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HomeHorse RacingSaratoga: Match Race in $350,000 Vanderbilt Stakes

Saratoga: Match Race in $350,000 Vanderbilt Stakes

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Though seven have entered, the Grade One $350,000 Vanderbilt Stakes at Saratoga is a two-horse race. Elite Power and Gunite are the top dirt sprinters in the country going the Vanderbilt 6-furlong distance. On Saturday they’ll face a ragtag bunch who will each be racing for third. Let’s work through the field and then talk about how to bet it.


In Saudi Arabia, Elite Power beat Gunite by a dominant 3 1/4 lengths in the 6-furlong $1,500,000 Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G1). Gunite had a perfect trip and Elite Power blew him out of the water. This fact along with the seven-race win streak Bill Mott’s 2022 Breeders Cup Sprint champion rides into the Vanderbilt puts Elite Power at 3-5 when bettors are through. But, as they say, what happens in Saudi Arabia stays in Saudi Arabia. I’ll be backing Gunite in this rematch. Here’s why.


It’s only recently that trainer Steve Asmussen has decided on 6 furlongs for Gunite’s sweet spot where he is 5: 3-1-0. Last year, Steve Asmussen was of the mind that Gunite appreciated more distance. He campaigned him at 7 furlongs and entered him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile–a two-turn race that Gunite had in the palm of his hands… if only it ended at 3/4 mile (6 furlongs). Since then he has cut back to 6 panels in each of his four starts as a 4-year-old. Going the sharper distance, Gunite has switched from pressing to stalking, and I think his mental maturation has something to do with this as well. He can relax while making his presence felt by the leaders. He’s dangerous and at 5-2 or higher I’ll dip into my youngest’s college fund to send it in. 


Gunite wins. Elite Power second. Who are they facing? 


The early speedsters are Awesome Aaron, Little Vic, and a 4-year-old rounding into the best form of his career Dean Delivers. Gun It and Synthesis are two 7-year-olds who, contrary to most older dirt horses, have found the best form late in their career 


Once upon a time, a Tapit colt out of a Medaglia d’Oro dam was purchased as a yearling for $2,600,000. That was in 2017. He was named Gun It. What a bust. Thirty-one races with just three wins later, he was entered into a claiming race by trainer Steve Asmussen, lost, and was brought home for $62,500 by trainer Linda Rice. The next race, an optional claimer, Gun It runs a 96 Beyer speed figure, finishing second to Vanderbilt rival, Synthesis. Two races later he wins for Rice, earning a 97 Beyer, tying his career-fastest effort, which he hadn’t run since he was a 4-year-old.


Synthesis who has a similar stalking running style, has a similar story. Claimed away at the age of 6 from George Papaprodromou by by David Jacobson, two races later he posted a career best 96 Beyer. Then he regressed for the next five races until as a 7-year old he bettered that race running a 104 Beyer in an optional claiming race where he was entered for an $80,000. The same race he beat Gun It. 


Often horses put up these outlier efforts and are never able to run back to them, the theory goes because it takes too much out of them, and that could be seen as the case for Synthesis since he ran 20 points slower in his next after that 104; however, in that race he checked hard on the rail, dropped back two lengths, lost position and never got his stride going again. But in the Nerud he went back in the right direction, finishing 2nd and earning a 92.


These two will bet by suspicious horseplayers, wondering if their trainers are somehow able to crank them up for a new career-best. I won’t be one of them.  


Awesome Aaron has the look of a filler horse, entered to make the field size bigger and help the racing office look better. If he does run, he won’t win, but he would impact the race because he would be on the lead from the gates. 


Little Vic peaked on the mud in March’s Grade Three Tom Fool running a 102. He is two-for-two in the slop, and should only be considered if the rains come. At 6 furlongs he has a 9: 4-2-1 record, which is solid.


Contrary to those two outliers, Dean Delivers’ new form is consistent with most horses. He has stepped forward in each of his five races as a 4-year-old, most recently earning his frist triple-digit speed figure with a 100 when wiring the field in the Grace 3 Smile. His record at the Vanderbilt distance is 5: 3-2-0. I will be using him and him alone in third.


Why? As with so many races where the likely winner or top two towers over the bunch, who finishes third and fourth is all about the trip. If we want to bet the trifecta or superfecta, it’s less about handicapping for who is the next best horse, and more about figuring out the race design.


How I see the Vanderbilt Playing out, a.k.a. Race Design


First, we need to know each horse’s preferred running style. I’ve got the breakdown here with post position and morning line odds.


#1 Gun It (10-1) Stalker

#2 Synthesis (20-1) Stalker

#3 Awesome Aaron (30-1) Front Runner

#4 Elite Power (4-5) Closer

#5 Gunite (8-5) Stalker

#6 Dean Delivers (8-1) Presser

#7 Little Vic (15-1) Presser


With the one true front runner being a need-the-lead type, Awesome Aaron will be gunning it from the gate. But will stop as soon as he his passed. That’s how those horses go. Toss him.


Two pressers are on the outside, but Little Vic is simply quicker from the gates and more inclined to breathe down the leader’s neck. Dean Delivers will be behind him but be applying serious pressure in the turn. Gunite should be able to come over and follow the front runner and jockey into position ahead of the two other stalkers. I see him staying two wide to get the jump on Elite Power who will sit back letting all that unfold and then make a wide move in the turn. He’ll have clear sailing and it will be close at the wire. 


The wild cards are Gun It and Synthesis. Both draw the rail and want to be no further back from the leader than two or three lengths. The question becomes which will have what it takes to get by Dean Delivers when he digs in. Mind you this battle will take place at least five lengths back from the top two.  


Awesome Aaron is a need the lead type, but he is not that fast. The two pressers both have a shot at sticking around for a piece, having not used up too much energy going too quickly early on. Dean Delivers it is in third.


How to Bet


Win bet: #5 Gunite at 5-2 or higher


Gunite just ran the most impressive sprint race I have seen this year. In the Aristides, he earned a 108 Beyer, which is the fastest at this distance by any dirt sprinter in 2023, and he took out Bango, who is in top form. I don’t see Gunite losing this race, and assuming we don’t get any scratches beyond maybe Awesome Aaron, he should offer fair value, which I have at 5-2 or higher. Hell, I’m an impulsive degenerate, I’ll bet him at 2-1.


Exotic: #5 over #4 over #6 trifecta. Play it ice cold (no box needed) and play it for at least $10.


When you play a trifecta using the top two horses finishing first and second, the payout just won’t be much on 50 cents, no matter who finishes third. I think this will pay between $15 and $25, so I want to trim the fat on my ticket and play it ice cold. Meaning each horse has to finish in the exact position I’ve slotted him. This keeps my cost down and 15 or 25 – 1 value intact.

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