An early look at the likely fields for Saratoga's opening weekend stakes
In anticipation of Saratoga's opening weekend, NYRA has released the probables for Friday's Schuylverville (G3) and Lake George (G2), Saturday's Sanford (G3) and Diana (G1), and next Sunday's Coaching Club American Oaks (G1).
In the opening day Schuylerville for juvenile fillies, Tonasah will likely get another chance to compete against the top two from the June 4 Astoria, Moment Is Right and Decked Out. I say another chance because Tonasah is the one who was set to make her career debut in the Astoria, only to run loose around Belmont Park and have to be scratched. The Todd Pletcher filly came back to wire a five-furlong maiden by 5 1/2 lengths. Pletcher is also expected to send out debut maiden winner Positively Royal.
Trainer Wesley Ward is projected to run two, with Astoria winner Moment Is Right to be joined by Banree, fifth versus the boys in the Tremont. The Steve Asmussen-trained Adhara exits a second in the Debutante at Churchill, while Little Miss Miss and Off the Tracks -- debut winners at Parx and Gulfstream respectively -- round out the probables.
An interesting name on the Lake George list is English shipper Jellicle Ball, who would be making her debut for Graham Motion. Formerly with John Gosden, the Invincible Spirit filly has run only one bad race (12th in the 1000 Guineas [G1]) and has been mixing it up decently in stakes company. She'll probably meet such established North American turf fillies as Celestine and Quality Rocks from the Bill Mott barn; front-running types like Lady Zuzu and Feathered; recent Alywow heroine Mississippi Delta; Chad Brown's contingent of Partisan Politics, Mrs McDougal and Sivoliere; and stakes debutante Robillard, a Godolphin filly trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
Saturday's Sanford projects a clash between two precocious stakes winners, Bashford Manor (G3) hero He's Comin in Hot and Tremont scorer Cocked and Loaded, but a few recent maiden-breakers warrant attention. Paynes Prairie, a game second in the Tremont, has since readily opened his account for Asmussen. Awesome Slew (Eddie Plesa Jr.), John Q. Public (D. Wayne Lukas) and Twirling Cinnamon (Brad Cox) won first time out at Monmouth, Ellis Park and Churchill Downs respectively. Also noteworthy is Uncle Vinny, a Pletcher juvenile who was sixth as the even-money favorite in the Tremont and eligible to bounce back.
In the Diana, two storylines will surround Stephanie's Kitten: will her rabbit Kitten's Queen actually inject the pace she needs, and not dawdle around as in the New York (G2); and if so, will that help the Ramsey homebred break through after near-misses in the past two runnings of the Diana?
But the Diana will likely brim with other storylines too. Will Tepin, a perfect three-for-three this season with scores in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and Just a Game (G1), continue her ascent in the filly and mare turf division? Or will the 1 1/8 miles find her out, as it has in the past? Conversely, will the added ground help Lady Lara to turn the tables, or will it just as well redound to the benefit of her stablemate, My Miss Sophia, who romped in her turf debut at this distance? Adding further heft to the likely field are last-out Gamely (G1) winner Hard Not to Like, New York upsetter Waltzing Matilda (since transferred to Tom Albertrani) and Watsdachances, arguably the victim of a misjudged ride in the Dance Smartly (G2) in her latest.
Sunday figures to present a marquee match-up in the Coaching Club American Oaks, with implications for the three-year-old filly division on dirt. Acorn (G1) winner Curalina, Mother Goose (G1) queen Include Betty, and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) star I'm a Chatterbox (last seen finishing a belated third from far back in the Kentucky Oaks [G1]) are all set to square off. Munasara, who faded to 10th after chasing a wicked pace in the Mother Goose, could show much more around this two-turn 1 1/8 miles, which figures to have a more sedate early tempo. Another sure to appreciate the added ground is Chide, a daughter of Blame who exits a third in the one-turn Mother Goose. Recent allowance winner Conquest Eclipse and Danette, who just broke her maiden after being highly tried at times, round out the probable cast.
Photo of Stephanie's Kitten courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/David Alcosser.