Saratoga 2023: Stakes Analysis & Video (9-2-23)

Big Invasion wins 2022 Mahony Stakes at Saratoga (NYRA Photo)

By Jarrod Horak

The three-day Labor Day weekend stakes action gets underway on Saturday with the Flower Bowl. Three other stakes are on tap including the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Check out my video analysis of the latter event at the end of this post.

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Grade 2 Flower Bowl – September 2 – Race 3 – 1 3/8 miles inner turf

McKulick is very good in these long distance turf races. She captured the Jockey Club Oaks (G3) at 1 3/8 miles last year, and exits a neck victory from off the pace in the local Glens Falls (G2) at a mile and a half. She is 2-for-3 with a second at Saratoga and could easily take this under Irad Ortiz Jr.

Amazing Grace rallied for the show in the Glens Falls last time, and she needs to find a way to make up 2 1/2 lengths on McKulick. She might go a bit better in her second start after a short layoff.

Amazing Grace’s stablemate Parnac won an optional claiming affair at this distance at Belmont on June 11. She exits a close show finish in the Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial at Delaware Park.

Tamarama completes the 4-horse field, and the overseas shipper is now conditioned by Jack Sisterson. She won four races in Great Britain. She owns two wins on turf and a pair on all-weather ground, and all of those races were at shorter distances than this. Javier Castellano takes the call.  

McKulick should win this race as the strong favorite for Chad Brown. If she does not run her best race, look for Christophe Clement trainees Amazing Grace or Parnac to pick up the pieces.

Grade 2 Prioress – Race 5 – 6 furlongs dirt

Dazzling Blue is the favorite, and she was in complete control throughout in her first three wins at six panels. She was 5-1 in the Victory Ride (G3) at 6 1/2 furlongs last time, and she stalked the pace and settled for the place. She drew the comfortable outside post and is back at her winning distance. Brad Cox’s $500k Into Mischief filly drilled a local training track bullet for this on Aug. 26, and her new rider Joel Rosario should have early-pressing options. 

Alva Starr fired exacta shots in all four starts at this distance. Her speed ratings are on the rise and she exits a romping stakes victory in the Dashing Beauty Stakes at Delaware Park. She has been freshened for this and should be all over the pace under Jose Lezcano.

Jersey Pearl, Unified Alliance, and Unsung Melody round out the compact field.

Dazzling Blue has outside position and that seemingly gives her the edge over her main rival Alva Starr.

$150,000 Harvey Pack Stakes – Race 8 – 5 1/2 furlongs turf

The paper race seems to favor horses on or very near the early lead, and Our Shot might be the right one. He is a sharp, versatile gelding for John Terranova. He was right there in his last four outings and he used different tactics in all of those races. Javier Castellano takes the call and he booted this one home in a turf sprint at Pimlico last year.

Dancing Buck has the speed to succeed in this spot. This is his first start since November 2022 and he ran well in both local turf sprints last year.

Big Invasion is the favorite but this race might not set up for him. He is back in the states after failing to make an impact in a Group 1 at Ascot on June 24. He is 6-for-8 at this distance and 2-for-2 at Saratoga. He captured the Grade 3 Quick Call and Mahony Stakes at this course and distance last summer.

Thin White Duke does not look like a strong win contender but he can definitely be used underneath. He is 1-for-8 with five minor awards in local turf sprints, and he rallied for the show at 10-1 odds in the Grade 3 Troy Stakes on Aug. 5. 

Mister Mmmmm and Chess Master are the other two turf entrants. Willy Boi, Sheriff Bianco, and Jake Rocks are entered for main track only purposes. I like Our Shot on top in this race, and returnee Dancing Buck is not without a chance. Big Invasion might take too much win action and Thin White Duke can be used underneath.

Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup – Race 11 – 1 1/4 miles dirt

Rattle N Roll wants every bit of this 1 1/4 miles distance. As a sophomore, he won the American Derby, Indiana Derby (G3), and Ohio Derby (G3), and he has not slowed down at all this year. He captured the Ben Ali (G3), Pimlico Special (G3), and Blame (G3), and rallied to miss by a half length in the Stephen Foster (G1). He has been freshened for this and should be heard from late under his regular pilot Brian Hernandez Jr.

Proxy won the Grade 1 Clark from a tactical position last fall, and rallied from the back of the pack to miss by a neck in the Grade 1 Big ‘Cap at this distance in March. He sat back and rallied for the win in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in April. He threw in a rare clunker in the Stephen Foster (G1) in June and got back on the beam in a front running victory as the heavy favorite in the Monmouth Cup (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on July 22. Joel Rosario knows him well and the versatile sort is a solid win contender on his best day.

Tyson is interesting on the surface switch, He is 4-for-5 with a third on all-weather ground. The Tapit colt is versatile and probably rates a look if he handles the footing.

Bright Future flopped in his lone stakes stakes in the Grade 2 Brooklyn, and I will just draw a line through that 1 1/2 miles race. He looked very good in a local optional claiming victory at 1 1/8 miles on July 21. Todd Pletcher’s Curlin colt still has upside but I am not sure where he fits from a class standpoint. An outside stalking trip under Javier Castellano is expected. 

The 8-horse field also includes Unbridled Bomber, Warrior Johny, Clapton, and Duke of Love.