Spot Plays for Breeders’ Cup Challenge contests at Saratoga and Del Mar

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August 23rd, 2018

A total of five Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races will be held this Saturday, with four coming at Saratoga. The “Win and You’re In Events” are very competitive but I have some strong opinions on a few of them.

Forego Stakes (G1)

A free ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) awaits the winner of the Forego. The classy CITY OF LIGHT will make his Saratoga debut for trainer Mike McCarthy. The Quality Road four-year-old looks to be both the class and controlling pace in the field. The bay colt is arguably the top sprinter out west and has routed while knocking heads with the mighty Accelerate in his last pair. City of Light brings California speed to a field lacking early interest and is my best play of the day. Irad Ortiz Jr. inherits the mount.

Ballerina Stakes (G1)

The winner of this dash will qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM has run twice at Saratoga, posting BRIS Speed ratings of 106 and 107. The Twirling Candy mare dominated the Honorable Miss Stakes (G2) here off the layoff last time and is hard to go against. The Bret Calhoun charge might also be lone speed if jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. sends her from the break.

Personal Ensign Stakes (G1)

This nine-furlong affair attracted a compact field of six but has class. A Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) berth is on the line, and I am siding with ABEL TASMAN. The Bob Baffert-trained champion drew the rail and is a Grade 1 scorer in her lone prior Saratoga appearance. The Quality Road filly was a sublime winner of the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day and shows excellent morning drills in the interim. Mike Smith will be in to ride.

Sword Dancer Stakes (G1)

Ten will go postward in this 1 1/2-mile test, which gives the winner a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). I will take a shot with SEAHENGE at big odds. The Aidan O’Brien pupil was originally pointed towards the Travers Stakes (G1), but his connections wisely bypassed that after a pair of poor dirt runs.  The Scat Daddy colt faces a tall task today, though I like the ambitious placement from the well-respected barn. And the fact that Wayne Lordan makes the trip for a single mount on the card intrigues me. 

Pat O’Brien Stakes (G1)

An excellent field of eight will contest the seven-furlong test, with a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) on the line. The “now” horse is surely unbeaten Catalina Cruiser, who has been a dominating presence for trainer John Sadler. However, I am going with the Phil d’Amato-trained RANSOM THE MOON. He made a bold rally to win the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) going away for a second consecutive season and he really appreciates this oval. The Malibu Moon six-year-old will be mowing them down late under regular rider Flavien Prat.