It's Alabama Day at Saratoga Race Course and TVG Pacific Classic Day at Del Mar. Lo and behold, the powers that be have gotten together to offer an all-stakes pick four that links those marquee events with a couple nice races for 3-year-old grass fillies—the Del Mar Oaks (G1T) and the Lake Placid Stakes (G2T).
Del Mar is the host for the bet, which has a takeout rate of 23.68%. The first two legs are the Lake Placid and Alabama Stakes (G1), followed by a three-hour gap to the Pacific Classic (G1), and another hour after that to the Del Mar Oaks. For 50 cents and a little luck, horseplayers can be alive for most of the evening.
Let's go through the sequence chronologically:
Lake Placid (Sar, race 8, 5:02 ET): "Great," you say. "Only six fillies in the first leg." Then you realize that Party Boat (2), La Coronel (3), Proctor's Ledge (4) and Uni (6) seem evenly matched on paper, and Coasted (1) won both her starts on Saratoga turf last year.
What's more, projecting the pace takes some guesswork, as there is no clear-cut early leader. Perhaps the best strategy for Berned (5) is to try and set up shop on an easy lead first time on the grass, although I've never been a fan of betting Bernardini's progeny on that surface.
Among the others, I'd expect Uni to show a bit more initiative than she did in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1T), when she was off slowest and rallied for third to complete a sweep of the top three positions for Chad Brown. Overseas, Uni drew comment lines such as "Soon clear," "Led, keen..." and "Alternated on lead ..."
La Coronel figures to take some beating, after a respectable finish in the Coronation Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot. She first came to prominence beating New Money Honey on this turf course last year, and has the ability to get into striking position by the pre-stretch call.
Proctor's Ledge has demonstrated an explosive late kick regardless of the pace, capped by a win in the Lake George (G3T) over the course opening day, when she ran the last five-sixteenths of a mile in under 28 seconds. That is really moving, especially for a 3-year-old filly.
A - 3, 4, 6
B - 2
C - 1
Alabama (Sar, race 9, 5:40 ET): New Money Honey (1) and Holy Helena (2) are coming off wins in million-dollar races at 1 1/4 miles, but the former has run exclusively on turf to this point, and the latter's only dirt victory was a maiden win over Presumptuous, who is 0 for 12.
While Chad Brown does exceptionally well with turf-to-dirt runners, New Money Honey will be a lower price than she should be, after enjoying good setups in both the Wonder Again Stakes (G3T) and Belmont Oaks.
Holy Helena, on the other hand, has gotten better as the distances have gotten longer. What's more, her trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, saddled the one-two finishers in the 2014 Travers Stakes (G1), and also won it in 2010, so he knows something about winning 10-furlong races over what can be a fairly demanding surface.
The tepid morning-line favorite at 3-1 is Unchained Melody (5), who goes two turns for the first time after wiring the Mother Goose Stakes (G2). The key question is, who's going to run with her early?
Either of Bill Mott's entrants, Lockdown (4) or Elate (7) are capable of laying close. Lockdown stumbled at the start and was out of position early when second best in the Mother Goose Stakes (G2); Elate took a while to come around during the first half of the season, but comes off a gritty effort against four-time grade 1 winner Abel Tasman in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), when in tight on the rail through the final stages.
Salty (6) had a horrible trip from start to finish in the CCA Oaks, and did well to finish third.
A - 2, 4, 5
B - 1, 7
C - 6
TVG Pacific Classic (Dmr, race 8, 5:45 PT): After watching the winner of the world's three richest races come up dead empty as the 1-20 favorite in the San Diego Handicap (G2), it's difficult to know what to expect from Arrogate (8) as he breaks from the outside against seven opponents.
Was it a case of the Dubai doldrums? Was a six-furlong workout in 1:11 the week before too fast? Does Accelerate (3), who has now finished ahead of him twice, somehow have his number? Did he simply not care for the surface?
Because Del Mar hosts the Breeders' Cup this year, it's likely a search for the answer to that last question that has Arrogate back again in four weeks. With that debacle in the rear-view mirror, and stretching back out to 1 1/4 miles, where he has been invincible in three starts, beginning with a record-smashing Travers, the "Big A" is taken to bounce back with a vengeance.
Arrogate not only has to deal with Accelerate (3 for 3 over the track), but he also has to run against his stablemate Collected (2), who has won his three starts this year by better than 21 lengths and comes off a freakish performance in the Precisionist Stakes (G3). Whether Collected's form in shorter races transfers to the Pacific Classic's 10 furlongs remains to be seen.
A - 8
B - none
C - 2
Del Mar Oaks (Dmr, race 10, 6:45 PT): This might be the most fun race of the weekend, and someone among these 14 fillies is going to be a grade 1 winner at the end of the day.
Figuring out who is the challenge. The group as a whole is 0-1-2 from four starts at the 1 1/8-mile distance, and many have no experience whatsoever beyond a mile. That includes morning-line choice Con Te Partiro (5), who has never even run in a graded stake, and who—for what it's worth—is a half-sister to Pacific Classic longshot Donworth.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing is that Chad Brown didn't put anyone on a plane out of Saratoga County Airport to take on the locals.
Meadowsweet is stepping up off a very game win in a first-level allowance, and while she lacks seasoning, sometimes talent trumps experience, as was the case when Unchained Melody withstood a similar class rise to take the Mother Goose. Meadowsweet is bred to be a good one: her dam, Tranquility Lake, finished second (placed third via disqualification) in the 1998 Del Mar Oaks, and went on to win seven graded turf stakes. Tranquility Lake has produced After Market, an eight-time turf winner of more than $900,000, and Courageous Cat, who won six grass races and over $1.1 million.
Go to wherever you get your replays and have fun watching Tapped go five furlongs first time on grass against older allowance sprinters. She trailed to the stretch inside, was never fully asked, and finished like an express train behind seven-time winner Snow Cloud, then galloped out past everyone. If that performance is regarded as a five-furlong workout in 58 and some change, this spot that Jerry Hollendorfer picked out for her begins to make perfect sense.
We're also throwing in Madam Dancealot (IRE) (2) and Dream Dancing (10), the only ones who have actually won a graded stakes on turf; Vexatious (7), who is grade 2-placed on dirt, and tries the turf for Neil Drysdale; and Beau Recall (12), who was a close second in the Honeymoon (G2T) two back.
A - 6, 13
B - 2, 5, 7, 10, 12