Saratoga Starting GateThe fourth weekend of the Saratoga meet featured a couple more graded stakes races for juveniles, including one that was essentially the definition of a closer-favoring race.

The action kicked off on Saturday with the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes (gr. II), a 6 ½-furlong sprint for fillies contested over a drying-out main track labeled “good.” The track was a bit tiresome as a result, so you can imagine what happened when race favorite Lyrical Lady and longshot Mucho Amor wound up dueling for the lead through a blazing opening quarter-mile in :21.72 and a half-mile in :45.53. Yes—the race absolutely fell apart in the homestretch.

Sue’s Fortune, three lengths off the early pace, was the first to strike for trainer Jeremiah Englehart, and the daughter of Jump Start rolled to a three-length lead passing the eighth pole. But like the beaten pacesetters, Sue’s Fortune was tiring from the early pace, and although she ultimately held on to prevail by a half-length over Virginia Eloise, she did so while running the third quarter in :26.88 and the final sixteenth in :07.42, producing a slow final time of 1:19.83. Those fractions allowed Virginia Eloise—ten lengths off the pace after the first half-mile—to rally dramatically in the homestretch, gaining 6 ½ lengths in the final furlong alone to fall just short of victory.

It should be noted that jockey Junior Alvarado was easing up on Sue’s Fortune prior to the finish, which may have contributed to the slow closing fractions, but I think it will be important to keep in mind that both Sue’s Fortune and Virginia Eloise benefited from a very favorable setup in the Adirondack, which they might not encounter again down the road.

The following day, four two-year-old males faced off in the Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) over the same distance as the Adirondack. This time, however, the track was fast, and the participants proved equally so, with the Delaware Park maiden winner Call Paul scoring a gate-to-wire win for trainer Jason Servis. Call Paul didn’t go quite as fast early on as Lyrical Lady (:22.48 and :45.98), but he stayed on much stronger when the real running began, getting the third quarter in :24.24 and the final sixteenth in :06.33 to prevail by a length in the final time of 1:16.55. As a point of comparison, Call Paul received an 82 Beyer speed figure for his effort compared to a 62 for Sue’s Fortune.

Tight Ten, from the barn of Steve Asmussen, pushed Call Paul early on but could never quite get by while settling for second place, with the Todd Pletcher-trained maiden winners Spinoff and Meade rounding out the order of finish.

Trainer Bill Mott continued a strong meet by sending out Unionizer to upset a seven-furlong maiden race on Saturday in gate-to-wire fashion; the son of Union Rags successfully dueled the popular Southern Phantom into submission before holding off a late charge from Johnny’s Bobby to win by a half-length. But later in the day, Network Effect—a promising son of Mark Valeski trained by Chad Brown—won an identical maiden race in a significantly faster time, rallying from mid-pack to win going away by three lengths over Derby Date, who showed significant improvement in his second start of the meet for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Chad Brown was back in action on Sunday with the filly Feedback, who pushed a fast pace before cruising to victory by eight lengths in a 6 ½-furlong maiden race. Notably, her final time—1:16.33—was 0.22 seconds faster than the time posted by Call Paul a little more than an hour later. A daughter of Violence, Feedback appears to have a very bright future and could well be bound for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

For good measure, Brown sent out Fog of War to win a 5 ½-furlong maiden race over the Mellon Turf course on Monday. A beautifully-bred son of War Front out of the Group 1-placed Galileo mare Say, Fog of War settled 3 ½ lengths off the early pace before accelerating smartly to get up and win by a neck. Considering his pedigree and connections, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) could certainly be on the horizon for Fog of War.

Looking ahead, the upcoking Saturday card at Saratoga is a bit quiet compared to last weekend, though there are a couple of six-furlong open maiden races that could feature some future stars. The first—the fourth race on the card—attracted nine entrants led by #7 Ahead of Plan, a Chad Brown-trained colt who sold for $475,000 earlier this year. The son of Big Drama will look to keep Brown’s hot streak alive, though he could face stiff competition from #4 Endorsed, a well-bred Godolphin runner from the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin, and also #2 Principled, a $320,000 son of Medaglia d’Oro trained by Todd Pletcher. Notably, both Endorsed (out of Teen Pauline) and Principled (out of Dance Card) are sons of top-notch graded stakes-winning mares who won at Saratoga during their careers.

The sixth race is similarly filled with well-bred youngsters, including #4 Kentucky Wildcat, a son of Tapit out of the versatile Grade 1-winning mare Better Lucky. Trained by Tom Albertrani, Kentucky Wildcat might ultimately be at his best down the road, in which case #5 Wild Medagliad’oro could be the one to bet on Saturday based off a strong runner-up effort in a similar race at Saratoga three weeks ago. The first-time starter #6 Fiery Tale, from the barn of Barclay Tagg (who is winning at a 33% rate this meet), could be a viable higher-priced alternative.

I should also mention that the second race of the day is an 8.5-furlong maiden race over the Mellon Turf course, and while horses such as #1 Perceived (from the barn of Chad Brown) and #8 Medina Ridge (a son of War Front trained by Shug McGaughey) should attract support, I’m just as interested in #7 Honey Won’t. The son of Soldat has posted some decent workouts for trainer Bill Mott and is bred for turf; I think he’s got a chance to upset this field at a nice price.

Enjoy the races!