Saturday Stakes Preview for Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, and Santa Anita

September 29, 2023

Junior Alvarado aboard Cody’s Wish after their Breeders’ Cup victory (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)

By James Gazzale

We’re five weeks out from Breeders’ Cup Friday. Those who are not “training up” to the world championships are putting in their final preps, including past winners Rebel Romance (BC Turf) and Cody’s Wish (BC Dirt Mile).

There’s coast-to-coast action this weekend, so let’s dig in.

Saturday, BAQ, G2 Vosburgh

Cody’s Wish returns to the sprint distance after trying nine furlongs in the Whitney last time out. He figures the one to beat in here, obviously. His last two tries at 7 furlongs have been some of his better efforts in the last year, defeating top company.

He really towers over this field.

The other Bill Mott trainee, High Oak, is interesting to me here. He ran a decent third in the G1 Forego last time out and has been steadily improving from a speed figure standpoint since the spring. Another step forward probably isn’t enough to beat Cody’s Wish, but High Oak is worth including given the form cycle.

Accretive appears to be rounding into form as well as he’ll be making his third start this year. He figures to take a decent amount of money given the connections.

Sheriff Bianco for Linda Rice and Jose Ortiz is certainly a horse-for-course play. He hasn’t ever finished worse than third in 11 career races at The Big A. He’ll also be making his third start in two weeks, which isn’t ideal.

Great Navigator is the most lightly raced in the field. That is appealing to me. He hasn’t been worse than third in any of his eight career tries. He hasn’t faced the stiffest of competition in the last year but his last effort was the best of them all. If he has another step forward in him, he could be a factor.

Saturday, BAQ, G2 Gallant Bloom

Caramel Swirl (Coady Photography)

Caramel Swirl looks like the one to beat on paper, so we’ll try to beat her. Especially at 1/1 on the morning line, I don’t think you can back her at this price given the presence of a few others in here.

She won the Vagrancy over decent competition, but the Bed O’ Roses was really her chance to break through against the top end of this division.

In the Ballerina, she was up against it, as was Sterling Silver. The latter comes back in here with a decent chance I think. Sterling Silver has a solid career record at BAQ (5-3-0-1) so should figure to be in the mix here.

Undervalued Asset for Chad Brown will take a fair bit of money here. She’s lightly raced compared to the others and has only run one poor race. She’s certainly a contender.

Beguine is interesting to me. She’ll go to the lead and try to take them all the way. Outside the Bed O’ Roses effort, she’s provided the most consistently high-speed figures in this field. The key for her will be the pace dynamics halfway through the race.

Can she get to the front, then conserve some energy to fend off Caramel Swirl, Sterling Silver, and Undervalued Asset down the stretch?

Beguine hasn’t beaten this level of competition, though her figures fit and with a bit of a pace advantage she certainly needs to be viewed as a contender.

I’ll be playing Sterling Silver over Beguine in an exacta.

Saturday, BAQ, G1 Turf Classic

Unfortunately, this is not the race Soldier Rising finally wins. He’s finished second in three of his last four races. What a shame, because I like this horse and backed him in the Manhattan, which as it turns out, was probably his best opportunity recently and he couldn’t get it done.

I recall Stone Age walking into the paddock at Saratoga for the Sword Dancer looking super washed out. His effort showed he wasn’t comfortable that day, finishing 11 lengths back of Bolshoi Ballet. I think this horse is going in the wrong direction following his place finish in the BC Turf last year.

Rebel’s Romance clipped heels and dumped his rider in the Bowling Green at the end of July. He looked loaded and like the eventual winner prior to that incident. He came out of that fine, all things considered, and deserves another shot here.

War Like Goddess popped for a career-best 107 BRIS in last year’s BC Turf. It was good for 3rd that day. I don’t think she’ll reach that figure again here, but she does appear to be rounding into form over her last three efforts. I expect her to run a solid race here and be a main contender.

Pioneering Spirit needs a bit of discussion. His figures don’t particularly fit with this group, he’s never won at this level, but he wins and takes a lot of money. I doubt he’ll drop much lower than his 10-1 morning line, but still feels like this one is in a bit over his head.

Rebel’s Romance for me. Astronaut can get up for a piece in the exotics.

Saturday, BAQ, G2 Woodward

Zandon (Coady Photography)

This one is interesting to me because on paper, I think most people would think Charge It is the best horse in the field. While that’s most likely true, it’s worth mentioning he’s never finished ahead of Zandon when the two have squared off.

That’s happened three times, most recently in the Whitney and the Met Mile. Now, Zandon can’t be trusted to win. He has a maiden victory and the G1 Blue Grass last year to his name, that’s it.

So, if Zandon suffers from seconditis, and he always finishes ahead of Charge It, do we need to look elsewhere?

A few others deserve a closer look. Two of Law Professor’s best races have come at this distance over this track. If you toss out his Pimlico Special where he bobbled at the break, his recent form is certainly worth considering here.

Algiers is also worth consideration as he’s represented himself rather well overseas. He hasn’t run since March though, and shipping in from Meydan against some of the better older males in the US might be a tall task.

Film Star is the other one I’m intrigued by in the Woodward. Yes, he’s been knocking around with allowance company of late, but we know Linda Rice wins in bunches at Aqueduct. Film Star should go to the lead and control the pace. The question will be whether he has the stamina to kick away down the stretch. He didn’t need to show any sort of late pace last time out as he pulled away from the field with ease.

Two back at Saratoga we saw the potential from Film Star as he took them all the way around, holding his foes at bay.

Charge It figures to be the class of this field. But at short odds I’ll be looking to play a bit of Law Professor and Film Star.

Saturday, CD, G3 Ack Ack

The G3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs offers a Win and You’re In spot in the BC Dirt Mile. This race features an evenly matched field.

Three Technique figures to fire his best shot in here. He’s paired BRIS speed figures in his last two and with a little freshening, should be sitting on a big effort. He’s run his fastest race at this distance over the Churchill Downs track. Three Technique is a top contender for me.

Seize the Night interests me, too, from the rail. It’s the first start with Jade Cunningham after coming over from the Lukas barn. Without a lot of starts to Cunningham’s name it’s tough to gauge what we can expect, however the horse has been working steadily throughout September under Cunningham’s care.

Skyro was also interesting to me given the past success at Churchill Downs. We know Brian Lynch is a quality trainer and while this horse will be taking a step up in class he’s been competitive in his career. His last race was one of his best, so we’ll look for him to duplicate that in here.

I’ll build my tickets around Three Technique, Skyro and Seize the Night.

Saturday, SA, G1 Awesome Again

National Treasure, The Preakness winner gallops for Bob Baffert, Ernie Belmonte, Past the Wire
National Treasure (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)

One of the more popular West Coast preps for the Breeders’ Cup is the Awesome Again. It’s a who’s who of California-based trainers looking to find their way into the BC starting gate.

I like three in here. National Treasure, Senor Buscador, and Skinner.

I thought National Treasure ran well in the Preakness, obviously, and Belmont despite finishing a well-beaten sixth in the latter.

He came back in the Travers and when he didn’t get the lead into the first turn it was pretty much over for him at that point. The blinkers come back on, so you have to figure he’s going to the front. That is his best advantage afterall. I see a bounce back effort coming here for the Preakness winner.

His five-year-old season has been the best yet for Senor Buscador. Despite finishing fourth behind Arabian Knight, Geaux Rocket Ride, and Slow Down Andy, Senor’s last effort in the G1 Pacific Classic produced a career best BRIS speed figure. He’s been ultra consistent this year for Todd Fincher and is certainly a leading contender here.

Skinner was hot on the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year. He was right in the mix with Practical Move and Mandarin Hero near the wire in the Santa Anita Derby. Without enough points to get into the Derby, he came back at Los Al and didn’t finish all that far behind Reincarnate.

Skinner was fifth in the Pacific Classic off the layoff, though he did produce a career best BRIS speed figure. I’m looking for this one to take a step forward with a little more fitness.

I’ll be using these three to build my tickets around.

Good luck!

Contributing Authors

James Gazzale, Past The Wire

James Gazzale

Jim is a communications pro with a knack for public relations, social media, and video production. A New Jersey native, he spent every Father’s Day...

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@fatbaldguyracin hits a good % of winners but I have never saw anyone on the roll @jonathanstettin is on. Making very tough game look easy!

Justin Golden @justin181174 View testimonials