The Grade 1 Vanderbilt Handicap is the premier race for sprinters at Saratoga. The $400k six furlong race has attracted a field of eight horses this year. Notable winners include Speightstown, Pomeroy, War Front, Fabulous Strike and Majesticperfection.
Shackleford (Forestry x Oatsee by Unbridled) 6-5: Last year’s Preakness Stakes winner looked to be finished, but has found new life in one turn races. Trainer Dale Romans turned him back in the Carter Handicap where he finished third. After that he put in a gutsy performance to beat Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie in the Churchill Downs Stakes. While those were both strong efforts, it was his try in the Met Mile that left jaws on the floor. John Velazquez, riding for the injured Jesus Castanon, shot right to the lead and never looked back. He held on for a nose victory over Caleb’s Posse while stopping the clock in 1:33.30. It was likely the best effort of his life. He might be vulnerable on the turn back to six furlongs, but it will take a monstrous effort to defeat him. Johnny V will keep the mount.
Emcee (Unbridled’s Song x Surf Club by Ocean Crest) 2-1: Incredibly talented individual won his first two races by a combined 10 ½ lengths. After that, he finished third beaten a length in the Toboggan after a bad start. He was last seen scoring an easy optional claiming win at Belmont. It was a good prep for this event. Look for Alan Garcia to set up shop right behind the favorite. Kiaran McLaughlin is the trainer.
Justin Phillip (First Samurai x Avaknowsthecode by Cryptoclearance) 10-1: Not a bad price for a colt that is Grade 1 placed over this track. He put in a bang up effort to lose by just ¾ lengths in the True North Stakes two races back. He looked home free in the stretch, but Caixa Eletronica came with a furious rally. His record of 6-2-1-1 at the distance isn’t bad and leading rider Ramon Dominguez keeps the mount. There are worse bets than this one. Steve Asmussen is the trainer.
Rothko (Arch x Raspberry Eggcream by Time for a Change) 8-1: We knew this was a good colt when he finished second in the Malibu Stakes last year. He finally got his first stakes win when he took the Aristides two back. That effort was followed up with a second in the Iowa Sprint Handicap where he was a prohibitive favorite. If they go too fast he could benefit, but it’s going to take a career best effort to reach the winner’s circle. Steve Asmussen trains and Julien Leparoux will ride.
Poseidon’s Warrior (Speightstown x Poised to Pounce by Smarten) 30-1: There are a lot of things to like about this long shot. First, he has the back form to win this race. Second, he is racing third start of his form cycle. Third, he could outhustle the favorite for the early lead. If he does that and comes ready to run he is capable of springing a shocking upset. Irad Ortiz rides for trainer Robert Reid.
Sloane Ranger (Parker’s Storm Cat x Toppenish by You and I) 15-1: Gelding has improved leaps and bounds in his last few starts. A change of tactics is probably responsible because when his riders started getting him on or near the lead, he started winning more races. This is a salty group and he’s got a puncher’s chance, but he will need the best race of his life to win. Jose Lezcano rides for trainer Martin Ciresa.
Jersey Town (Speightstown x Jersey Girl by Belong To Me) 10-1: Grade 1 winner has had bad luck since winning the Cigar Mile. He has raced only five times since that late 2010 race and has failed to win in those races. He enters this event on a long layoff and it’s hard to see him beating this group under the circumstances he faces. Edgar Prado is listed to ride for trainer Barclay Tagg.
Hamazing Destiny (Salt Lake x Ms Proud Destiny by Artax) 12-1: He looked to be improving after a win in the Maryland Sprint Handicap on the Preakness undercard and did not disappoint with a next out fourth in the True North. He was defeated only 2 ¼ lengths for the win. New rider Joel Rosario figures to take him off the pace. That could be a good move for a horse that rallied to be second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 24-1.
Poseidon’s Warrior is too big of a price to pass up here. He will be in a good spot under jockey Irad Ortiz and is sitting on the best race of his life.