The serious countdown is on for Opening Day at Saratoga – two weeks until the gates open – but plenty of strong racing remains at Belmont Park including this weekend’s Stars and Stripes Festival.
The weekend kicks off with a nine-race twilight card starting at 3:05 p.m. The Saratoga Special’s John Shapazian went 15-for-47 over the five-day holiday stretch to bring his season record to 107-for-308 (34.7 percent) and he’s looking for more while looking ahead.
“Only 2 weeks to Saratoga,” John said this week. “You can feel the excitement starting to build around the track and downtown. More and more out fits are coming to town, the backstretch is abuzz. Everyone is getting geared up!”
Here are John’s picks for Friday, July 7. Good luck.
PUTTINYOUONTHENEWS must draw in from the AE list, makes her second career start after an encouraging debut. ULTIMA D ran well north of the border on synthetic, moves to the lawn. GIRL’S NIGHT ran well in an off-the-turf event, figures close. 11-4-9
PROFESSOR SNAPE is afforded a slight edge, takes on softer group after trying turf, has had troubles in his last two starts. PRIMO PENTIMENTO will try to take his speed all the way from the rail, cuts back again. CASIGORDO also goes turf to dirt, draws a post toward the outside that may prove advantageous, could take it all. 2-1-6
BATS CLEANUP meets a soft field of maidens, drops in for a tag. ROYAL RIDGE will be an early pace factor, draws the hedge. AWESOME ANTHONY was caught wide in his last, may get a minor award. 6-1-4
ROYAL INHERITANCE appears the “speed of the speeds,” romped in her last, must avoid a duel with ZIPPITY ZOOM who is 2-for-2 at Belmont Park, Irad Ortiz Jr. will be stalking the pace setter. MOONDANCE JOY comes off a claim for a sharp outfit, dangerous. 2-6-1
DAY OF FURY gets off the rail, takes off the blinkers, can take the early lead or stalk the pace, looks well spotted. SPECIAL JO is hard to gauge shipping in from Churchill were he faced softer, goes out for Joe Sharp. RISETOTHEOCCASION must improve after a couple of dull efforts. 7-4-2
HOPONTHEBUSGUS can boss this field with a clean trip, completely stymied in his last. LUZ MIMI tries the lawn for Jeremiah Englehart, becomes the horse to beat if moved to the main oval. R LUCKY CHARM goes out for Jason Servis, is in peak form, also will run well if off the turf. 4-10-1
GYPSUM JOHNNY (MTO) is the horse to beat on the main track, wheels back in five days for Linda Rice. Otherwise, TOMBELAINE faces some stiff graded stakes rivals, disappointed in his last at odds on. INSPECTOR LYNLEY and BLACKTYPE figure close to the top choice, either would be no surprise. 14-11-1-12
MOON OVER A BEAUTY has not been seen since April 8 but will be a handful if he can repeat that effort, has been working well in the morning. FRANCESCO APPEAL moves to the Rudy Rodriguez barn from south Florida, fired a bullet July 3. BRIMSTONE adds blinkers, returns to the dirt, will be a pace factor. 4-2-1A
MARTINO appears the best of a weak group state bred maidens, timid vote. OUR AMERICAN STAR is no world beater, as is SECRET SCHOLAR. Someone has to win this race, good luck. 9-7-4