Saratoga Picks & Betting Analysis for July 31: EQ, EQ, EQ!

It is a Saratoga Saturday, and the headliner is clearly Brad Cox's Essential Quality. The colt returns to action in the Jim Dandy (G2). See who he is up against, along with all of our selections ...
It is a Saratoga Saturday, and the headliner is clearly Brad Cox's Essential Quality. The colt returns to action in the Jim Dandy (G2). See who he is up against, along with all of our selections ...

Saratoga Saturday arrives ... with both the Grade I Vanderbilt and the Grade II Jim Dandy on the card, it is going to be a massive day in Upstate New York. Here at, we have you covered, as our turf-man takes a look at these races and more! Have a read ...

If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country this Saturday be sure to check out our free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.

Horse Racing Picks

Race 7: Turf, 1 Mile, ALLW103k, F&M 3+

We have already seen some of these ALLW contests @The SPA, and if you have looked at the payouts, you know that just above 5/1 there is room for a great wager. Keeping that in mind, on the search for value plays, you will not find one with Chad Brown and his filly, Love and Thunder #8. Ridden by Jose Ortiz, she is looking for her 1st US win. She cut her teeth over in the UK at Newbury, Epsom, and Ascot. After runs at Aqueduct and Belmont, she comes in for the Gunther-owners ready to roll. These Siyouni (FR) breds like the turf mightily.

I want to take her on, and will do my best by backing a runner like Bill Mott’s Rivendell #1. The 4-yr-old filly visited the SPA turf course before, and came up empty. But I think this time around might be decidedly different. Out of Lemon Drop Kid, she will appreciate the stretch out to 8F, after running much shorter at 5½F. Handling the class rating will not be an issue … her price will reflect the fact that most will not be able to trust that she can get the job done. But at 12/1, or maybe even higher, Junior Alvarado has the chance to take her to the next level. It starts in this race. It is going to be a great grass go …

Wagering Recommendation: $2 Exacta Cold, 1 w 8


Race 8: Dirt, 6F, Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), $350k, 3+

The running of the Vanderbilt marks an important stage during the Saratoga Meet, and it feels like it should have Breeders’ Cup Sprint implications, even if it doesn’t. We are already 2 weeks in, and the 3rd weekend is here. The Grade 1 event regularly brings together a strong group of 3-yr-olds who are looking to make their mark. Many of them, if they even enter, will be challenging older males for the first time. This is an extremely difficult prospect, but not without its possibilities. Dirt sprints are traditionally about being “sent,” so those that go early, have a legitimate shot to declare success. In the recent past, winners have included some power runners like Poseidon’s Warrior, Justin Phillip, Palace, Rock Fall, and A.P. Indian. Imperial Hint won back-to-back affairs in 2018 and 2019 for trainer Luis Carvajal; then Steve Asmussen garnered his 3rd “Vandy” victory with Volatile in 2020.

Who will be next? Tops on many a list will be Kelly Breen’s ace, Firenze Fire #3, who many believed should have wrapped up the prep for this one. He finished 2nd to Mind Control in a nail-biter in the John Nerud (G2) @The SPA on the 4th. Now, Jose Ortiz replaces his brother, and he has some knowledge of this runner’s capability. Irad landed on Saffie Joseph’s Mischevious Alex #2, who finally missed in the Met Mile (G1). I say “missed” because he had rattled off 3-wins in-a-row before June, which was an impressive run. The Into Mischief colt should appreciate returning to the sprint distance of 6F, but I doubt he will remain around 2/1.

Lastly, of the shorter-priced entries, you cannot leave out Special Reserve #9 from the barn of Mike Maker. He teams with Paradise Farms and jockey, Joel Rosario. Coming in with 2-straight scores, the last being in a 100k at Prairie Meadows, the gelding looks awfully speedy. We know how tough Rosario can be when he gets to the lead. Going with any of these makes a ton of sense, and you could add the venerable Whitmore #6 to that group too, since he has the class to game with this lot. Still, I can poke holes in their ability too, and none of them look like a lock to get home first. This is a dirt sprint, and maybe after all the rain that has fallen over the past few days, the course setup will impact the rail. Thus, turning what was a speed-favoring situation into one that is for all intent and purposes, not.

For my money, I want to put my dollars behind Linda Rice’s Montauk Traffic #8. The 4-yr-old colt out of Cross Traffic is a NYRA warrior, and I like Rice, even if there are those that don’t. Coming to Saratoga for the 1st time could be just what he needs, and this could be a signature win, stepping up from an OC100k race. Eric Cancel continues to be his regular jock, and he has the ability to improve on a Meet where he has not had much to cheer about. The price of 15/1 should make all potential horseplayers sit up and take notice. Play’em …

Wagering Recommendation: $100 Bankroll, Graduated Wager, WPS #8 ($10-W, $15-P, $75-S)


Race 9: Dirt, 1 1/8th, Jim Dandy S. (G2), $600k, 3

The annual renewal of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy is the perfect opportunity for former Triple Crown Trail participants to runback after their arduous winter and spring. Most are at Saratoga for 1 reason … to prepare for the upcoming Travers Stakes (G1), the 4th Leg of the Series that began way back in Kentucky at Churchill Downs. This test for 3-yr-olds will be a challenge because the level of fitness is always in question. Thumbing through a list of past winners is like strolling down memory lane. Who can forget Awesome Again? Or Ecton Park and Graeme Hall? What about Medaglia d’Oro or Flower Alley? More recently, names like Bernardini, Street Sense, Palace Malice, Wicked Strong, and Laoban will all be remembered … The last 3 victors, Tenfold, Tax, and Mystic Guide all made their mark … True champions, through and through …

The field assembled for this year’s “Dandy” is decidedly less than that. Pletcher’s Dr Jack #1, Stall’s Masqueparade #2, Jerkens’ Weyburn #3, Diodoro’s Keepmeinmind #4, and Brown’s Risk Taking #6 are all solid colts led by a fine group of barns. But I am sorry … they cannot hold a candle to Brad Cox’s Essential Quality #5. The Tapit colt who is a Godolphin homebred is just so much more talented. His march to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, that will presumably go through the Travers Stakes (G1) in late August is on. Cox has a plan, and when that is the case, everyone will end up being in his wake. It was only in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when Luis Saez was caught wide, that he was unable to respond in his usual fashion. I know there are detractors, but this is clearly one of the best Thoroughbreds in all of America. He will prove it again today in the Jim Dandy (G2). Speaking of champions …

Wagering Recommendation: $50 Win #5


Race 10: Turf, 1 3/8ths, Bowling Green S. (G2), $250k, 4+

The always tough Bowling Green is a Grade II contest that will test the distance abilities of all 8 of these that are drawn in for this year’s event. Trainer Chad Brown might not end up with the race time favorite, even though he has 2 entered—Breakpoint #3 and Rockemperor #4. That honor might go to Bill Mott’s ever-popular Channel Maker #5. Though he is coming off a long break, and has not been seen since running in Dubai in the Sheema Classic (G1), that will not deter some because of the class connections. I am decidedly against backing him because ones that go overseas sometimes have a tough time coming back and running stateside. I find it interesting that Joel Rosario is not riding the 7-yr-old gelding, since he was on him in Saudi and on Dubai WC Night.

Hmm … instead, he is over on Brown’s #4, and that is where I am going to be. I liked this runner quite a bit last year, and I think he has what it takes to come to Saratoga and be successful. He did not hit the board the last time he was present, but to me, his form is much better this time around. A prep over the Belmont turf course resulted in a good win last out, and he can build on that here. His running style is off-the-pace, and Rosario has his beautiful moment on the grass where he just finds another gear at the proper time.

Let’s use him on top when it comes to wheel bets, and I want to include both Brown runners, along with Todd Pletcher’s Shamrocket #8. This Tonalist colt is on the make, and I want to be there when he comes home. It might not be in this spot, but with Irad in the saddle, you never know. He makes very good horses into great ones, especially with his aggressive riding deep in the stretch. Watch how he urges his mount on … it is an impressive sight.

Wagering Recommendation: $2 Trifecta Box, 3/4/8


Enjoy some action from the SPA! The tradition at Saratoga Race Course marches on …

Horse Racing Picks