Saratoga’s first Grade 1 of its 2022 Summer Meet opens this week’s New York Racing Association Cross Country Pick 5. The weekly sequence includes races from not only the Spa, but also from Ellis Park and Monmouth Park.
Interestingly, those latter two tracks offer wagering options not available at Saratoga. Ellis Park debuts penny breakage, which returns more money to winning tickets than the standard 10-cent breakage that rounds down to the nearest 10-cent mark. Monmouth Park is in the middle of its first season running fixed odds wagers.
This week’s Cross Country Pick 5 opens at Saratoga with the Grade 1 Diana. The $500K, 1 1/8-mile turf test for older fillies and mares is the first of Saratoga’s 19 Grade 1s. It also looks like a Chad Brown bacchanalia, with the defending Saratoga training king sending out four of the six starters in search of his seventh Diana title.
Leading the Brown parade is undefeated Bleecker Street, who’s 7-for-7 overall. The 4-year-old Quality Road filly is 5-for-5 in 2022, with four of those graded stakes scores. That includes a half-length score in the June 1, Grade 1 New York at Belmont Park.
Brown floods the Diana zone
Brown also saddles multiple graded/group winners Technical Analysis and Rougir, who was fifth in that New York. For good measure, he’s also sending out Grade 3 winner In Italian. Charlie Appleby, who went 1-2 in this race last year with Althiqa and Summer Romance, counters with Group 2 winner Creative Flair.
Monmouth Park picks up the baton for the second race of the sequence. That’s the $100K Blue Sparkler, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for 3-year-old fillies. Todd Pletcher’s Mystic Eyes figures to have a lot of eyes on her, especially after you draw a line through her 10th in the Listed Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill Downs in her last out.
Before then, Mystic Eyes never missed the board (2-1-1). But spreading isn’t a bad idea here, with two-time winner Benbang and off-the-turf allowance winner Mac the Pee H Dee pushing her. Mac the Pee H Dee rides in off a two-race winning streak.
Cross Country Pick 5 includes rare maiden special weight
The middle leg goes back to Saratoga for a 3-year-old 1 1/8-mile turf allowance. Shug McGaughey’s recent maiden winner Fort Ticonderoga leads an overflow field that may require spreading deep again. The Hall of Famer also sends out maiden winner Dripping Gold. Waiting for them are stakes-placed Daunt, Credit Event from Brown’s barn, and Mark Casse’s Forever Souper.
Ellis Park makes its Cross Country Pick 5 2022 debut in the fourth leg, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight turf sprint. Leading the 10-filly-and-mare field is 7/2 morning line favorite Stella Teresa. She finished second in her turf debut at Horseshoe Indianapolis on June 22.
Al Stall Jr. answers with Rather Be Lucky, a $300K purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She takes to turf for the first time. Keep an eye on Cause Celebre, a Gun Runner filly making her debut.
A good look at juvenile talent in Sanford Stakes
Saratoga closes the Cross Country Pick 5 with the Grade 3 Sanford Stakes. This $175K six-furlong sprint comes with a 12-colt field of 2-year-olds. The buzz horse here is Kelly Breen’s Andiamo a Firenze, who lit up his June 3 maiden debut by four lengths at Belmont Park.
Pletcher counters with a pair of talented maiden winners himself: Forte and Major Dude. At 1/5, Forte took apart his May 27 Belmont Park maiden special weight by 7 3/4 lengths. Major Dude won his June 18 Monmouth Park maiden special weight by nearly four lengths at 3/5.
Looming behind that trio, ready to pounce if the pace sets up hot enough, is Valenzan Day. He finished third last out in the Listed Tremont Stakes after breaking his maiden at first ask in May.
Cross Country Pick 5
|Diana Stakes (G1)
|Blue Sparkler Stakes
|Maiden Special Weight
|Sanford Stakes (G3)
The Cross Country Pick 5 comes with a 50-cent minimum and a 15% takeout. Each week features a mandatory payout of the net pool. Free Equibase past performances for the Cross Country Pick 5 can be found here.