By Bob Ehalt
As hard as it may be to believe, the start of the joyous 40-day meet at Saratoga is just four weekends away.
Yes, four weeks.
Are you ready?
Vacation time locked in?
Building up your bankroll?
Whether those bills in your wallet are $100’s or $10’s, the key for getting ready for the Spa is doing your homework and having angles in place that can open the door to some winners at an extremely difficult, but star-studded meet.
For starters, there should be little mystery about the leading trainer and jockey. On the trainer side, it should be either Todd Pletcher or Chad Brown, or Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher. They have the biggest stables and are loaded with horses tailor-made for the meet. Pletcher figures to be propelled by his 2-year-olds while Brown will counter with a legion of turfers, and in the end the race for the trainer’s title could be decided by Mother Nature. The more races that are washed off the turf, the better Pletcher’s chances become.
On the jockeys’ side, it should be a family affair between Jose Ortiz and his brother Irad Ortiz Jr. The young siblings figure to ride in about 80 percent of the races at the Spa and it will take a huge year from either John Velazquez or Javier Castellano to prevent them from running 1-2 in the riders’ standings.
And while you’re checking out all of those 2-year-olds from Pletcher – and Brown too – do not overlook 2-year-old turfers from Bill Mott, who has enjoyed solid results in that spot.
Also, while shippers can be dangerous, the bulk of the Spa winners last raced at Belmont Park. While horses who turned in a big effort at Belmont would seem naturals for strong races at the Spa it’s not that simple. It’s better to look for horses on the upswing – let’s say they finished second or third or had a brutal trip – who can take a step forward at Saratoga. If you want to side with a winner at Belmont, it’s probably best to look for those with at least five weeks of rest so they can recover from those performances.
Finally, Saratoga is definitely a place to monitor horses for courses, especially on the main track. If a horse has won at the Spa in the past, give him a close look.
Ditto for later in the meet when horses race for a second or third time. If a horse can win once at the Spa, there’s no reason why he can’t do it twice.