Mars To Try Turf In the Saranac Against Tough Opposition

The Saranac (Grade 3)- $300.000 Purse
SAR- For Three Year Olds
One Mile and One Eighth on the Turf
September 5, 2015

A field of six will be going postward in the twelfth running of The Saranac.   One of them will be looking to follow the same path as did last year’s Saranac winner.  That, of course, was Ashkalani, the eventual winner of the BC Turf in 2014.  It was the first year that the purse for this field had been $300.000, doubling what it had been in the two years before that and tripling what it was in the early days.  That increase improved the quality of competition for this race, and we will see that hold true this year with the presence of Mars, who was 5th in the Jim Dandy here at beautiful Saratoga last month.  He will make his turf debut in this race.  But that’s not all it attracts, as we will have two runners in the field coming off impressive Grade 3 wins going long on the turf.   That’ll make it tough company for Mars as he hits the grass for the first time.  No trainer has won this race more then once, and if you look at the six trainers contesting this field, it grabs your attention that a few of the more well known stables that compete at this level most frequently, do not have a runner in the field.    This will be a graded race to be excited about, so let us meet our six runners.

#1- Sandor Clegame (Smithtown Stables, ridden by J R Velazquez)- The Model American gelding continued his run of great form last month in the Grade 3 National Museum of Racing here at the Spa, placing second to Ponder.  He’ll get another crack at him today.  Since being purchased in the March auction this year, Sandor Clegame has gone (5-1-3-1).  The trainer has pushed the right buttons with him, getting him on the turf, and he still may be getting better. He is also a versatile horse, showing the ability to perform well while running at the front early, or come from a bit off the pace.  In a balanced field, he has as good of a shot as anyone here.

#2- Viking Ballade (Delta Farms, ridden R J Albarado)- After a win in the $60.000 Lamplighter Stakes on yielding MTH turf, which was Viking Ballade’s third win in his five career starts, Delta Farms looks to advance his career further against graded company.  This is a good field to see if the colt can take on this competition, as it has other up and comers in it as well as new turf runners.  The last time he ran a distance that can be compared on firm turf, an allowance ran about the same, though a tick slower, as did the National Museum of Racing and the La Jolla, which many of these are coming out of.   A lot of time has passed since then, so the real question is how much better is he since that day?  He’s a wild card in this field.

#3- Ponder (Chili King Stables, ridden by J R Leparoux)- Last month, Ponder was length better then Sandor Clegame in the Grade 3 National Museum of Racing, so can he do it again, and hold off these others while going a little longer?  Ponder’s effort in that race says that he can, but the past performances from the Grade 1 BEL Derby and $200.000 Pennine Ridge, which were this distance or longer, both show him losing some ground late.   It’s also notable that Sandor Clegame did make up ground on Ponder based on where both horses were at six furlongs and at the end.  Don’t misinterpret my analysis here though, Ponder is still one of the top choices to win this race, but might need a little more to hold off Sandor Clegame here this time.

#4- Congo Rhythms Run (Oval Express Farms, ridden by F Pennington)-   Got off to a pretty good start sprinting on the turf as a two year old, but the trainer opted to put him on the TC trail early this year.  That did not work, and since then it seems as though the trainer is working to find the perfect niche for his colt in regards to distance and surface.  He won his last race sprinting on dirt, but is back to the grass.  He did run in the $60.000 Restoration Stakes at MTH in June at 1 1/16.  That race was won in a slower time then were the races the rivals are coming out of, and Congo Rhythms Run was sixth in that race.  I’m not seeing what the trainer is seeing in regards to entering him here, but you can never count anyone out.

#5- Panther Cat (Maxmillion Farm, ridden by J L Castanon)- I have had the privilege to cover his last two races, and based on what I am seeing out of him, this is a horse to be excited about.  His effort in the Grade 3 American Derby, if you just look at the past performance line, will not seem like much.  Though if you watched it, you saw a horse that made a strong closing bid that simply started too late.  The trainer saw this as well, and had Panther Cat closer to the front early, and he ran well from start to finish in the La Jolla Handicap, en route to winning that Grade 3 which had a strong overall field.  If he runs like that again, he has to be considered one of the favorites and I like how that style figures to match up against both Sandor Clegame and Ponder.  He is the horse to beat.

#6- Mars (Grimley, ridden by E Trujillo)- The trainer makes a big change with his KYD runner, putting him on the turf for the first time.   Since winning the Grade 2 LA Derby and finishing 3rd in the KYD, Mars has been trailing the competition of late.  That said, his run at the beginning of the meet in the G2 Jim Dandy was not a bad effort.   After the Jim Dandy, Grimley has been focused on the turf, and has worked him three times over the surface in that time frame.  The works have been good, particularly one on the 10th when he went a mile.   Judging by the works, I can see why the trainer wants to give the grass a try, so we will see how it goes.  This is a tough field, even if Mars was already a turf specialist, so if he were to win, then I would expect to see him run against this company more often.    If he does not win, then it may simply be because of the quality of the opponents, and not the surface change.

Prediction: 5-1-6-3


— NS

Categories: Grade III

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