SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With the Grade 1, $1.5 million Whitney and the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers serving as its glittering pillars, the 146th summer meet at Saratoga Race Course will open on Friday, July 18, for a 40-day celebration of racing that once again will bring together the top horses, best jockeys and finest trainers in the nation.
Now the richest race on Saratoga’s $17.45 million stakes schedule, the 1 1/8-mile Whitney on August 2 looks to attract the top older horses in the country, among them 2013 Belmont Stakes star Palace Malice, recent winner of the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap; 2013’s top 3-year-old, Will Take Charge, victorious in last year’s Grade 1 Travers, and possibly Grade 1 Stephen Foster hero Moonshine Mullin. Also on Whitney Day will be the Grade 1, $350,000 Test, tentatively penciled in on dual Grade 1 winner Sweet Reason’s calendar, the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for sprinters, and two turf races: the $100,000 De la Rose for fillies and mares and the $100,000 Lure.
The 1 ¼-mile Travers for 3-year-olds on Saturday, August 23, is the next major target for 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, as well as Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, and Preakness runner-up Ride on Curlin. Joining the “Mid-Summer Derby” on the card will be the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King’s Bishop, a likely spot for Grade 2 Woody Stephens winner Bayern, along with the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina for filly and mare sprinters and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa for turf fillies and mares.
On Travers Eve, Friday, August 22, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps winner Close Hatches and runner-up Princess of Sylmar could renew their rivalry in the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign. Rounding out the weekend on Sunday, August 24, is the first Saratoga Showcase Day, featuring six stakes restricted to New York-breds.
Saratoga also will be the summer home of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who could make it a three-peat in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 9 or await the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap on August 30. As well, 3-year-old filly standout Untapable could make an appearance in either the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 or the Grade 1 Alabama, $600,000 on August 16.
“Saratoga is the gem of New York racing and American racing,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. “The rich stakes schedule, abundance of turf racing and the 2-year-old races all combine to make Saratoga an unparalleled afternoon for both the experienced handicapper and the casual fan. Each racing day at Saratoga we work on getting people out to the track by enhancing our product and taking care of our guests by making it a good experience.”
The leading trainers on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit will be competing for the H. Allen Jerkens training title, won for the 10th time last year by Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, whose always-powerful 2-year-old contnigent is already revving up for the meet. Chad Brown, Linda Rice, Kiaran McLaughlin and David Jacobson will be among his challengers, along with Belmont Stakes-winning trainer Christophe Clement. As well, Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey, D. Wayne Lukas, Jonathan Sheppard, and Bill Mott will have a significant presence at the Spa, although the tradition of Mott winning a race on his birthday will be on hiatus this year, as July 29 falls on a dark Tuesday.
Last year, Javier Castellano topped the jockey standings at Saratoga and took the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title for the first time en route to his first Eclipse Award. Expected to provide serious competition are brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Joel Rosario, as well as Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who last year broke Jerry Bailey’s record and became the all-time winningest jockey at the Spa.