Saratoga Saturday


There are two Grade 1 events on Saturday's eleven-race card at Saratoga. One of them, the Woodward Stakes, has been rendered almost irrelevant because of the presence of 1-5 morning line favorite Quality Road.

It would take an shocker of mythical proportions for Quality Road to fail. Think Upset over Man o' War, or Jim Dandy over Gallant Fox. Quality Road may not remind anyone of Man o' War, but neither do his opponents recall Jim Dandy or Upset.

That makes the Forego Stakes the most significant on the program. Bettors who like chalk had better give close examination to the favored entry of Vineyard Haven and Girolamo. Although either appears capable of winning, horses owned by Godolphin Stable and trained by Saeed bin Suroor have been underachievers since they returned to Belmont Park back in June.

Between June 5 and Thursday's races, Godolphin started 17 horses in New York. Five of them won, returning the glorious total of $16.50. That divides out to a $0.97 return on investment, or more than a 50 percent loss of capital.

One of the victorious members of the big blue team was Vineyard Haven. The four-year-old colt won the ungraded James Marvin Stakes here at Saratoga on July 23. The track was sloppy and sealed that day, a condition familiar to the son of Lido Palace. Vineyard Haven has raced over similar tracks four times now, crossing the finish line first in three of them.

Girolamo delivered three impressive victories on dirt last year. His connections tried him in the November 7 Breeders' Cup Classic, a race run over Santa Anita's synthetic Pro-Ride surface. The colt finished last of a dozen starters.

One of the areas where Godolphin has fallen short this year is with horses coming off a long layoff. 5 of its 17 New York starters came off layoffs between 136 and 344 days. Vineyard Haven (237 days) was the only one to win.

That is a complete reversal from 2009. Godolphin had five starters at the Saratoga meet last year emerging from layoffs of 142 to 309 days. Four of them crossed the finish line first, the other second. Vineyard Haven was one of the 2009 winners but got disqualified down to second-place for drifting out in the lane.

Among the biggest disappointments from the bin Suroor-trained starters this year were House of Grace and Percusionist. Both were 3-5 odds for their seasonal bow, but neither managed to crack the exacta. House of Grace could do no better than third in a three-horse race July 1, while Percusionist was a tiring fourth of seven ten days prior.

Assuming both colts race tomorrow, their odds should be below the 2-1 opening line. That is a good thing for their supporters. Of the ten Godolphin starters in New York this year who went to post at 2-1 or higher, only two managed to finish in the money.

Make no mistake. This is not to suggest one won't win. Rather, it is a word to the wise that the usual Godolphin juggernaut has not been in evidence.

One of the issues with correctly forecasting who might win dirt races at Saratoga this season has been evaluating the track profile of the surface. That has been more difficult than usual.

Long stretches of dry weather have allowed the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to card as many grass races as possible. That has resulted in several days when only four or five dirt events were held. Frequently, at least a couple of those have been maiden events.

As has been reported here before, that makes calculation of bias or profile suspect. For example, last Saturday's Travers card featured several dirt sprints, all of which were won wire-to-wire. However, the ten furlong Travers was captured by a horse which was laying sixth of eleven after the first half-mile of the race had been run. Was the track speed-biased, as some have claimed? Was it biased in sprints only? Or did the Travers outcome indicate that the race results were happenstance, not bias?

Over the last week and one-half of Spa racing, the equation I use for profile produced three days consecutive days when speed was very good. They were August 26-28. The dirt track profile rating for those cards were 100, 67, and 90. You will have to make your own determination of whether an actual bias existed.

The rain which canceled grass racing August 22-23 had only a temporary impact on reducing the speed bias on turf. Over the last few days horses on the front have had a decided advantage on the inner turf course.

There were two divisions of the Riskaverse Stakes on the inner course Thursday. The winner of the latter opened a big lead and went wire-to-wire. The first division was taken by a horse which was within one-half length of the lead at the first call.

The Mellon turf course has not been kind to closers, but it has played less speed-favoring than the inner. Turf races of marathon distances are usually won by the best or luckiest horse, not one aided by bias.

by Nick Kling


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