The final Saturday of racing at the summer boutique meets offers us a cross country pick four, which kicks off at Saratoga Race Course with the Spinaway Stakes (G1) and the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), and concludes out West with the Del Mar Debutante (G1) and the John C. Mabee (G2T) stakes.
Given the fact that Gun Runner is a 2-5 morning-line favorite against four opponents in the Woodward, it may be best to approach this sequence more like a pick three and keep ticket structuring to a minimum.
Let's go through the races in order. All times are Eastern:
Spinaway (Sar, race 10, 6:11 p.m.): You'd think a filly that has swept her three starts by better than a dozen lengths would be a clear-cut favorite, but Pure Silver (4), who captured the Adirondack Stakes (G2) by a pole three weeks ago, is only a slight morning-line choice over Separationofpowers (1), who was arguably the most impressive 2-year-old debut winner of the season back on July 30.
With the Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown trainer battle coming down to the wire, this race looms large for both camps.
Pletcher has won the Spinaway six times including a share last year with Sweet Loretta's dead-heat, and he will turn Pure Silver around three weeks after a no-doubt-about-it score in the Adirondack. While the New York-bred daughter of Mission Impazible certainly has an edge in terms of seasoning, this will be her fourth start in a little over 10 weeks and one wonders whether there's more room for continued improvement at this point.
Separationofpowers earned a speed figure comparable to Pure Silver's Adirondack, but the Candy Ride filly hardly drew a deep breath and turned her race into a virtual public workout. She has had almost five weeks since then, and we saw with Cloud Computing in the Preakness what Chad Brown can do with fresh horses in spots where others are running back relatively quickly.
A - 1, 4
B - 3
Woodward (Sar, race 11, 6:46): Despite having a wayward horseshoe latched to his tail, Gun Runner had little trouble annexing the Whitney Stakes (G1) four weeks ago. The relatively quick turnaround should not be a problem for a horse who won the Clark Handicap (G1) three weeks after running second in the Las Vegas Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last fall. By running here, he can merely train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).
Gun Runner (2) has already beaten three of his four Woodward opponents decisively. The exception is Rally Cry (3), who earned this chance by taking the restricted Alydar Stakes in impressive time and manner Aug. 6.
It's hard to imagine Gun Runner getting beat in this spot, but like his trainer Steve Asmussen noted, you never want to take anything for granted at Saratoga.
A - 2
B - none
C - 3
Del Mar Debutante (Dmr, race 7, 7:57): Things open up significantly in the last half of the pick four. Seven of the eight 2-year-old fillies in this field come off wins, headed by Spectator (3), who followed up a 5 1/4-length maiden victory with a win in the Sorrento Stakes (G2) by an identical margin.
The Bob Baffert-trained Just a Smidge, a $425,000 daughter of Into Mischief , broke a step slow but then rushed through between horses to contest the pace, and edged away nicely in the stretch back on July 19. She has had ample recovery time, and the screws have been tightened with a pair of bullet workouts at six furlongs. Baffert's record with last-out winners is the best in the game.
Moonshine Memories, a $650,000 yearling buy, is back quickly after gamely withstanding pace pressure to win at first asking two weeks ago.
A - 3, 5
B - 2, 4
C - 6, 8
John C. Mabee (Dmr, race 9, 8:54): This 1 1/8-mile turf race out of the chute attracted a baker's dozen of older fillies and mares, including the top five finishers from the Yellow Ribbon (G2T) four weeks ago.
Cambodia (4) prevailed in deep stretch of the Yellow Ribbon, and will venture beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time in her career. She has never been out of the money from nine turf starts (on six different courses), and gives every indication of being able to stay the trip.
Were it not for her terrible draw in post 13, Goodyearforroses (13) would likely be a more clear-cut favorite based on her last effort, when she ran multiple grade 1 winner Lady Eli to a half-length decision in the Gamely Stakes (G1T) on May 27. She has improved considerably since relocating to Southern California toward the end of last year, including a win at nine furlongs in the Santa Ana Stakes (G2T) over Yellow Ribbon runner-up Pretty Girl (9).
In her first outing of the year, Mrs McDougal (6) had a useful conditioning race when third to Madame Stripes (5) in a July 21 restricted stakes. Mrs McDougal, a grade 2 winner in 2015 and a grade 3 winner last year, has been best at distances up to 8 1/2 furlongs to this point.
A - 4, 13
B - 9
C - 3, 5, 6