Being a native Kentuckian with Keeneland 1 hour away and Churchill Downs 1.5 hours away spoils me as a racing fan and bettor. They are my two favorite tracks to attend in person. Two obvious ones that come to mind as being on that level are Saratoga and Del Mar. The S&B family went to Saratoga (also the National Racing Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame) in 2008 during the week of that year's Test Stakes when Indian Blessing won the race the last day that we were there.
We also attended Del Mar and a Padres/Giants game in 2004 on Eddie Read Weekend (CCA Oaks at Belmont) and also on Clement Hirsch (Test at the Spa) weekend and a Padres/Astros game in 2006. Having been to both, there is lots of history and positive memories associated with each, though I personally prefer Del Mar to Saratoga. I may have liked Saratoga more had we not gone the week before Hall of Fame inductions so we could see the plaques there like we got to at Cooperstown (they close that part off before HOF week for the Racing HOF), but both were pretty good. I actually prefer Arlington to Saratoga for a racetrack experience. But that's a story for another day.
Now to the picks for the opening day at the Spa:
I like #1 I'll Call in the 1st that reads much like a Keeneland allowance in that it's 1 3/16 miles on the grass. Saratoga's thing is to run grass in front of the stands to open their meet, though it's often been 1 1/16 on grass in the past. Very similar to Del Mar running 1 mile main track races to start, actually. I'm usually loathe to bet horses that run too wide on the turf there, especially the Mellon course. Prado should put him in a good spot to succeed. #11 Newfound Zapper has some pretty good back class for a 15-1 with Solis aboard, as he ran against Admiral Kitten, Jack Milton, Charming Kitten and Noble Tune earlier in the year. If he runs to his Churchill race in October, he's live.
The second race is what usually opens a meet at the Spa; a 1 1/16 mile claiming race on the lawn. Though Linda Rice fares better on turf sprints, I like the #6 Unaccountable to pull a mild upset in here. He has a 87 top number at Saratoga, 9 grass wins, and likely will get ignored at the betting window. #13 Formulaforsuccess scares me if he draws in the field because Joel Rosario+Michael Maker=A.T.M.
The third finally introduces the dirt at the Spa meeting. 2 year old sprinters going 5 1/2 furlongs with just 1 starter in the field that ran a mediocre 3rd last out. I'm of the theory that the best two year olds tend to run early in the meet in maiden races, and Todd Pletcher seems loaded for bear in here with either or both horses in the entry. #1 Stopchargingmaria (not related to Stopshoppingmaria, oddly enough) or #1a Our Amazing Rose look like the race was set up for either to win. I'm going to take a stab at a price horse at the lone starter in the field, #3 Predicate. Sure, a 42 Beyer isn't great for a 2-year-old, but Mark Hennig usually fires a few winners at the meet and the other trainers other than The Todd are terribad at 1st time starters. 4/152 combined terribad, even. So, I'm going with #3 to win and a 1-3 exacta box.
The fourth is a state-bred stakes race on turf, the On The Bus. #3 Hessonite is clearly the class of the bunch along with #5 Shakeira. Either of them seem the likeliest to win this one. I'm going to hope that #4 Inimitable Romanee can go off an overlay and pull a mild upset. Edgar Prado rode her in her last victory, and she has Saratoga form similar to 5's, but without the racing luck to win as of yet.
The fifth is like the third, but with state-breds. Sometimes some runaway winners that end up being decent fire in these types of races, like Cribnote a few years ago. While no one seems that obvious as of yet, the name (#3) Michonne could be that next one. First Samurai was best at 2, even if he was placed first in the Fountain of Youth at 3, and Nevin/Saez have 2 wins together at a price and at a track where Daddy flourished at 2.
The sixth is a Saratoga-esque race, a state-bred turf sprint. In the past, especially the year I visited the Spa, "bet Linda Rice, collect money" seemed to work like "bet Joel Rosario, collect money" works now. I'm taking that approach for my top pick in here. My top pick is #1 Uncle Southern (the Rice trainee) with #5 With Honorandgrace as a longshot play to perhaps close if the pace is hot.
The seventh is an allowance race that could very well be a stakes race in quality, like many 7 furlong allowances at Saratoga. I think that #4 Titletown Five is back where he belongs in long sprint races and he gets the benefit of the most on-fire jockey right now in Rosario. He also ran well there in beating Orb and narrowly losing to Violence in a 7f maiden run last year at the track. #8 Indy's Illusion strikes me as a long shot that's live as he got challenged a bit by Orb as well in his past lines.
The eighth is a race that's arguably had as good or better fields than the Forego on Labor Day, the James Marvin. While #3 Souper Speedy has been otherworldly at Belmont, he's never an at the Spa, even if 3/4 at the 7/8 distance. There may not be a pace meltdown in here. #4 Sage Valley could get ignored after a toss race in his last on Belmont Stakes Day. His Maryland Sprint H. win proved he could pass if the pace is hot. He can also go wire-to-wire if it's slow. He's my pick as hopefully a non-favorite. Maybe #8 Laurie's Rocket underneath in exotics as well.
The feature is the two-year-old filly Schuylerville Stakes. Like many of these stakes today, it's an entry level allowance on the surface since none of these won a stakes race, though all have broken their maidens. I'm going for an upset in here, since I didn't think much of the Churchill 2 year olds that ran before the final weekend. I like #3 Silver Valley, who gets the benefit of Rosario and might get ignored because of a bad break in her last in the Debutante at Churchill. She's the only stakes-tested horse and can pass if she has to. #4 Brazen Persuasion scares me most of the others, so she'd likely be the exacta saver horse.
The close out race is 1 1/16 mile state-bred maidens on grass. Lovely bunch, that. Rosario can't seem to stop winning at the moment, this field's not much, and he has good starts against open company. That's enough to use the #2 A Better Tomorrow to get away with a winner. #9 Sunbio could keep his price respectable. Also, Rosario+Maker=$$$.
Now for Del Mar, this will be shorter analysis:
Race 1: 2 turn grass to start a card is a bit tricky. They seem to be closing on the grass early and Bejarano seems to be winning now that Rosario's up at Saratoga. Here's to more of the same with #4 Toomanytomatoes. By association, my longshot play is #5 Meltarib, who ran 2nd to her on May 3rd at BHP two starts ago.
Race 2: Claimers in 6f sprints on the main. Day 1 seemed to be fair favoring the outside, while Day 2 seemed more friendly to the front-end. I like the #2 Manewal to pull an upset since he won here last year at 5 1/2 furlongs. It would be smart to use #4 Luz Atticus and #6 Space Runner on top in exotics, though.
Race 3: Matt's not-so-favorite, the turf sprint. Back when I was at Del Mar in 2006, they actually CANCELED a turf sprint for rain the day I went to the Padres/Astros game. Don't think rain will affect this one. I like recency and wins in races such as these, as runners often haven't won for some time in these types. That's why I lean towards the #2 Free Time at a price, thanks to its [Betfair] Hollywood form. #6 Cammazes could get there if ready off the shelf, but it's been since June of 2012 since it won and July of 2012 since it ran.
Race 4: Terribad 2 turn maiden claimers, the cousin of the usual last race at Del Mar! This race is devoid of hot speed, so I'm hoping that #7 J K's Mischief can break away like the Del Mar opening day 1st race did where it looked like a Tour de France peloton more than it did a horse race. Sure, he's 0/5 with 2 thirds, but no one else is great. That's why they're Maiden 20-18's. He also hits the plunger from Maiden 40 and straights into this. Daddy won the CashCall Futurity, so 2 turns could work (Goldencents' SA Derby says hi)?
Race 5: More state bred maiden claimers! At least these are 5 1/2 furlongs and 50-40 tag. If the #11 Thunder Bonnet draws into the field, Maldonado+Kitchingman is tempting at a 40% clip/$3.94 ROI since 2012 together and will be my play. If not, just betting on #8 Beth's My Babe because of Bejarano maybe being able to drag her home.
Race 6: 8.5 furlongs on the lawn with entry-level allowance. I'm going with the old pro Gary Stevens to take #8 Pure Loyalty into the winners circle. The back class is pretty nice. Not thrilled with 1/8 and 6 2nds/3rds, but has been better on the grass. #6 Know More could be a price shock with a chance to actually run after getting the trip from Hell in last year's BC Juvenile Turf.
Race 7: The featured CTBA 5.5 furlong 2 year old race. We saw this one in 2004 at Del Mar. This field looks weak a bit, and #1 Sprouts is probably the horse to beat, as Square Eddie looked good at 2. That being said, I'll give a maiden a shout here. How often do you get Bejarano and Miller at 10-1 on the morning line with #7 Say's Who?
Race 8: Maiden claiming sprints...AGAIN! Must be a law, as Matt alluded to on Wednesday. Least these are open and not CA-breds. I'm leaning towards the #8 Sir Searsucker out of a grade 1 winning turf sire. Keeping it in the family with the connections of Mitchell and Leparoux. Bejarano has a shout with the #5 Street Choir as well. I try to avoid the professional maidens in here if I can, though having them 2nd/3rd wouldn't be a bad idea.
May you win as many bets as possible and hopefully get to go to one of these great tracks this summer!!!