Three Turf Plays for Saratoga Opening Day


“Christmas in July” begins on Friday, July 22, as Saratoga Race Course opens for the 147th meet of the track’s history. Saratoga Springs, NY, is a town where time stands still, and it has been hosting races since 1863. This year’s meet is shaping up to be nothing short of spectacular, as many championship aspirations will be made or broken at the “Spa” over the next seven weeks.

On opening day, I’ve found three plays — all on the turf — to kick off one of the nation’s best “boutique meets:”


1-ELEMENTSOFHARMONY (10-1) shouldn’t be double-digit odds come post-time, but holds value at anything over 6-1. Ridden by Joel Rosario and trained by Michael Maker for the Ken and Sarah Ramsey barn, this Exchange Rate filly is looking to fire fresh off a race-high 89-day layoff.

Her dam won three of fourteen starts on the grass (14-3-3-3) and although this filly hasn’t hit the board since her debut win, she has experience on the Saratoga grass, firing two bullet works (July 10 and June 26 at Belmont). She will be forwardly-placed and the rail should help, rather than hinder her, against this lineup.

7-COSMOPOLITAN GIRL missed by a length and a quarter last out at the same distance on the grass at Churchill Downs in late June. Joe Bravo gets the assignment for the first time on this Lookin at Lucky three-year-old. Her speed figures are strong enough to put her in contention to win, but trainer Hugh McMahon’s first-off-the-claim ROI is less than stellar.

She likes to spot the pacesetters a lead and try to close. With a field of twelve and some decent early speed in front of her, this one will have to get a clean trip to be a factor at the wire, but I believe she will be charging late.

4-FLY ASH is a 30-1 morning line shot that may be the “price” exotic bettors are always seeking. She has hit the board in four of her last six outings and, last time out, she ran in a $62k allowance affair, so the class relief can only help. Like Cosmopolitan Girl, her success here will be trip-dependent, but she will most likely be in the middle of the pack, as opposed to the being the trailer. She’s not a real threat to win the race, but having a longshot in the trifecta is always nice.

My Bet

Play Elementsofharmony to win/place. Key Elementsofharmony on top of Cosmopolitan Girl and Fly Ash in exactas and trifectas.



The Friday feature and first turf stakes race of the meet’s 35 graded stakes races follows the first stakes race of the season — the Schuylerville. Seemingly devoid of true early speed, the race sets up for a furious finish.

3-DIAMOND FIELDS bested nineteen of her twenty other rivals last out, so running in a race with only eleven other entries in this edition of the Lake George should be a relief to the Irish filly. Trainer Tommy Stack is looking to catch lightning in a bottle again, as he’s imported two runners from overseas previously, garnering one win and an incredible $23.70 ROI with horses making their first North American start.

This filly prefers to sit off the pace and with nothing resembling a quick tempo early, she can save energy and rely on a late kick. Having experience dodging twenty other horses last out will help her to navigate the final turn in her push for home. A lot of bettors will overlook this one due to a lack of posted speed figures on the form. Don’t be one of them.

11-TIN TYPE GAL will likely take a lot of money (as will both Chad Brown runners) at the windows and is a logical choice to play on top in multi-race wagers, as well as on top in vertical exotics. She looks ready to move forward off her disappointing fifth-place finish last out in the Wild Applause, in which today’s probable post-time favorite (5-ANCIENT SECRET) won in uninspiring fashion. With a Grade III win on her resume, making her second start off the layoff, she is more preferable to the possible chalk as the second choice.

2-ELYSEA’S WORLD is the “other” Chad Brown filly competing in the Lake George… and may be the better bet of the two (no knock on Ancient Secret, but her odds probably won’t be inspiring).

A winner of two of three lifetime starts, Elysea’s World fired a bullet in preparation for this race and has an excuse last out, as the Belmont track favored speed in the Wonder Again stakes in which she finished sixth. The trainer/jockey combo of Brown and Javier Castellano has been bettors’ gold over the last few years and this filly has as much of a shot to win this race as the two tabbed above.

My Bet

This is a perfect race to box. Diamond Fields is the top choice, but playing exacta and trifecta boxes with Tin Type Gal and Elysea’s World is the smart move. For those that dabble in superfectas, throw the possible chalk, Ancient Secret, in the four horse box.


The finale on opening day is a maiden claiming affair on the inner turf course. Another race that seems to lack early pace, the field of twelve may be bunched-up late with a mix of tiring and charging horses.

2-ARCH CONTENDER fits the bill as an overlay contender. The three year old Archarcharch gelding made his debut last October, then immediately went on the shelf, returning to the track on June 2 of this year.

His speed figures stack up with those that will be heavily bet and the trainer/jockey duo of George Weaver and Manuel Franco (respectively) has been profitable at Saratoga in the past. Although he’s yet to hit the board in his two career starts, the chances of him breaking that trend are very high on this day. A must-play in exotics.

5-MARKET STRENGTH is the morning line and most-probable post-time favorite. Having been favored in the last two of his four career starts, this is the horse that the public will hammer due to Chad Brown training and NYRA-favorite Irad Ortiz piloting this Twirling Candy colt. The public isn’t always wrong, of course, but the odds will not be fair to play this one solely on top. Play on top in multi-race wagers, but use underneath in exotics.

3-LISCULLAUN may be the pace-setter in this race and if the grey Super Saver colt can improve slightly off his last effort on a speed-favoring Belmont turf course last out, he may have the staying power to bring a price to the table.

Tabbed as 12-1 on the morning line, there aren’t a lot of other contenders who look like they want the lead, so we may have a situation where this one gets out front and sticks around until deep in the stretch. Unsure if the blinkers will help or hurt this horse, but trainer Zito doesn’t have a great ROI adding them.

My Play

I’m using Arch Contender on top in exotics. Key Arch Contender over Market Strength and Liscullaun in exactas and trifectas. Play Market Strength and Arch Contender in multi-race bets

Best of luck to those playing opening day at Saratoga and those in the HUDDIE Saratoga handicapping contest!

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.

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