My Saratoga Picks

September 8, 2016

Saratoga really is an amazing six weeks I thought I would list my top ten Saratoga picks as to why I like it. I grew up going there with my father, and each year it seems like it keeps getting better and better. Either that, or I’m just spending more time in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Mark DiLo and friends
Mark DiLo and friends

The end of any Saratoga meet always has a hollow feeling as a horseplayer. It turns the page on summer, and opens the chapter titled Fall Racing and Football. Before Belmont opens its starting gates on Friday, and my New York Giants kick off their season on Sunday, I wanted to take a look back at my Saratoga Picks Top 10 List.

Some might ask, “A top 10 list of what?” And my simple response would be, “This is my list of 10 things that MAKE Saratoga my favorite place on earth, and what MADE the 2016 meet better than any previous year I can remember.”

Saratoga Pick #10: Saratoga Live on MSG & FoxSports 2

This is the way the Sport of Kings is supposed to be broadcasted to a national audience. I was born in 1985, and I do not remember the days of racing being on like baseball is today. But I do remember, and still live through, the NBC/NBC Sports broadcasting of live coverage of big horse racing days that doesn’t do enough to create new fans, and more importantly, new HORSEPLAYERS. You can’t show PK4 or PK5 payoffs?

TVG does do a good job diving deeper into handicapping races, and has some talented hosts who are horse players and great people, such as Simon Bray, Sarge, and Matt Carruthers, to name a few. BUT the broadcast is biased towards the west coast racing, and its choice to show a claiming race over a stakes race, or cut to a commercial during an inquiry without showing a replay is ridiculous. And how can they NOT consistently show fractional split times during the race?

MSG+/FoxSports2 coverage has, and will continue to bring new fans to racing. I have many friends and coworkers who not long ago found it too hard to find racing on TV, but now text and call me daily asking me about my opinion is in the late pk4 or pk5 races broadcast on MSG+. These same friends have opened NYRABets/TVG/Twinspires accounts because of this program, and I can’t be alone in telling this tale. Maggie Wolfendale’s analysis, Richard Migliore’s energy, Jason Blewitt’s spot on storytelling, Andy Sterling’s bold predictions, Tom Amoss’s trainer insight, Gabby Gaudet’s knowledge and insight, made thissummer’s Saratoga meet almost as good being at home, as being at the racetrack. OK…maybe not that good, but that is how highly I regard this fantastic horse racing production.

Saratoga Pick #9: The Ortiz Brothers:
Year in and year out the jockey colony at the SPA is the best in the country. This 2016 class was no different, seeing names like Geroux, Sanatana, and Bravo fly in to join the already high caliber of NY riders. This year Jose Ortiz closed out the back end of the Ortiz Brother DOUBLE (with Irad winning the title in 2015) and completing the Ortiz Brother Exacta, with Jose winning 65 times to Irad’s 57 winning mounts. Irad is only 24 yrs old to his brother, Jose only 22 yrs old, are just starting to become very good jockeys at a very young age. An amazing article written by Jonathan Stettin before the Saratoga meet titled “Top of the World” on tells just how amazing these two kids journey has already been and after this Saratoga season they have gotten even better. I remember Jerry Baily saying he sees Irad and Jose do things he started doing 15 years into race riding, not 5 or 6. These two brothers had an unbelievable meet, and with the shakeup of Javier Castellano and his agent Matt Muziker, these two might win more races at Saratoga next year. Of the 122 combined wins this summer at Saratoga, I had my fair share to choose from, and below is my favorite Jose Ortiz ride of the meet. Granted I am a little  biased about this one but I deserve to be, I waited all meet for this horse to run back in this spot, and like The Pick 6 King always says, I made it  count! Practical Joke was my Best Bet of the meet, no joke!

Hopeful Stakes – Jose Ortiz aboard Practical Joke

Some irony here as Irad took a spill coming out of the gate aboard Classic Empire, (I learned today he is doing just fine) but this ride by Jose Ortiz on Practical Joke is why Jose was the best jockey in Saratoga this summer. At the quarter mile pole Jose was on the rail boxed in and had a big decision to make. Would he shift wide, lose ground, but know he would get a clear path the wire? Or would he sit tight on the rail, save ground, and be patient waiting for a hole to develop? He did the latter and he won another G1 race, and Chad Brown’s first Male G1 dirt race. I saw too many jockeys this summer lose their cool on the best horse, go wide, and not get up to win on a tiring Saratoga dirt track. I made the biggest win bet of my life in this race on Monday, and I punched that ticket with a little more confidence knowing Jose Ortiz would not lose the race for me, and he certainly did not.

Saratoga Pick #8 Songbird:

The connections of Songbird treated me, and the fans of Saratoga, to something truly special. They brought the best 3yo filly in the county to Saratoga for not one, but two headline races. Most will remember the grace she showed when winning the Alabama, but I’ll never forget being on site when she batted Carina Mia away down the stretch of the Coaching Club American Oaks. Carina Mia was working out just as good as any horse on the grounds at Saratoga heading into the race, and Bill Mott had said months ago, if not for an outbreak at Payson Park, where Carina Mia was training, she would have won the Kentucky Oaks. Songbird set the pace in the Coaching Oaks with Carina Mia stalking a length behind until down the lane when Carina Mia looked Songbird in the eye. Songbird found that other gear that so many other champions do, and accelerated to win what I thought was the battle of the meet.

Songbird- 2016 Coaching Club American Oaks YouTube

Saratoga Pick #7: Richard Migliore and Maggie Wolfendale:

As a NY horse fan, I can’t say enough how valuable these two are to being a successful horse player. No other racetrack in the country gives you the insight and description of horses in the paddock and on the track as well as this Saratoga team did this summer. I know neither of them thought they would be so flawless on television years ago, but now I can’t imagine the NYRA telecast without them. Not only are they great talking on the live NYRA feed, they are even better people while randomly running into them in town over the course of the meet. I was having dinner at Hattie’s the night Maggie and Team Morley won their first graded stakes race. I waited until they were finished with their fried chicken to congratulate them, and they couldn’t have been kinder to myself and the horse fans around them.

If you want to pick more winners, listen to what Maggie and Rich have to say before and after each race. Take notes and put them in DRF Formulator (using the Past the Wire PTWF10 Promo Code for a 10% discount) and be ready for the next time that horse runs a longer distance, on a different surface, or stretching out. Maggie and Rich give you gold, and use their knowledge and make yourself a successful horseplayer.

Saratoga Pick #6: The “Old” Saratoga Jockey Colony still shines…

Mike Smith: Some days at Saratoga this summer it felt more like 1996 than 2016. From 1991-1993 Mike Smith won the Jockey title at the SPA, and for a few days this meet Smith looked like his 1992 self once again. Here is what he did in 6 straight races from the Alabama to the Travers: Alabama winner Songbird, Annual Report 6th off a HUGE LAYOFF, Imperia 3rd in an allowance behind 2 future stakes winners, Tamarkuz 2nd in the G1 Forego at 26-1, and Arrogate. Mike Smith rode in 6 GRADED STAKES RACES at the SPA in 2016…He WON 4 and had 1 second, THAT’S a 67% win percentage. Now people will sit there and tell me that anybody could have won on a few of these, but they didn’t. Best Mike Smith ride this summer? Tamarkuz getting 2nd in the Forego, watch the master at work below.

2016 Forego Stakes YouTube

John Velazquez: Johnny V won his first Jockey title back in 1998, and was back to that world class form this Saratoga meet. In June of 2012, and on Breeders’ Cup Day in 2013, JV had some brutal falls. He is as good of a guy as there is in horse racing, and at his age I didn’t know why he didn’t call it a career. I know why he didn’t after this Saratoga meet. He was back these past six weeks and better than ever. He took Wesley Ward horses wire to wire rating perfectly, Graham Motion horses through tight spots to win stakes races, and of course guiding his fair share of Pletcher horses around the old Saratoga oval. I smell a few more years left in the tank for Johnny V and that is a great thing for the sport. Again there were so many to choose from but my favorite this meet was when Johnny V timed Time and Motion perfectly to beat Catch a Glimpse in the Lake Placid Stakes.

2016 Lake Placid Stakes – Time and Motion YouTube

Saratoga Pick #5: Small Barn Success

Just fantastic meets by a few NY based trainers that are great for the sport, and great for the future of NY racing.

Charlie Baker won his first Graded Stakes at Belmont on Belmont Stakes weekend, and has been a force ever since. At Saratoga this meet he only had 29 runners but won 10 times and finished IN THE MONEY 62% of the time! This was no surprise to Tracking Trips members as Jonathan Stettin was on to him back at Belmont and warned us to watch everything he sent to the track. Not to put down Hall of Famer Bill Mott but, Mr. Mott had one less winner than Charlie with 69 more starters. Unreal work Mr. Baker and Congrats!

Jimmy Jerkens is very selective as to how many horses he trains, and that leads him to not have a “Super” barn like Pletcher/Brown/Baffert, but know this…if he did decide to take on more horses he would be spoken about in the same breath. He had a very strong Saratoga meet AGAIN, being ITM 50% of the time, winning 21% of the time and keeping his father’s nickname legacy going being “the GIANT KILLER” winning the Woodward Stakes with Shaman’s Ghost this past Saturday.
Tom Morley is another young NY trainer that had his first great Saratoga meet, and I’m certain it won’t be his last. He won his first graded stakes and G1 race with Haveyougoneaway and I’m certain it won’t be his last G1 win. I look for him to have a strong Belmont campaign as well as I have a few of his horses jotted down as play backs this fall meet.

Saratoga Pick #4: Flintshire

With so many stakes races, so many unbelievable horses, and so many story lines at Saratoga, I feel this horse was slightly over looked. And in my opinion this was the best horse I saw this summer at Saratoga. Horses are born to run! And I have said so many times before horse racing would be 10 times more popular if horses ran more, and ran into their peak years of 4, 5, and 6 years old. I understand that the breeding shed is where the real money is to be made but the industry needs to look at this in the future. Think about what the Breeders’ Cup would be like this year with America Pharoah vs California Chrome? But I digress. We are lucky to see a horse like Flintshire in this day and age. This year he was moved to the Chad Brown Barn and seems to be getting better. His two races at Saratoga were something of pure beauty. His effort in the Bowling Green Stakes on July 30th is something I’ll never forget. My friends and I were alive in the triple carryover pick 6 that day and Flintshire was our single like it was many others. He only raced vs 3 others but had every excuse in the book to lose. I had never in my life been more confident in this horse’s turn of foot once he found a hole, and boy did he not disappoint.

Flintshire – 2016 Bowling Green Stakes YouTube

Saratoga Pick #3: Chad Brown:

What a meet he had. He broke the Pletcher streak of trainer titles, saddled 40 winners including 7 graded stakes winners, and of his 31 graded stakes mounts 48% of them finished IN THE MONEY. But what I am most impressed about, and excited about going forward, is the success he is now having on the dirt. He is one of the world’s top trainers on the turf, and has been the past few years, but Monday he won his first Male G1 event on the dirt with Practical Joke in The Hopeful Stakes. Two Gulfstream championship meets ago he started to win with 2yo’s on the dirt, and now is getting more and more talented dirt horses in his barn. Add that to him getting more and more Juddmonte runners (due to his success with Flintshire) See Mexican Gold (another Tracking Trips best bet of the day Spot Play) in Saratoga’s 10th race on Sunday, he is set up to be the top trainer in the country for the next decade. Here is the replay of Chad Brown’s 1000th Win – The Johns Call Stakes with Mr. Maybe;  With this type of success it feels like his 2000th could be at Saratoga in 2017…

Saratoga Pick #2:  Travers Day:

What makes Saratoga so special is sometimes the biggest racing days of the meet aren’t even the best days. The card on August 27th could have mimicked a Breeders’ Cup card, and some performances we saw were some of the greatest displays of horse racing ever.

Arrogate’s record breaking Travers victory, could be one of the best performances in the history of Saratoga. With still a few months to go, I’m pretty certain this will be the performance of the year. Bob Baffert came to Saratoga with horses that could win, and make up for the small sting American Pharoah left him last year.

(Again this was no surprise to Tracking Trips members or those who attended our Travers Day webinar. We spoke about how live Mr. Baffert was on Travers Day, and Jonathan went into how he brought his horses up there differently this year, going through their conditions, and how it would pay off! It did in a big way. “Baffert’s Revenge” I believe he called it. Defrong was his best bet and single not only on the card, but also his second of three best bets or Major Wagers for the meet. The others, Tourist and Suffused also won! Three for three!) Listening to Garret O’Rourke’s (American stable manager for Team Valor) interview on Steve Byk, they knew they had something special but didn’t know how special. He overcame the rail, out dueled a few on the front end, and ran a faster last quarter mile than he did first quarter mile. What a performance.

2016 Travers Stakes – Arrogate YouTube

Lady Eli was a sure bet never to run again. She not only overcame a disease that most horses die from, she almost came back off of a year layoff to win a stakes race at Saratoga on Travers Day. Not only that but she lost to a horse that was good, but benefited greatly but a course bias on the Mellon Turf that developed that week at Saratoga, where outside wide sweeping moves was the only way to win. What a horse, what a performance.

Drefong wsa brought here by Bob Baffert to win and he did just that. I like Jonathan was ready to make a big bet on this horse after I saw him break his maiden at Santa Anita last year and this was the day I did. Mike Smith broke fast and never looked back against a very competitive group of 3yo sprinters who we will see more of as the year goes on.

2016 Kings Bishop Stakes – Drefong

Saratoga Pick #1: The People:

Mark DiLo and friendsPeople will say that Saratoga is the best place to go to the race track for a lot of reasons. The caliber of horses is world class, the trainers are the best in the world, the restaurants and bars in and around town are some of the best and most fun I have ever been to. But the reason that this year at Saratoga was better than ever, and why it is always such a great place to be, is because of the people you share “The Spa” with.
When I was just a kid my father brought me to Saratoga with dozens of his friends. Since his passing I’m extremely fortunate to bring dozens of my friends each year to Saratoga for world class racing, great food, awesome patio bars, and a breath of fresh air, outside of New York City. But it’s not just the people I know that make it so special for me, it’s the people I meet who come in for the racing, and the people who call Saratoga home, that makes it such an extraordinary place.
From the guy who charges too much to park our car (but gives us a free bottle of water if it’s hot,) to the wonderful ladies at Five Points Deli who make my egg sandwich each morning, to the new friends I met this year hanging out with my pal Danonymous Dan, or the bartenders at The Horseshoe who are glowing when they see us year after year, or the waitress at Panelles who puts up with us singing God Bless America after dinner, it’s the people in Saratoga that make it so great. It will take a performance greater than Secretariats to knock this #1 down the list, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.


@jonathanstettin Nice piece and well articulated! Thanks for sharing your knowledge through your work!

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