08/29/2013 4:53PM

Saratoga: Sage Valley could offer value in Forego

Barbara D. Livingston
Sage Valley (left) has won five of his last six starts, including the Grade 3 James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga on July 19.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Fast Bullet and Justin Phillip make up a formidable entry for owner Ahmed Zayat and figure to be tough to beat in Saturday’s $500,000 Forego.

Fast Bullet looked like the fastest horse on the planet in winning the Grade 2 True North Handicap last out. And Justin Phillip flattered that performance by bouncing back from his second-place finish in the True North to win the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap four weeks later.

But for those who think Fast Bullet is a question mark off another layoff and a last-minute barn change and believe Justin Phillip could be a bounce candidate exiting a career-best effort, there are some interesting alternatives and wagering opportunities to be had in the Grade 1 Forego.

Sage Valley, for instance, could slip beneath the radar just a bit and offer some value in the seven-furlong Forego despite having won five of his last six starts, including the Grade 3 James Marvin here last out. Sage Valley was soundly beaten by Fast Bullet and Justin Phillip in the True North, but trainer Rudy Rodriguez said that race was strictly a throw-out, as far as he was concerned.

“I think we ran him back a bit too quick; he ran a big race at Laurel after being off seven or eight months,” Rodriguez said, referring to Sage Valley’s victory in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap. “Then he lost his footing coming out of the gate on the off track and didn’t get a good trip in the True North. I just put a line through that race. He’s been training very well, he likes this track, and seven-eighths is what he needed in his last start. I was hoping to draw a little further outside, but there is a lot of speed, so we don’t need to go crazy from the inside post.”

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Jackson Bend will be competing in the Forego for the third straight year. He won the race in 2011 but finished last in defense of that title last summer after being knocked cold during a freak training accident just a week earlier. Stanley Gold, who had Jackson Bend both as a 2-year-old and again during the winter of his 4-year-old campaign, will be the trainer of record at Saratoga for the first time Saturday.

“He’s doing great,” said Gold, who is based at Calder. “I just hope he has better luck finding his way through along the inside this time than he has in his last two starts. He was racing near the rail but taken wide into the stretch, which cost him at least a placing both times.”

Jackson Bend finished third in both the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder and Gulfstream Park’s Housebuster Stakes in his last two starts. He is winless since capturing the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for trainer Nick Zito in April 2012.

Fast Bullet was transferred to trainer D. Wayne Lukas from Bob Baffert last week and will be making only his second start in almost nine months. His lone setback in five career starts came in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“I really haven’t had him long enough to know exactly what to expect on Saturday,” Lukas said.

Justin Phillip finally got his much-deserved first Grade 1 win when rallying to a two-length decision over Bahamian Squall in the Vanderbilt on Aug. 4, earning a 109 Beyer Speed Figure.

Lea, second and third behind Horse of the Year Wise Dan in his last two starts on grass, will try dirt for just the second time in the Forego. Lea was an easy winner going a mile over a sloppy track under high-priced optional-claiming conditions this spring at Churchill Downs.

Strapping Groom, who has won a pair of overnight stakes since being claimed for $35,000 on May 24, Saratoga Snacks, Golddigger’s Boy, and Javerre complete the field.