Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, July 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM
Saratoga Race Course opens main training track for 2013 meet
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Race Course took the next step toward the opening of its 2013 meet when it opened its main track to horses and trainers Monday.
With the first day of the 40-day meet set to begin July 19, many contenders area already town to train including Alpha, one of last year’s dead-heat Travers Stakes winners, Valid and Courtesan — each of whom ran bullets over the weekend. The meet marks the 150th year since the track’s first in 1863.
Many of racing’s legends have traversed the Spa’s famous oval, from Man o’War to Kelso, Beldame to Rachel Alexandra, Personal Ensign to Sky Beauty and Easy Goer to Curlin, all of whom will be recognized as part of the anniversary festivities.
With the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 24 as its centerpiece, the 2013 meet offers 53 listed and graded stakes races worth $14.95 million. Supporting the “Mid-Summer
Derby” are 15 additional Grade 1 races, beginning with the $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on July 20 and concluding with the $300,000 Hopeful for juveniles on closing day, Monday, September 2.
“Saratoga’s unsurpassed stakes schedule, which this year is worth nearly $15 million; the 2-year-old program, which serves as a launching pad for many of our sport’s future stars, and its long-standing tradition of turf racing on our two courses make it unique among racetracks,” said P.J. Campo, NYRA’s vice-president and director of racing. “Last year, champions Wise Dan, Shanghai Bobby, Questing, Royal Delta and Trinniberg all raced here, as did Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice, who combined to win all three legs of this year’s Triple Crown. We’re proud of the quality of Saratoga racing, and we expect racing fans to respond enthusiastically to the product.”
The Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title will have a new winner this season last year’s winner Ramon Dominguez, who won with a record 68 winners, was forced to retire after an injury. Among the contenders for top jockey are Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a five-time winner who is poised to surpass Jerry Bailey as the all-time leading jockey (1976-2013) at Saratoga; Javier Castellano, who has been runner-up the past three years; Derby-winning rider Joel Rosario; brothers Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jose Ortiz, and Rosie Napravnik, who will rejoin the New York colony for the summer.
The leading trainers on the New York Racing Association circuit will make their annual trek north for the meet, including national leaders Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown — a native of nearby Mechanicville — Christophe Clement, David Jacobson and Linda Rice, as well as Hall-of-Famers Shug McGaughey, Nick Zito and Bill Mott.
Augmenting the New York contingent is an array of trainers from across the country, including Tom Amoss, Wayne Catalano, Eddie Kenneally, Charles LoPresti, Michael Matz, Graham Motion, Kenny McPeek, Dale Romans, Al Stall, and Ian Wilkes. Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and Jonathan Sheppard maintain strings at the Spa, with John Shireffs, newly relocated to New York, stabled there for the first time this year.
All will be vying for the H. Allen Jerkens training title, taken for the third straight year in 2012 by Pletcher.
Accompanying McGaughey, Lukas and Pletcher to Saratoga will be the winners of this year’s Triple Crown — Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow and Belmont winner Palace Malice, who may use the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 and the Travers as arguments for divisional supremacy.
Making Saratoga their summer home as well will be 2012’s Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, who on August 3 will try to become the first horse to put together back-to-back victories in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney invitational Handicap since Discovery, who won it three straight times from 1934-36.
Featured juvenile races at the Spa Course include the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville (July 19), Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack (Aug. 11) and Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway (Sept. 1) for fillies along with the Grade 2, $200,00 Sanford (July 21), Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special (August 11) and aforementioned Hopeful, taken last year by eventual juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby.
Top-notch turf racing is traditional at the Spa, with the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana for fillies and mares on July 27 and the Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on July 27 capping the multitude of daily grass race offerings. Steeplechase racing as well gets a chance to shine, with the top jumpers in North America and abroad assembling for the Grade 1 A. P. Smithwick Memorial on August 1 and the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers’ Cup on Aug. 22.