Mucciolo likes to play Maidens on Big Racing Days

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August 19th, 2016

The Saturday card at Del Mar is a fine one, headlined by the jewel of the summer meeting, the $1 million Pacific Classic (G1). A stellar edition of the storied event will head to the post in Race 9, pitting a pair of future Hall of Fame runners and a stout four-year-old all in great form. In addition, two other graded races will take place, the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks (G1) and $250,000 Del Mar H. (G2), and both appear to be fine betting opportunities.

While much of the focus is on these marquee events, I will take a close look at a maiden race earlier on the card. I have witnessed how the bigger barns (Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Doug O’Neill et al) often ‘save’ some of their best youngsters to unveil them on banner days of racing and have found it a nice way to make some money over time.

In Race 5, Baffert will saddle a pair of two-year-old fillies in a six-furlong dash, and I will focus on VIVA VEGAS. The $190,000 daughter of young sire The Factor is out of a very productive dam who has dropped seven winners from as many foals to race, including a trio who won as juveniles.

A Louisiana- bred March foal, the gray miss has not missed a beat in the mornings since late June, steadily working every week and she comes in with a bullet half-mile move on the main surface at Del Mar. Baffert is highly productive first-time out conditioner and the presence of go-to pilot Rafael Bejarano only enhances the appeal.

It’s a tough card and I will single Viva Vegas in multi-race plays starting in Race 3 and 4, which both look pretty wide-open, in hopes of getting the best value on the filly.

At Saratoga, two Grade 1 tilts will take place with the sensational Songbird as the top draw in the Alabama S. (G1). The exquisite sophomore has never been tested from nine lifetime races and looks formidable in this spot as she continues on her brilliant path.

But from a betting perspective, I am more interested in Race 2, a six-furlong maiden event for two-year-old males. Todd Pletcher will saddle the debuting DRIVEN TO COMPETE for the Repole Stable, who purchased the Keystone State-bred son of young sire Overdriven for $130,000 at Ocala this spring. The bay colt has been in Saratoga spring working since the first of June and the April foal appears is bred to win early on the dam side.

The owner/trainer/jockey combo has endured a ton of success with runners of this nature in the past and I think the streak will continue. Driven to Compete shows a fast recent gate drill and Pletcher figures to have the promising youngster ready to roll first-time out. And the presence of John Velazquez is another plus.

I’ll single Driven to Compete in the Pick 5 (begins Race 1) and the opening leg of the early Pick 4. As with Viva Vegas at Del Mar, if the early money comes in on the maiden runners, the confidence level skyrockets.