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There’s only a few race days remaining at Saratoga in 2021, as the Upstate New York oasis will call it a season on Labor Day Monday. Leading the way on the final Saturday at the Spa will be four graded stakes, including the historic Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Grade 1 affair features a rematch of Suburban foes Max Player and Happy Saver, as well as the up-and-coming Forza Di Oro.
Out west, the Del Mar summer meet will also come to a close over the holiday weekend. The Saturday card features a pair of graded turf races going 9 furlongs. The Grade 2 John C. Mabee, for older fillies and mares, and a wide-open edition of the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby will go off as races 9 and 11 respectively.
The defending race champion, Happy Saver, looks to do it again as he faces five other older males in the $1 million, Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday at Saratoga.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Happy Saver comes into this year’s edition, which has moved to the Spa from its traditional spot at Belmont Park, off his first career loss, finishing third in a sloppy edition of the Grade 2 Suburban. A winner of 5-of-6 lifetime, the chestnut son of Super Saver won his only previous start at Saratoga when he rallied to victory in an allowance race last year in his second career start.
Chief among his foes will be Max Player and Forza Di Oro. The former upset Happy Saver last time, defeating both him and Mystic Guide in the Suburban. It was his first victory since winning the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct 17 months earlier. Last year he finished third in the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga. Forza Di Oro returned from an 8-month layoff to easily account for a muddy allowance race on July 21 in what was his first-lifetime start at Saratoga. He ended last season with two wins, including the Grade 3 Discovery.
Our Pick: Happy Saver (9/5) – The defending champ should be ready to run his best in his third start of the year.
Only once beaten in six-lifetime starts, War Like Goddess looms large in Saturday’s Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Saratoga. A “Win and You’re In” challenge event, the race will offer an all fees paid berth into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf later this season at Del Mar. The 11-furlong turf race should be right up the alley of the distance-loving mare who has utilized a strong closing kick to win the Grade 3 Orchid at Gulfstream Park, the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland, and the Grade 2 Glens Falls in her last three starts.
Chief among her challengers will be a pair from the powerful barn of Chad Brown. My Sister Nat just missed in this race last year, which was held at Belmont Park, and most recently the half-sister to champion Sistercharlie was second behind the favorite in the Glens Falls. Great Island, meanwhile, comes in off a strong late-run victory in the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park.
Our Pick: War Like Goddess (4/5) – Her powerful late run should once again be too much to deny.
Fresh off a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Test, Souper Sensational is the one to beat against five other 3-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs in the Grade 2 Prioress on Saturday at Saratoga. Before the Test, the Mark Casse-trained chestnut won Belmont Park’s Grade 3 Victory Ride in style. Overall, the daughter of Curlin in 3-for-5 in sprint races with two stakes victories.
Chief among her competition will be a trio of fillies looking to make a name for themselves Edie Meeny Miny Mo stretched out to 1 1/16-miles for the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks last time and led well into the stretch. Before that she easily won her first two career starts at Pimlico. Amendment Nineteen and Oxana both should also be given strong consideration. The former has not been worse than second while running against talented fillies in New York, and the latter has won her only two starts on the dirt by huge margins at Parx.
Our Pick: Edie Meeny Miny Mo (9/2) – The talented daughter of Upstart should be tough in here, dropping back to a sprint and adding blinkers.
An impressive winner of the Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes last month, Public Sector looks to make it two straight graded stakes wins on the turf at Saratoga when he tops the field for Saturday’s Grade 3 Saranac Stakes. Trained by Chad Brown, the son of Kingman is unbeaten in two starts at the Spa, and has only once finished worse than second in seven career starts.
The biggest threat to the favorite hails from the barn on Todd Pletcher. Never Surprised returns after a layoff of seven months and has won 2-of-3 lifetime. An easy winner of his two first two outings on the grass at Aqueduct, including the Central Park Stakes, the son of Constitution finished second in his graded stakes debut in the Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream Park back on January 30.
Our Pick: Public Sector (7/5) – He likes the course at Saratoga and likely only needs a repeat of the last to win again here.
This looks to be one of the more difficult races of the year to pick a winner as a field of 14 was drawn for the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby, but connecting on the winner will pay off handsomely. You could make a case for almost anyone in the big field, including the respective winners of the Oceanside Stakes and the Grade 3 La Jolla, run early this summer over the Del Mar turf.
Flashiest got up late to win in a blanket finish in the Oceanside but was unsuccessful last time in a trip east for the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby. Sword Zorro also won a tight finish in the La Jolla, but was taken down for bothering both of his nearest competition, Zoffarelli and Hudson Ridge.
Our Pick: Lincoln Hawk (20/1) – Long shot Irish-bred should appreciate the distance and come flying late.
Second and third last time behind Princess Grace in the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon, Dogtag and Maxim Rate renew acquaintances when they headline a field for Saturday’s Grade 2 John C. Mabee Stakes. Trained by Richard Mandella and Simon Callaghan respectively, both 5-year-old gray mares are stakes winners and have performed consistently well in turf stakes races in California the last few years.
Others to consider in the 9 furlong turf affair include the graded stakes winner Going to Vegas, who impressively won an allowance event at Del Mar in her most recent start, and Fast Jet Court, who will be making her first start in the U.S. for trainer Michael McCarthy, but amassed a very impressive record in her native Brazil, including a pair of Group 1 wins on the turf.
Our Pick: Dogtag (3/1) – The daughter of War Front has been knocking on the door this season and should be ready to get over the hump this time.
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Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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