Saratoga living up to its billing

Aug 7, 2018 3:05 AM

As we expect every year, the August racing seasons at Saratoga and Del Mar – especially at Saratoga – can be counted on to produce excellent results in major stakes along with an assortment of 2-year-olds likely to have bright futures.

This past Saturday we saw both of those tendencies in play via several outstanding performances in Saratoga stakes as well as a very good performance by a maiden 2-year-old.

In the richest race on the card – the $1.2 million Whitney – we witnessed a strong performance by Diversify, a 5-year-old New York bred gelding who replicated his career high 110 Beyer Speed Figure while defeating a solid group of older horses in this traditional 1-1/8 mile event. Diversify now has won three straight stakes in New York and is two for two at Saratoga – having also won the Evan Shipman last summer.

During the past year, Diversify not only won five of seven starts; but, he earned Beyer Figures of 107, 108, 110 and 110 to raise his overall status as one of the top American horses in training.

Unless he falters badly in his next start, Diversify figures to be one of the favorites in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs this fall. The only negative aspect to his positive racing profile was his fourth place finish in the Grade-1 Clark Handicap at Churchill last November.

While I’m not a big fan of betting on heavy favorites and Diversify went to the post in the Whitney at marginally OK 8-5 odds, he tipped-off his excellent performance when he worked 59 seconds breezing over the track on Sunday, July 29. Please note, Diversify is a horse who invariably telegraphs a top performance via an impressive recent workout.

Beyond the Whitney, we also saw Separationofpowers improve sharply in her second start of the season, going from a decent fourth in the Victory Ride stakes at Belmont on July 9, to catch Mia Mischief in the Test stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The winner was clocked in 1:22.78 for the 7 furlong distance and earned a career best 93 Beyer.

Last Fall, Separationofpowers finished a respectable fourth in the BCup Juvenile Fillies. This year, if trainer Chad Brown decides to put her in the $1 million BCup Filly and Mare Sprint (at this same 7 furlong distance), she will meet a relatively strong group that will include older horses.

A few races before the Test on Saturday, the British import Uni won the $100K De La Rose stakes on a rain softened grass course. While this Chad Brown trainee earned a decent 95 Beyer, defeating the Irish import Precieuse by a head, both of these good fillies are likely to face strong competition from California, South America and Europe, if they go on to a BCup turf race at Churchill.

That said, there was one more race at Saratoga on Saturday that caught my attention and I suggest readers might do well to go to the Saratoga web site to review the winning performance of Mucho, a 2-year-old second time starter who dominated a 6 furlong maiden sprint.

After running decently to finish second in his career debut at Belmont on June 10, this 2-year-old son of Blame scored his maiden victory by nearly 10 lengths in 1:10.19 to earn an encouraging 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

Trained by the great Billy Mott – best known for his expertise with turf horses – this nicely-balanced youngster beat a full field of highly regarded juveniles as if he will be a major contender in Saratoga’s high-class Hopeful Stakes to be run at 7 furlongs on Saturday, Sept. 3.

Mott, by the way, is enjoying one of the strongest Saratoga meets of his Hall of Fame career. Through Saturday, he had won nine races from his 39 starters. Even so, it would be wrong to underestimate the potential success hinted at by his most formidable rivals – Steve Asmussen, who has won 10 races from 32 starters, and Chad Brown, who has won 16 from 58 starters, with 10 seconds and 10 thirds.

Among Saratoga jockeys, wins have been accumulating for these familiar leaders: Irad Ortiz Jr. has won 18 races; Luis Saez, 16; Javier Castellano, 14; Ricardo Santano, 12. Meanwhile, veterans John Velazquez and Joel Rosario have each won 11 and Jose Ortiz has finished in the money exactly 50 percent of the time with his 78 mounts.

At Del Mar, which I will cover in greater depth next week, jockey Flavien Prat has 14 winners, while the up-and-coming jockey Drayden Van Dyke has 13. Among trainers, Bob Baffert is off to a slow start, with only three wins from 17 starters. Otherwise, John Sadler has won with six of his 26 and Brian Koriner has scored five times with the 19 horses he has saddled.