Opening day at Saratoga is usually defined by full fields, a chipper audience, Tom Durkin sounding relieved to be out of Elmont for a protracted period of time, and the Schuylerville Stakes for 2 year old fillies. Unfortunately, the field for that race is small and boring.
So let's turn our attention to the best race on the card, the ungraded James Marvin Stakes. A 7-furlong contest for $80,000, the race has drawn an extremely contentious field that would be appropriate in a Grade 3 race. Arguably the best sprinter in America makes his debut here, and several other graded stakes winners of note are present.
Let's analyze them one-by-one. We're not going to do this type of analysis every day, but this field is deep enough that it's merited. For the record, note that our analysis and picks assume a fast, dry track. We're also including a daily pick by Missus Blog, in an effort to see who picks better: someone who follows racing, or someone who just picks names.
1. You and I Forever. Roughly this point two years ago, this guy looked poised to become something good, as he ran a very nice second to Mambo in Seattle in an ungraded stakes races that prepped him for the Travers, and he was a decent wiseguy horse for the race. Since then, he's a craptacular 2-for-12 with his wins both coming in Florida. Since popping an upset in the Gulfstream Park Cap in January (at 14-1), he's run a pair of horrible mile races, and now cuts back to 7 furlongs. Potential's there, but he doesn't appear to be in good enough form to take this.
2. Cool Coal Man. This guy's dangerous if he gets a soft pace because most of his wins have been when he's stolen a lead or just sat off a tepid pace and had something left for the stretch. As we'll see in a moment, that's highly unlikely here.
3. Half Metal Jacket. Discounted because the name is stupid and he's trained by Sydney Dutrow, the Fredo Corleone of the Dutrow family. But this guy might have a chance actually. Toss his Maryland Sprint race, this guy clearly isn't at his best at 6 furlongs (and besides, he broke poorly), but he's never out of the exacta at 7 furlongs. His running style (stalker/closer) is well suited to a race with a solid pace. And he should be a fair price (10-1 on morning line).
4. Vineyard Haven. The Big Hoss. Outside of a race in Dubai, he's never been out of hte money, runs well at Saratoga, and loves the distance. The two biggest negatives are that he hasn't been out in a while and that he might get fried on the front. But his King's Bishop last year put that worry to rest: he returned there off a six-month layoff, contested a hot pace, and finished second on disqualification. Here's the biggest negative: they're clearly using this as a prep race for the Forego at the end of the meet. Is it possible he's not fully tuned for the spot?
5. Discreet Treasure. From the extremely productive mare Pretty Discreet (his siblings include phenom Discreet Cat, the good Discreetly Mine, and the useful Pretty Wild), he makes Vineyard Haven's layoff seem short: he was last seen on the track on July 3, 2009, trained by Stanley Hough. He's now in the barn of the not bad Bruce Brown--who excels with layoff horses and new horses--and is a stalker in a race with a lot of early speed. He actually owns the best GSF in the race (a 105 in the Westchester last year) and really, his only drawback is seasoning. And his price: he's 10-1 on the morning line, but we think he'll be around 4-1 come post time. That's a short price to take on a horse that hasn't run in 13 months against a stout field.
6. Friesan Fire. If the name sounds familiar, it's because he was the favorite in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Since finishing in 18th at Churchill, he's done a whole lot of nothing: winning an ungraded race in Louisiana in January and losing badly to luminaries such as Glamour Guy, Stonehouse and Enriched. Pass.
7. Le Grand Cru. Pure pace factor that switched to Todd Pletcher in his last race and got worse. That's not a good sign.
8. Flat Bold. Tommy Albertrani, who we like, has turned this guy into a one-turn speedster, which should ensure that he'll get his name called out early. But there's a good amount of early foot in the race that's better than him, and he couldn't beat Half Metal Jacket last time out. The cutback in distance might help, but it looks like he needs an easier spot.
9. Atoned. Switches off of Todd Pletcher to Neil Howard, who is 0-for-12 with barn switches over the last two years. Next.
10. Silver Edition. Not to be a slave to Gowanus Speed Figures, but this guy hasn't topped 90 in over a year. Don't see it happening here.
Selections. To state the obvious, it all depends on how cranked up for the race Vineyard Haven is. If he's raring to go, he's the best horse by a lot here--he's arguably the best sprinter in America. But a long layoff, tough speed picture and some concerns that his connections just want to get a race into him leave us looking for something else, and that's Half Metal Jacket, who offers good value at a fair price. Discreet Treasure could win or be up the track. To show that we waffle with the best of them, let's put him in the 3 slot.
1. Half Metal Jacket
2. Vineyard Haven
3. Discreet Treasure
Missus Blog's Pick : Vineyard Haven, because she loves Martha's Vineyard.