NEW YORK – Multiple stakes cards seem to be the rage all over the country on Saturday. For example, Santa Anita offers a Grade 3 tripleheader consisting of the $200,000 Strub, the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis, and the $150,000 Arcadia. There are three Grade 3 events at Tampa Bay Downs, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis, the $150,000 Endeavour, and the $150,000 Florida Oaks. Aqueduct has four stakes races on its Saturday card, including two Grade 3 races, the $200,000 Withers and the $150,000 Toboggan. Gulfstream’s feature, the Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson, is supported by the $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. There are two stakes on the Fair Grounds card, a handful of Louisiana-bred stakes at Delta Downs, and even a stakes doubleheader at Turfway Park.
Many of Saturday’s stakes are compromised by either small fields (the Lewis drew only four), or heavy favorites who look imposing (Revolutionary at odds-on in the Withers), but not this one. This event fits the classic definition of a great betting race. It has a full, competitive field of 14 with no standout favorite, meaning value will be had no matter which way you go.
Silentio and a pair from Europe, Strong Suit and Vagabond Shoes, are certainly logical contenders. Silentio is an up-and-comer who ran well winning the Sir Beaufort at the distance over the course on opening day in only his fourth career start. But this is a tougher group than he beat last time, and I suspect he’ll be an underlay.
Strong Suit was Group 1 class earlier in his career and was respected to the point that in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Mile he was bet to less than 8-1 against 12 opponents, including the great Goldikova. But Strong Suit’s campaign last year in England was subpar by his standards, and you have to wonder if he hasn’t lost a step.
Vagabond Shoes now goes for the potent combination of trainer John Sadler and jockey Julien Leparoux, and that’s enough to make you think twice. But his last two seasons in Europe and Dubai were inconsistent at best, too spotty for my liking.
I think this is an ideal spot for Suggestive Boy, and I like him. Suggestive Boy was a multiple Group 1 winner in his native Argentina before beginning his U.S. career last summer, and he began this phase of his life in most promising fashion. He finished a game second in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile in his U.S. debut, getting the place over Little Mike, who won three big Grade 1 turf events last year, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Suggestive Boy followed with a win in the Wickerr, notably another one-mile turf test, and again coming from off the pace. But then Suggestive Boy’s 2012 campaign took a strange turn.
Suggestive Boy made his third U.S. start in the Pacific Classic. He finished a decent fifth, but on a Polytrack surface he was no cinch to like and after using pace-pressing tactics, a style that is not his best. After that, Suggestive Boy turned in a forgettable effort in the Awesome Again on a dirt surface he also might not be cut out for, and while going against the grain of a speed bias. Suggestive Boy finally got back to going a mile on the turf in his most recent start, but that was in the Breeders’ Cup Mile against Horse of the Year Wise Dan, and again, surprisingly, he wound up pressing the pace.
With other real speed in this race, Suggestive Boy should be able to return to his preferred stalking style. And while I’m not crazy about him having to break from the 13 hole, the speedy Chosen Miracle breaks immediately to his inside. I’m hoping Suggestive Boy can move inward by following Chosen Miracle in the run to the first turn.
One other horse I gave a long look to is Wilkinson. Wilkinson ran well when he sprung a 44-1 surprise in the American Handicap last May. He recently made his first start since that race in an off-the-turf sprint. Wilkinson will love getting back to going a mile on grass, and his barn has awesome numbers in all the pertinent categories, such as second off the layoff, and surface and distance switch.
Merit Man showed a lot of heart holding on to win the Spectacular Bid on New Year’s Day after disputing a fast early pace. Then again, he went his last quarter in a slow 26.46. On Saturday, he’ll have to negotiate an additional furlong. In Merit Man’s defense, he might face less pace pressure this time, but I’m still taking a stand against.
I’m going with Honorable Dillon. Honorable Dillon showed a lot of potential last summer at Saratoga, especially in his maiden win, which came in his second start. He beat Delhomme, who came back to get his maiden win with a 94 Beyer Figure and followed with a close third in the Remsen with a 98 Beyer. Honorable Dillon finished a gaining second after racing greenly in the stretch in his recent return from a four-month layoff to a front-runner who got loose on an uncontested lead. Honorable Dillon is poised to take a big step forward Saturday.
Dynamic Sky is not going to be a great price, but he is a low-odds horse I can go for because he is far better than a cold read of his past performances would suggest. And his PPs already look as good if not better than anyone else in this race.
Dynamic Sky first achieved real prominence with his second in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall. There were a lot of bad trips in that race, but Dynamic Sky was caught three to four wide on the first turn, five wide on the far turn, lugged in significantly in the stretch, and yet was beaten just one length by a pacesetter who saved every inch of ground. Dynamic Sky followed with a sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race in which he was compromised by an intense speed bias and some trouble, getting bumped five wide into the stretch and then getting squeezed back in upper stretch. Even his win last time out in the Pasco Stakes over the track was way better than it looks on paper. Dynamic Sky was snatched up and angled sharply around horses in upper stretch at a total loss of momentum, but he still produced a good turn of foot late to score comfortably.