Strike Silver (bay) edges Nitrous (gray) in a maiden race at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Strike Silver (bay) edges Nitrous (gray) in a maiden race at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

Question: Which trainer has enjoyed the most success in two-year-old races at Saratoga over the last few years?

The answer, as you might expect, is Todd Pletcher. With his annual arsenal of well-bred young runners, Pletcher has been the leading trainer of two-year-olds at each of the last three Saratoga meets, sending out 42 winners from 160 starters to achieve a 26% win rate.

So it’s certainly not a surprise that Pletcher will have two starters in Saturday’s $150,000 Sanford Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga, an early prep race on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and—by extension—the 2019 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). They are #1 Somebeyay, runner-up in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont last month, and #2 Lexitonian, a recent debut winner at Belmont.

Of the pair, my preference is for Lexitonian. The son of Speightstown caught my eye with his solid maiden victory going five furlongs on June 27th, in which he rallied from fourth place in a six-horse field to win by a length. At first glance, it wasn’t an overly remarkable debut, but the race was filled with runners of seemingly high potential, and I loved the way Lexitonian settled off the lead before rallying up the inside to win going away. It was a very professional effort for a first-time starter, and I think it’s something that Lexitonian can build on in the Sanford.

Still, seven of the eight Sanford starters are entering off of sharp maiden wins, so having a strong opinion for one over the others is difficult. Certainly I like Lexitonian, but what about Mark Casse’s #8 Strike Silver, who beat the well-bet Nitrous in a gutsy performance sprinting five furlongs at Churchill Downs last month while running the final furlong in a quick :11.92? The son of Violence is the fastest horse on paper with speed figures of 88 (BRIS) and 76 (Beyer) and can’t be underestimated, though his front-running style could set him up for a pace duel given that the majority of his Sanford rivals have shown speed as well.

Casse will also send out #5 Dream Maker, who rallied from last to win a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Churchill on June 7th. Dream Maker’s late-running style is appealing in this speed-oriented field, and while from a speed figure perspective the son of Tapit needs to find a bit more, it would come as no surprise to see him step up his game second time out.

Since I don’t have any strong opinions in the Sanford, I’m not inclined to get too aggressive playing the exotics. Instead, I’ll box Lexitonian, Strike Silver, and Dream Maker in the exacta and hope that the wide-open nature of the race leads to a solid payoff:

$4 exacta: 2,5,8 with 2,5,8 ($24)

Good luck!