2016 Saratoga Meet Preview

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D.S. Williamson

July 8th, 2016


Scenes from morning workouts at Saratoga Race Course on Travers Stakes Day in Saratoga Springs, New York on August 25, 2012.

The 2016 Saratoga Meet starts on July 22 and ends on September 5. Saratoga is routinely the most important meet on the East Coast year in and year out. The Saratoga Meet remains one of the top destinations for horses looking to make their mark in the Breeders Cup World Championships. Although the goal for many horses is the Pegasus World Cup, taking place in February of 2017, the Breeders Cup should still be a terrific measure off greatness this year.

Saratoga is like no other racetrack in the country. There's a reason that it's called the Graveyard of Favorites. Last year's Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah, lost the Travers to Keen Ice. Secretariat also lost at Saratoga. There are 3 things during this year's Saratoga Meet that I'm looking forward to.

Which Todd Pletcher trainee will be this year's Liam's Map?

Last year, Liam's Map turned into an absolute monster during the Saratoga Meet. He almost held off Honor Code in the Whitney after carving out sensational fractions of 22.79, 46.00, 1:09.72 and 1:34.66. Then, in the Woodward, Liam's Map waltzed to a 4 3/4 length win. Does Pletcher have a Liam's Map type horse for this year's Saratoga Meet?The question would sound ridiculous if Todd hadn't done this before Liam's Map. In 2007, he campaigned Lawyer Ron to wins in the Whitney and Woodward. Flower Alley won the Jim Dandy and the Travers Stakes in 2005 after finishing 9th in the Kentucky Derby.

Now that Mshawish has retired due to a leg injury that he suffered via training, Todd appears to have 2 horses that could become a monster during the Saratoga Meet. Not counting his bevy of fillies and mares, Pletcher has 2 three-year-olds that could be any sort. Outwork, the winner of the Wood Memorial, worked on June 24. He worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.6. It was a nice work. He's almost ready to run in a race. Some believed that Pletcher was going to enter Outwork to the July 9 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. Since he wasn't entered there, it goes to reason that Pletcher will enter him into a race at Saratoga once that meet starts.

The other 3-year-old to watch is Destin. The son of Giant's Causeway almost held off Creator in the Belmont Stakes. Destin is being pointed to the Travers Stakes. Destin has a great chance of becoming the best three-year-old of this generation. No other horses, save for Exaggerator, Nyquist, and Creator, have proven capable. Destin has all of the tools to be the next great three-year-old in Todd Pletcher's barn.

Can Songbird prevent being the latest addition to the Graveyard? 

Songbird has been one of the most spectacular horses, male or female, three-year-old or over, so far in 2016. With a bit less than half of the year in the books, she has a shot at Horse of the Year honors should she finish the year undefeated. The ultimate goal for Songbird is the Breeders Cup Distaff. Before that race, which takes place at her home track of Santa Anita, Songbird is scheduled to run in 2 races at Saratoga, the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks and the G1 Alabama. NYRA has already stated that if Songbird shows up in the Coaching Club American Oaks, the purse is going to be $500,000 instead of the usual $300,000.

All of it sounds good except that Saratoga is not an easy place to win. Songbird is used to fast, almost light tracks like Santa Anita, Del Mar and Keeneland. If the track comes up deep and tiring, like it did when American Pharoah contested the Travers in 2015, how will Songbird respond?  The brilliant 3-year-old filly's connections are taking a huge gamble by running Songbird at the Spa this summer.

Travers could determine 3-year-old male of the year

Sure, a Triple Crown winner won't be stepping foot into the starting gate of the 2016 Travers Stakes. But so what?  This year's Travers should be an exciting rendition because Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Preakness winner Exaggerator, and Belmont winner Creator are all pointing towards the Midsummer Derby. Is Creator for real?  Has Nyquist improved enough to beat his peers after his flub in the Preakness?  What about Exaggerator packing it in the Belmont Stakes?  Will he return to form at Saratoga?

What's even more interesting is that Pletcher, like I wrote above, is probably going to enter both Outwork and Destin in the Travers Stakes. This is one year where the Travers will have more meaning to the race for 3-year-old male of the year than the Kentucky Derby, unless, of course, Nyquist wins the Travers.