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Saratoga Saturday Preview: Samaritan A Good Bet

Mark Milligan previews the six Grade 1 races set to take place at Saratoga on Saturday and picks out four bets.

Saratoga Saturday Preview: Samaritan A Good Bet

Mark Milligan previews the six Grade 1 races set to take place at Saratoga on Saturday and picks out four bets.

Personal Ensign Stakes, 9f Dirt (19:23 BST)

The first of six Grade 1s on a packed Saturday card at Saratoga, featuring plenty of what should turn out to be the main protagonists at the Breeders’ Cup in early November. Songbird hasn’t been quite at her imperious best in two starts this year, but has still had enough in hand to win both, and she looks to be gradually coming to the boil with an eye on the Distaff – a race in which she finished a gallant runner-up to Beholder last year. At odds-on, Songbird doesn’t represent a bet, but should win comfortably, with Forever Unbridled looking the one for the forecast.


Ballerina Stakes, 7f Dirt (19:59 BST)

Unbeaten in three starts since joining the Chad Brown stable, Paulassilverlining hasn’t been flashy, but she always seems to do just enough to get the job done. Two of her three 2017 wins have been at Grade 1 level with her most recent win coming in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap over a slightly inadequate 6f. She will be better suited by this step back up in trip and should take all the beating.

By the Moon wasn’t beaten far when third to Paulassilverlining last time, and there shouldn’t be a great deal between them once more, with her likely to be contesting the early pace with her old rival. The exacta is round off by Carina Mia, who has been largely consistent throughout her career, though she has a bit to find with the front two if they both produce their best form.

Selection: Win back Paulassilverlining Horseform

H. Allen Jerkens Stakes, 7f Dirt (20:35 BST)

Formerly the King’s Bishop Stakes, this race has been renamed in honour of legendary trainer Allen Jerkens, who died in 2015, and has attracted a quality field. Practical Joke and American Anthem set the form standard, but both have slight negatives against them, namely the inside stall for Practical Joke, who is dropping back in trip and could find himself in a tricky position if not showing the requisite early speed, and the widest draw of all for American Anthem, which won’t do him any favours.

Todd Pletcher’s Coal Front is tempting given his unexposed profile, but the market is unlikely to miss him, so a chance is taken on Takaful, who could be about to come into his own following a break. Beaten a long way in a pair of Kentucky Derby trials in the early part of the year, Takaful was freshened and returned like a new horse last time, smashing up a 6f allowance field in a good time. The step up to 7f should bring about further improvement, and he is worth taking a chance on.

Selection: Win back Takaful Horseform

Forego Stakes, 7f Dirt (21:12 BST)

A clash to savour, with Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and third, Drefong and Mind Your Biscuits, squaring off against each other. Mind Your Biscuits has carried all before him since that defeat, winning the Malibu at Santa Anita and the Golden Shaheen at Meydan, along with the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship last time. He is a much improved performer since he last met Drefong, but the key to this race could be the pace, or more precisely, the lack of it. Drefong is likely to get his own way on the lead, and with Mind Your Biscuits’ running style putting him at somewhat of a disadvantage, the cards look stacked in favour of Bob Baffert’s Breeders’ Cup winner.

The one caveat, however, is that Drefong was off a long time with injury following the Breeders’ Cup, and hardly covered himself in glory when jinking and unseating Mike Smith shortly after the start in his comeback race last month. As a consequence, this is a contest best watched, but should certainly be one to set the pulse racing if both the main players get away from the gate soundly.

Sword Dancer Stakes, 12f Turf (21:49 BST)

This is all about the European raiders Idaho and Erupt, who both have plenty in hand of their American counterparts at their best. For all that Aidan O’Brien is master trainer, his record with American runners outside of the Breeders’ Cup is modest, which tempers enthusiasm for Idaho at a short price.

Erupt was possibly amiss when beaten a long way last time, but his comeback run suggested that he retained all his ability, and he may be better suited to these conditions than his main rival. There really isn’t a great deal between the two, but Erupt just shades the vote.

Selection: Win back Erupt

Travers Stakes, 10f Dirt (22:44 BST)

The American three-year-olds are not a vintage crop this year, with the title of Champion still very much up for grabs, and this race could go a long way to establishing some sort of pecking order. The winners of all three legs of the Triple Crown line up, along with others who have shown form almost on a par with them.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming may well be the main pace, and he could bounce back to his best following a couple of below-par efforts on his last two outings. He did, however, get a relatively easy lead last time but still ended up well beaten behind Good Samaritan. Preakness winner Cloud Computing has strong claims, as does Belmont victor Tapwrit. Throw in the likes of McCraken, Irap, and West Coast, and this has a fiercely competitive look to it.

Preference, though, is for the aforementioned Good Samaritan. Campaigned exclusively on turf before switching to dirt in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy last time, his strong late surge to run out a convincing winner (off fractions that weren’t the quickest) was eye-catching to say the least, and he is taken to build on that, establishing himself as the top US three-year-old in the process.

Selection: Win Back Good Samaritan HorseformTimeform




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