Echo Town is a consistent colt with 3 wins and 2 seconds and a third from 6 starts. He finished second to #6 No Parole and ahead of #7 Shoplifted last out in the Gr. 1 Woody Stephens at Belmont. Don’t think he’s quite fast enough to win this race, but you’ll want his fighting spirit on your side if you’re playing exotics.

5. Mischevious Alex ran 3 consecutive corkers—won the Parx Juvenile, Gr. 3 Swale at Gufstream and Gr. 3 Gotham at Aqueduct—before finishing fourth last out in the Gr. 1 Woody Stephens against some of these same foes. He’s just about as fast as favorite #6 No Parole on his best day and gets an interesting rider switch to Irad Ortiz. The son of Into Mischief was bumped at the start of his last and does his best running close to the early pace. He’ll pressure #6 No Parole early and should fare better than last time in the lane.

6. No Parole is one sharp cookie. He’s won his last two sprint races by more than 2 and more than 3 lengths, respectively. Those bring his win total to 5 out of 6—failing only when going two turns in the Gr. 2 Rebel in the slop which certainly is excusable. He’ll be a short price to handle this field, many of which he dusted last out in the Gr. 1 Woody Stephens. There’s a small chance that he could react from his powerful performance, but that scenario should be limited to select backup tickets only.

7. Shoplifted would need to improve in a hurry to win this race. He was a well-beaten third last out in the common Gr. 1 Woody Stephens. Jockey Jose Oritz bails in favor of next-door neighbor #7 Three Technique and Tyler Gaffalione will ride. This son of Into Mischief has 2 wins in 9 starts but has faced decent competition since breaking his maiden—all stakes, including 4 Grade 1 races. He’s a toss for us.

8. Three Technique has two wins in as many starts at seven furlongs—one of those a maiden score at Saratoga. He was second in the Smarty Jones going a mile at Oaklawn in the mud. He returned in the slop to be fourth in the Gr. 2 Rebel. Connections wisely have chosen to return to one-turn race at a distance he loves. Still, he’ll need to step forward a bit to have any say in this outcome. His closing ability and route experience suggests he may be decent filler in bottom exotic rungs.

9. Liam’s Pride’s last race was a major improvement over previous efforts. However, it looks more like a one-off over a sloppy track at 13-1 than a move toward continued improvement. We’ll pass on his chances in here.

10. Captain Bombastic won the restricted Mike Lee last out going seven furlongs at Belmont. All three of his wins have come against fellow New York-breds. These are a bit more potent. Jockey Luis Saez understandably moves from here to #6 No Parole. Javier Castellano rides. Can’t see him in the picture.

11. Tap It to Win broke maiden at Saratoga second time out and, most recently, set the pace in the Gr. 1 Belmont Stakes before fading to fifth with a double-digit losing margin. Before that he went wire-to-wire in a first-level allowance race. Often cutback plays from two-turn races back to seven-furlong sprints are interesting. This son of Tapit will need to run faster than he has before and won’t be alone on the lead—the scenario where he earned his top speed figure. He’s fit, though, has a nice outside post position and has a Hall of Fame jockey in John Velazquez to figure things out. May be an exotics play at a decent price.

Bottom Line: #6 No Parole looks best but there may be a way to turn a short-priced triumph into a few bucks by using others underneath in exoitcs.

Suggested Play
$2 Trifecta ($24 Total)
First: #6
Second: #4 #5, #8, #11
Third: #4, #5, #8, #11

$.50 Trifecta ($12 Total)
First: #5, #6
Second: #4, #5, #6, #8, #11
Third: #4, #5, #6, #8, #11

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Saturday Bi-Coastal Stakes Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |