Peter Fornatale at Saratoga

American racing expert Peter Thomas Fornatale puts forward his picks for Saratoga's top-class Saturday card, where six Grade 1s will be run, including the Travers Stakes.

  • Saturday 24 August
  • Blog
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Pamplona has the running of the bulls, Saratoga has the running of the tables. When the gates open on Travers Day at 6a.m. you’ll see patrons sprinting through the backyard to grab a picnic table before anyone else snatches them up. We used to sit out there years ago. I grabbed the table myself a couple of years, mostly other friends handled the task.

The most memorable year involved a character known as DVP, a regular in my Spa Diaries back in the day. One year he drew the short straw and had to go out there at 3 a.m. to queue up to make the run. But a funny thing happened on the way to grabbing the perfect spot right on the horse path.

There are two gates to get into the backyard and they are supposed to open simultaneously. But this year they did not. The far gate opened and people were streaming in. But the near gate, where DVP was, remained shut. The crowd gasped in exasperation, but it remained shut. DVP, a trained actor and a fine physical specimen did the only thing he could do: he scaled the fence.

It was just in time. He went to his 600-meter pace, outsprinted a few locals and got the perfect table, right on the horse path. A few hours later we watched an impressive colt named Uncle Mo walk right by us on that spot and DVP was the MVP.

These days we don’t bother with the backyard on Travers Day. We hire out the DG Lounge with a private bartender and enjoy the festivities in style. DVP hasn’t been seen much the last few years up here. His life has gotten crazy being both a gentlemen farmer and the promoter at a popular music venue.

But I received great news last time: DVP is in for Travers this year! In appreciation of his efforts from long ago, he will not be paying for his ticket.

With an unbelievable card of racing on tap tonight at Saratoga, one that will almost certainly provide some early clues for the Breeders’ Cup, I’m going to provide an overview of what I see as the best opportunities on the card.

Race 2 (5:08): ATOKA ran too well to lose on debut, cutting out a fast pace, ending up on the wrong part of the track, and just going down to defeat. He will be difficult to deny second time out.

Race 3 (5:41): FIRST WAVE Is another who seems overdue to leave the maiden ranks. Stamped her talent back in June in the mornings, working well with multiple Graded stakes winner Concrete Rose. Ran fast enough last time to usually win at this level. The 3-1 of the Morning Line would represent excellent value.

Race 5, The Grade 1 Forego (6:48): In the horses-to-watch column, we enumerated the various reasons for MITOLE’s defeat last time. He definitely deserves another shot, even as the odds-on favorite I expect him to be.

Race 6, The Grade 1 Ballerina (7:23): COME DANCING ran a little better than it looked last time, with a poor break and a rush up onto the worst part of the track. She’s got a great shot cutting back here and would be value at even money. Not just for Kinks fans.

Race 7, The Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens (7:59): SHANCELOT clearly has the best chance based on how visually impressive he ran and how he measured up against the clock. If he runs even a semblance of that race, the others are running for second. Anything over 1-2 would be OK, shorter than that, might just watch.

Race 8, The Grade 2 Ballston Spa (8:35): I’m intrigued by SECRET MESSAGE after the legitimate trouble she had last time, failing to get a run at a critical point. This is major class relief, she gets a rider upgrade, and if you key off the race two back, she fits like a glove. Would want at least 3-1.

Race 9, The Grade 1 Personal Ensign (9:12): The two at the top of the market are tough but I think there’s a world in which double-digit longshot SHE’S A JULIE can pull the upset here. Ridden passively last time, I expect more aggressive tactics this time and think they could yield a better result. Consider saving with ELATE, either in a weighted double win bet or with an exacta over She's A Julie.

Race 10, The Grade 1 Sword Dancer (9:49): This is a very tricky betting race because so many have chances. That said, I’ll go back to the well with CHANNEL MAKER, who didn’t break well last time and attacked a fast pace. Let’s see if a more favourable setup produces a better result.

Race 11, The Grade 1 Travers (10:44): It would be churlish to get off the TACITUS bandwagon now, wouldn’t it? There are excuses for the last two runs and I believe he’s been the victim of circumstance, not a horse who has revealed a character flaw.

On the bad rail last time, against the good rail in the Belmont, hopefully he gets a chance to show his form in the signature race of the Saratoga meeting.

For more from me, check out and be sure to watch all the action from Saratoga live on Sky Sports Racing Stateside.

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