The Jury: Bets and fades for Labor Day weekend 2022

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September 2nd, 2022

A busy Labor Day weekend awaits racing fans across the country, with the leading stakes action occurring at the boutique meets of Saratoga and Del Mar as well as at the all-turf Kentucky Downs. James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson have looked through the early offerings for this week's Jury.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: Following a troubled third in the Eddie Read (G2), #7 Cathkin Peak (4-1) will rebound in the Del Mar Mile (G2), The four-year-old, who opened 2022 with a nice allowance win at Santa Anita in mid-June, will make his third start off the layoff for Phil D'Amato, who has recorded 12 of his 13 wins this meet on turf, and Cathkin Peak ran well at Del Mar last year, recording a maiden win and a third in the Hollywood Derby (G1). His Brisnet numbers are increasing, and Cathkin Peak should be rolling in the final furlongs with Umberto Rispoli.

Kellie Reilly: #5 Vergara (6-1) is likely to improve on the stretch-out to 1 5/16 miles in Sunday's Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs. By Noble Mission, Frankel's top-class full brother, she's out of a half-sister to classic-winning stayer Millenary. Vergara's grinding style suggests that she's inherited that aptitude. Although churning her way to capture last fall's Tepin S., the Graham Motion trainee didn't quite have the gears when placing in a pair of mile stakes this season. A belated third to Pizza Bianca in the Hilltop S., Vergara was most recently nabbed late in the Ontario Colleen (G3). If she has in fact been looking for a stiffer stamina test, at a suitable class level, this is it, and she picks up Joel Rosario.

Vance Hanson: He might not stay at his 6-1 morning line price, but #3 War At Sea would be very interesting at or near that price in Saturday's Del Mar Derby (G2). Although the Ron Ellis trainee enters off a not-insignificant three-month layoff following a win in the Cinema S. at Santa Anita, the form of that race was flattered by both #1 Cabo Spirit and #9 Balnikhov, both of whom are shorter prices on the morning line for this rematch. War At Sea made considerable strides after switching to the turf at the start of the year, hasn't run a bad one yet over the surface, and might get an ideal stalk-and-pounce trip.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: #3 Pixelate brought recency and career-best form to last year's Mint Million (G3) at Kentucky Downs, handling the cutback to a mile with aplomb, but the five-year-old made a belated 2022 debut in mid-July, finishing a troubled third against lesser foes at Laurel. In the last four starts where favored, Pixelate has won only once, and the 5-2 morning line choice will prove vulnerable Saturday.

KR: After two spectacularly wrong-headed fades in a row, I'm hoping to avoid the strikeout or dreaded triple bogey. Since my skepticism about #3 Newgrange (9-5) was validated earlier in the year, I'll oppose him in his comeback in Saturday's Shared Belief S. at Del Mar. The risk is that trainer Phil D'Amato wins with 20% of his new recruits, but perhaps the more salient fact is that Newgrange was culled by the high-profile group of SF Racing, Starlight, Madaket et al. When sold for $325,000 at Fasig-Tipton this July, his new connections were looking toward turf, but Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman reports that he didn't train well enough on that surface. So Newgrange instead sticks to dirt, where he'll have to cope with his former comrades from the Bob Baffert barn, #2 High Connection and #5 Armagnac (still owned by the SF consortium).

VH: The Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) has come up a bit too competitive on paper to take a short price on #2 Olympiad (2-1), who saw a long win streak snapped last month in the Whitney (G1). Disappointing as the second choice to Life Is Good, the Speightstown colt didn't fire at all when asked around the far turn. Although track and weather condition perhaps conspired against him, it might also be the case that, like stablemate Speaker's Corner, he perhaps peaked too early in the season. At any rate, I find others more likeable in the Gold Cup market.

What else is worth noting?

JS: The Jockey Club Gold Cup drew a competitive field of eight, and I'm taking a shot with a new player in the handicap ranks, #7 Keepmeinmind. A top-class juvenile, the Grade 2-winning colt never seemed right after making a belated three-year-old debut in mid-March, recording several dull performances, and his sophomore season was done by late August. However, Keepmeinmind did show an affinity for Saratoga, finishing second to Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy (G2), and he came back running at the Spa in late July for new trainer Todd Pletcher, crushing entry-level allowance foes in-hand after a ridiculously wide trip off the far turn. His Brisnet numbers (101 Speed and 102 Late Pace) came back strong, and Keepmeinmind will have more to offer in his return to stakes competition. One to consider for at least the vertical exotics, Keepmeinmind is listed at an enticing 12-1.

KR: Could we see a maiden-breaking stakes win at Kentucky Downs on Saturday? There are a couple of intriguing candidates in both juvenile stakes on the card. #8 Callie's Grit (6-1) brings an eye-catching formline into the Juvenile Fillies S. She was the runner-up in her Saratoga debut to Breeders' Cup hopeful Be Your Best, who just romped in Thursday's P.G. Johnson S. While it can be hazardous to lean too much on maiden form, Callie's Grit ran a fine race at odds of 18-1, and the Joe Sharp runner figures to enjoy the slight cutback to a mile. Later in the Juvenile Mile, #7 Laver (12-1) qualifies as a pedigree and trip-note play. The well-named son of Grade 1 heroine Centre Court, and half-brother to Grade 3 winner Navratilova, found himself out of contention after a troubled start in his Ellis Park debut. But Laver delivered a good-looking rally for second to #4 Mayfield Strong, who had the advantage of prior experience and a better trip. With a decent break, Laver has upset appeal for Rusty Arnold, a 22% trainer with second-time starters.

VH: Although less accomplished at this point in his career, #8 Dynamic One (7-2) reminds me some of another Todd Pletcher trainee, Vino Rosso, who got really good in the summer and fall of his four-year-old season in 2019, which culminated with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). That's not to say Dynamic One is going to pull off something similar at Keeneland in November, but I do think he has the goods to earn back-to-back wins over 1 1/4 miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. His win last out in the Suburban (G2) was relatively tight, but he didn't have a whole lot of pace to chase in that one, and the circumstances might prove more hospitable on Saturday.