Questions abound as 153rd summer at Saratoga commences
On Friday at 1 p.m. (EDT), the 153rd summer of racing at Saratoga gets underway. Forty racing days of classy Thoroughbreds, champion trainers, and Hall of Fame jockeys will include 37 stakes races, 18 of them Grade 1, and a total of nearly $19 million in purses will be given away before the meet ends on Labor Day.
The Ortiz brothers have had a lock on the New York standings dating back to the winter of 2015, having won seven of the last nine meet riding titles in the state. Older brother Irad won his first Saratoga meet title last summer; can younger brother José get his this summer?
Chad Brown, a native of nearby Mechanicville, led all trainers in New York last year with 131 wins, but he's yet to top Todd Pletcher to take the Saratoga training title, named for the late H. Allen Jerkens. Will this be his year?
Jonathan Sheppard has won a race at Saratoga every summer since 1969. Can he keep the streak going?
The nationally hot jock Florent Geroux will spend his first summer full-time at the Spa, as will the Midwest's Ricardo Santana Jr. Geroux's got five mounts for four trainers on opening day, Santana's got three, two for New York-based trainers.
Opening weekend will see five graded stakes races, a pair of them for two-year-olds. In the Schuylerville (G3), for fillies at six furlongs on the dirt, Steve Asmussen, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next month, will try to get his fourth win in the race with 5-2 morning line favorite Made Me Shiver. An intriguing entry is third choice Platinum Spark from the barn of David Donk, a trainer not known for running young horses on the dirt.
Turf fillies also get the spotlight on Friday in the Lake George (G2) -- can Sheppard keep his streak alive with longshot Outsider Art? Eleven other trainers will try to deny him that chance, including Chad Brown, who won this race last year and enters favored Ancient Secret.
The traditional opening Saturday fixture is the Sanford (G3), named for the racing family that for decades operated a racing and breeding farm in Amsterdam, New York, not far from Saratoga. It's attracted a field of just five lightly raced two-year-old, landing it as race 3 on the card, but the Diana (G1) later in the afternoon boasts a field of 10 impressive fillies and mares.
Dacita got her first U.S. win at Saratoga last summer, in the Ballston Spa (G2), and seeks her first Grade 1. Miss Temple City returns to the U.S. after her second Royal Ascot engagement, finishing fourth in the Duke of Cambridge (G2). Recepta will try to get another win in this race for owner John Phillips and trainer Jimmy Toner, who have teamed up to win it three times.
The first two days of racing will also see four maiden special weights, full of horses hoping to graduate to a return Saratoga engagement later in the meet in one of the stakes races for first-year runners.
We're looking at a hot and humid weekend, and the likelihood of one of those ferocious summer storms for which Saratoga is as well-known as it is for its turf races. With 10 grass races scheduled for Friday and Saturday, keep an eye on the weather as you handicap.
They're almost off. And on Friday, they will be...at the Spa.
(Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography)