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2012 Saratoga Opening Day Preview

Nick Zito's Jackson Bend is the morning line favorite for the G3-James Marvin Stakes on opening day at Saratoga.
Nick Zito's Jackson Bend is the morning line favorite for the G3-James Marvin Stakes on opening day at Saratoga.

With all due respect to The Masters, opening day at Saratoga is "a tradition unlike any other". Ten races are on tap for the first day at the Spa, including a pair of graded stakes races (G3-James Marvin and G3-Schuylerville). First race is scheduled for 1:00pm Eastern with live television coverage on TVG and HRTV.

Below are links to the entries, program changes and results for opening day (via Equibase).

Saratoga Entries - Friday, July 20th
Saratoga Scratches/Changes - Friday, July 20th

Saratoga Results - Friday, July 20th

Race 1

Saratoga kicks things off with a one mile event on the grass for $50k optional claimers/N2X horses at a mile. There isn't much speed in the opener and what speed there is rests solely with 8-Writingonthewall (12/1). This colt missed by a neck against $50k open company claimers at Belmont in his last start and, class-wise, you'd think he'd fit in well against these. My issue with this gelding is the fact that he seems incapable of slowing things down on the front end when he gets a clear lead and he's had multiple chances to prove he can't do that very thing.

3-Followmyfootsteps (5/1) ran well in his last start, closing to be a good third in the Da Hoss at Colonial at the same distance. He's run well at Saratoga in the past and he's been a fairly classy runner during his career. He doesn't win a whole lot, but his rivals appear to be in the same boat.

Top Pick: 3-Followmyfootsteps (5/1)

Race 2

I love maiden special weight races on the grass, unless they are of the state-bred variety, of which race 2 falls squarely into that category. Oh well.

I find it hard to get by the chalk in this race, 8-Bourbonology(5/2); she's shown some ability in her last race when she closed to miss the win by just three-quarters of a length; Chad Brown is throwing the blinkers on, which is a strong move for him; and she gets Ramon Dominguez in the irons. If I'm playing any early multi-race wagers, I'm singling to this filly.

Top Pick: 8-Bourbonology (5/2)

Race 3

A nice looking group of juvenile fillies line up for the third race on the card led by a fourth time starter from Wesley Ward, and a debut runner from Todd Pletcher.

2-Lignite (2/1) has shown speed in all three of her previous races in which she finished second each time. You got to feel like she's getting ready to finally break through but you also have to be concerned that she's developing a bit of the dreaded "seconditis".

3-Kimono (5/2) sports some exceptional breeding, especially if you're looking to win early. By Bernardini out of a Gone West mare (Runnin Ute), Kimono has a nice, steady diet of works on the form since late May, including a couple of very quick works over the Saratoga training track on June 26th and July 3rd.

I wouldn't fault anyone for going with Lignite in this spot but I've got to go with the first timer, Kimono.

Top Pick: 3-Kimono (5/2)

Race 4

The fourth race on the card features a group of N1X allowance fillies going seven furlongs on the main track and there is a lot to choose from in this field.

One of the more intriguing fillies in this race is 2-Abide (8/1), a four-year-old daughter by Tiznow out of a Storm Cat mare (Number One Cat). Abide won her debut at Saratoga in August of 2010, finished up the track in her next start, (the G1-Spinaway), and then sat on the bench for the better part of the last two years. Obviously, she has struggled mightily with injuries since her last race, leaving us with the question: what can we expect from her off the layoff? Apparently, Todd Pletcher was able to convince Joel Rosario to hop on board as he in the irons for her first race back.

I have too many questions with Abide to throw any money her way but I do feel the need to find a price play in this spot as I'm convinced that 6-Book Review (6/5), 7-Soul of Hollywood (20/1) and 8-Ullapool (5/2) could make things hot in the early stages. 5-Ode to Sami (8/1) [is this a Jersey Shore filly?] struggled a little in the mud last time at Belmont but she's looked good in her prior starts and should find the early pace to her advantage.

Top Pick: 5-Ode to Sami (8/1)

Race 5

Another five and a half furlong dash for juvenile fillies but this one appears to be a little more wide open than race four.

3-Distortion (6/1) presents a typical problem that we horseplayers face in juvenile races such as this: do you rely on the pedigree or the trainer? I love to play the pedigree but I'm leery of a good win-early pedigree with a trainer sporting horrible numbers with first timers. That's exactly what we've got with Distortion - a well-bred daughter by Distorted Humor out of a Stormin Fever mare. Distorted Humor is an excellent sire for first timers but Nick Zito might be one of the worst trainers on the planet with these types (something he clearly acknowledges since he generally doesn't have his horses primed for a big effort in their debut). If this filly was trained by anyone else but Zito, I'd run to the windows to bet her. But the trainer numbers will keep me away.

1-Kauai Katie (3/1) debuts for Todd Pletcher and Stonerstreet Stables and will take a lot of action given Pletcher's strength with juveniles and first timers. I would have liked to have seen this filly debut on the lawn given the pedigree on the bottom side (out of a More Than Ready mare (More Than Pretty), but when you pay $490,000 for a horse you're going to head for the dirt.

My play in this race will likely come down to how the action on the tote board is unfolding. I could be tempted to play Kauai Katie but I don't think I can take anything lower than 2/1 on her. If she gets pounded at the windows, I may look to take a flyer on 7-Garments Girl. McGuaghey isn't great with firsters but he's still a lot better than Zito. Additionally, this filly is by Indian Charlie, a sire that has done will with debut runners.

Race 6

An excellent betting race in the sixth as a full field of $20k claimers go a mile and a sixteenth on the turf course. This is another turf race light on speed.

I really like 4-Tapanna (5/1) with Rosie Napravnik on board in this spot. Tapanna has only touched grass three times but has finished in the money in all three, including a win against $20k N3L company last time out at Churchill. I don't love horses coming out of conditioned claimers into open company, but this field doesn't have a ton of true $20k animals in it so I think Tapanna could run a solid race.

8-Best Actor (4/1) looks like a strong contender for win honors but I'm a little concerned that this gelding might have too much work to do at the top of the stretch given Tapanna's advantage in tactical speed and an expected light pace scenario.

I like 11-Gospel Lesson (15/1) as a price play in this race as he should be lone speed on the outer turf course; that could be a big combination. He's at a class disadvantage but perhaps he can steal it.

Top Pick: 4-Tapanna (5/1)
Sleeper Pick: 11-Gospel Lesson (15/1)

Race 7

I love races like this - one mile on the grass; maiden special weight; three-year-old fillies, several of which are making their first start on grass or first start overall.

There are two fillies that I really like in this spot: 8-Done in Love (8/1) and 10-Living My Dream (10/1). Done in Love is a first time starter for Darrin Miller and is by Smart Strike out of a Deputy Minister mare (Ender's Valentine. Smart Strike has been quite successful with first timers and horses on the lawn and the breeding on this filly suggests that the mile is the perfect distance for her. Throw in the fact that Miller hits at a decent rate and return with first timers (13% Win, 33% ITM, $2.84 $2 ROI) and horses on the turf (15% Win, 32% ITM, $3.88 $2 ROI) over the last five years... well, there's a lot to like about this filly.

Living My Dream ran an even race in her debut at Belmont but trainer Michael Maker is unleashing a slew of changes that he's been quite successful with in the past: Blinkers On, first time blinkers, and stretch out in distance. That may be a little bit of throwing the kitchen sink at this race, but I think that this filly will at least show some improvement, at a minimum.

Top Pick: 8-Done in Love (8/1)

Race 8

The G3-James Marvin is the first graded stakes race of the 2012 Saratoga meet and features an excellent match-up between 1-Caixa Electronica (5/2) and 7-Jackson Bend (7/5).

It's tough to get away from Jackson Bend in this spot when you consider that he's perfect at SAR (2-2-0-0) and perfect at the distance (4-4-0-0). The pace should set up perfectly for him as Crossbow, Pacific Ocean and, possibly, Zero Rate Policy should ensure a lively opening quarter mile.

I don't know if there is a ton of money to be won on this race, but I do think that Jackson Bend is the most likely winner.

Top Pick: Jackson Bend (7/5)

Race 9

The G3-Schuyleville for juvenile fillies... ugh. While I like maiden special weight races, I really don't care for these early juvenile stakes races where every horse in the field has one win and they went gate to wire to get it. If I was to play a multi-race wager, I'd likely spread to the likely contenders of 1-Sweet Shirley Mae (7/2), 2-Baby J (5/2), 4-Can't Explain (5/1) and 7-So Many Ways (5/1).

Race 10

The last race on opening day is a turf sprint. No play. (And I ensure I don't lose the night cap!)