Betting the Saratoga Derby on a $20 Budget

Turf racing takes center stage Sunday with the inaugural Saratoga Derby at the iconic upstate New York racetrack. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Get ready, racing fans! On Sunday, Aug. 4, Saratoga Race Course will host the inaugural running of the $750,000 Saratoga Derby, a 1 3/16-mile turf race that has attracted some of the best 3-year-old turf horses in North America.

The Saratoga Derby serves as the second leg of the New York Racing Association’s new “Turf Trinity,” a three-race series that kicked off on July 6 with the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational at Belmont Park and will conclude back at Belmont on Sept. 7 with the Jockey Club Derby. Belmont Derby winner #1 Henley’s Joy will be back to try and claim the second leg of this turf Triple Crown, but he’ll be challenged once again by several of his beaten rivals, as well as five newcomers adding plenty of depth to the Saratoga Derby field.

Despite his success in the Belmont Derby, Henley’s Joy is not the morning-line favorite for Sunday’s race. Many handicappers believe that Henley’s Joy received a beneficial ground-saving trip in the Belmont Derby, giving him the edge he needed to prevail by three-quarters of a length. In contrast, #4 Rockemperor fell far off the early pace after breaking from post 14 and had to shift to the extreme outside for racing room at the top of the stretch. In the end, he rallied strongly to finish third by 1 ¼ lengths, and according to data from Trakus, ground loss on the turns caused Rockemperor to run about four lengths farther than Henley’s Joy.

As a result, Rockemperor is the 7-2 morning line favorite in the Saratoga Derby, and many bettors – taking note of his tricky trip – will expect him to turn the tables on Sunday. But what about #2 Social Paranoia, who finished second in the Belmont Derby?

In my opinion, Social Paranoia ran a better race than both Henley’s Joy and Rockemperor. After racing wide on both turns, Social Paranoia may have pounced to the lead a bit prematurely, seizing a one-length lead at the eighth pole only to be run down late by Henley’s Joy. But Social Paranoia ran about five lengths farther than Henley’s Joy and a length farther than Rockemperor, so from a ground loss perspective, he was clearly best of the three.

It’s also worth noting that the Belmont Derby unfolded at a quick pace for a turf race, giving an advantage to the deep-closing Rockemperor. The fact that Social Paranoia made an early move into this solid pace makes his runner-up effort all the more impressive.

There isn’t much speed in the Saratoga Derby field, so I’m optimistic that Social Paranoia will work out a perfect trip stalking #3 A Thread of Blue and/or #11 Flying Scotsman through the early stages of the race. The slight cutback to 1 3/16 miles should also be to Social Paranoia’s benefit, and if he repeats his fine effort in the Saratoga Derby, I believe he can go one better than last time and spring a 6-1 upset.

Among the newcomers to the Turf Trinity series, #10 Mohawk – a two-time graded stakes winner in Europe for top trainer Aidan O’Brien – is likely to offer the most serious challenge. But the above-mentioned Flying Scotsman could be dangerous too. As a juvenile he defeated some classy runners, including future Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach, and Flying Scotsman recently returned from a long layoff to finish sixth in the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington International Racecourse. At first glance, it might not seem like a great effort, but Flying Scotsman was only beaten 2 ¼ lengths after setting a solid pace. If he improves in his second start off the layoff, he could be a surprising factor in the Saratoga Derby.

So how do we take all of these opinions and turn them into profitable plays? First off, let’s focus our attention on Social Paranoia and Rockemperor, betting the former to win at odds of 5-1 or higher. Then we’ll box them both a small exacta and key them in the trifecta, requiring them both to finish in the top three in order to cash.

Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget

$6 to win on #2 Social Paranoia

What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $6 to win on 2

$2 exacta: 2,4 with 2,4 ($4)

What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $2 exacta box, 2,4

$0.50 trifecta: 2,4 with 2,4 with 1,6,8,10,11 ($5)

What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta, 2,4 with 2,4 with 1,6,8,10,11

$0.50 trifecta: 2,4 with 1,6,8,10,11 with 2,4 ($5)

What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta, 2,4 with 1,6,9,10,11 with 2,4

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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