NYRA Sets Stakes Schedule for Aqueduct's Fall Meet
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has solidified the stakes schedule for the 18-day Fall Meet at Aqueduct Racetrack, which will be held Friday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Dec. 5. The meet will include 26 black-type events, including 10 graded stakes, with total stakes purses of $4.9 million.
Saturday, Dec. 4, will undoubtedly be the most anticipated day of the meet with the $750,000 GI Cigar Mile H. for 3-year-olds and up held in addition to three other stakes. The Cigar Mile undercard will also feature the $250,000 GII Remsen S. for 2-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles, with 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the 2022 GI Kentucky Derby. The $250,000 GII Demoiselle S., for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles, will offer 10-4-2-1 points toward the 2022 GI Kentucky Oaks. The card will be completed by the $250,000 GIII Go For Wand H. for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up at one mile.
Aqueduct's Winter Meet will begin Thursday, Dec. 9, with seven stakes carded through the end of the calendar year. Visit NYRA.com to see Aqueduct's complete stakes schedule.
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Belmont Stakes Schedule
2022 Belmont Stakes DAY Race Schedule
|3:15pm||True North Stakes||Dirt||II||$400,000||6 f||3 Yrs & Up|
|3:59pm||Woody Stephens Stakes||Dirt||II||$400,000||7F||3 Yrs|
|4:43pm||Just a Game Stakes||fillies & mares- turf||I||$500,000||1 mile||3 yo's & up|
|5:39pm||Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes||Turf||I||$500,000||1 1/4 miles||3 yo's & up|
|6:35pm||Belmont Stakes||Dirt||I||$1,000,000||1 1/2 miles||3 Yo|
Gates open at 8:30 a.m.
First race starts at 11:45 a.m.
Belmont Stakes runs at approximately 6:32 p.m.
General Admission: Grandstand $10, Clubhouse $20.
After 2020’s lost season, a limited number of horse racing fans will finally be back in the stands at Saratoga Race Course. What will they have to look forward to? The New York Racing Association (NYRA) today announced the stakes schedule for the 40-day summer meet, which will include 76 stakes worth $21.5 million in total purses. NYRA announced last month that the Saratoga meet would begin on July 15 and run through September 6.
Once again, the Whitney Handicap and Travers Stakes will be the highlights of the season, back in their original time-slots and ready for the best Thoroughbreds in the country. The 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers will take place on August 28, with the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney rumbling in on August 7.
Also included during the meet will be the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl, both previously run during the fall meet at Belmont Park.
Following Opening Weekend, racing will take place Wednesdays through Sundays, with the exception of the final week, when the meet will conclude on Labor Day.
Whitney Day will feature three Grade 1 events, led by the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, which will offer the winner an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6 at Del Mar. Also on the card will be the $500,000 Test Stakes and the $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational, the second jewel of the Turf Triple series, a first-time Grade 1er. The Whitney card will also include the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls and the $120,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure. Beginning on August 6, Whitney weekend will also include the Grade 2, $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame; the Grade 3, $200,000 Troy; and the $120,000 Alydar. The weekend concludes on August 8, with three stakes, including the upgraded Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational, the second leg of the Turf Triple series for sophomore fillies. The August 8 card will also include the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack and the $120,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose.
On Friday, August 27, New York–breds will be featured on New York Showcase Day, featuring six stakes worth a combined $1.15 million. The card is headlined by the $250,000 Albany, along with a trio of $200,000 stakes, the Fleet Indian, Funny Cide and Seeking the Ante. Rounding out the special day will be a pair of $150,000 turf events with the West Point Handicap and the Yaddo.
The main event, of course, will be the Travers, taking place on Saturday, August 28. The 2021 Travers Day card will include seven stakes, including six Grade 1s, offering up $4.6 million in total purse money with automatic berths in the Breeders’ Cup to the winner of the Grade 1, $750,000 Sword Dancer; the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign; and the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina. Additionally, the card will also include the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego and the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. Travers Day will also include the Grade 2, $400,000 Ballston Spa.
The Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, back this year as a local prep race for the Travers, will be held on Saturday, July 31. That day’s card will also include the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green at 1 3/8 miles on the turf. Closing out that weekend on August 1 will be the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam.
Additional Saratoga races that have gone a tick up in grade include the Grade 3, $200,000 Caress, which will be run on Saturday, July 24, in addition to 20 stakes receiving a $20,000 boost to offer a $120,000 purse.
The Opening Day card on July 15 will include a pair of graded stakes, the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville and the Grade 3, $120,000 Quick Call. The first Grade 1 of the 2021 season will be the $500,000 Diana on the 17th. The following Saturday, July 24, will also see the running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Other notable Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga will include the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial on July 29 and the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup on August 26 for steeplechasers; the $600,000 Alabama on August 21; and the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap, a Breeders’ Cup qualifier for the Mile, on August 14. The latter will be held on the same card as the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special.
Closing Weekend will feature a pair of Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events, previously held as part of the Belmont fall meet. These will include the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and the $600,000 Flower Bowl, which serve as anchors of a September 4 card that will also include the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress and the Grade 3, $300,000 Saranac. (Due to the pair of Grade 1s moving over from Belmont, the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward and the Grade 3, $200,000 Waya will move from Saratoga to the Belmont fall meet.) The September 5 card will feature the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway, and Closing Day will feature the Grade 2, $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap and Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful.
Late last year, NYRA announced that during the 2021 season, at least at its tracks, the use of Lasix would be banned within 48 hours of all stakes races.
With 10 percent capacity limitations in place, fans will be required to present NYRA proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test, taken within 72 hours of their ticketed day at the races, as well as wear face masks and adhere to social distancing rules while inside the gates of Saratoga Race Course.
Additional details on fan attendance and tickets for the 2021 summer meet will be provided as information becomes available.
Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.
2021 Woodward Stakes Quick Sheet: Get to Know the Horses
Saturday’s feature race at Belmont Park is the $500,000 Grade 1 Woodward Stakes. After more than a decade at Saratoga, the Woodward returns to Belmont, where it was a staple of the fall meet for decades. Although the Woodward is not a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, five horses have parlayed a Woodward win into a Classic triumph later in the year: Alysheba in 1988, Cigar in 1995, Ghostzapper in 2004, Saint Liam in 2005, and Gun Runner in 2017.
The Woodward will be run at 1 ⅛ miles around one turn on dirt. It’s scheduled as the 10th race, with post time set for 5:45 p.m. ET. “America’s Day at the Races” on FS2 will feature coverage of the Woodward and the entire Saturday card at Belmont Park.
Bet the Woodward Stakes this weekend with a $200 sign up bonus from NYRA Bets, the official betting partner of Belmont Park. Available in 30 states nationwide, NYRA Bets offers best-in-class HD live video and replays, online contests, exclusive player promotions, and expert picks and analysis. With an easy to use, free to download app, betting horse racing online with a $200 sign up bonus has never been easier. Download the NYRA Bets app today to get started.
Let’s meet the field for this year’s Woodward Stakes.
1. Dr Post
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Owner: St. Elias Stable
Career record: 10 starts – 4 wins – 1 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $820,635
Earnings per start: $82,064
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108
Pedigree: Quality Road – Mary Delaney, by Hennessy
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker/closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: After a few near-misses in major stakes in his 3-year-old season, Dr. Post has begun to put it all together as a 4-year-old. He started his season with a graded stakes win over this track, taking the Grade 3 Westchester Stakes by 1 ½ lengths on May 1. After a non-threatening fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Mile, Dr. Post bounced back with a 1 ¼-length win in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup. Most recently, he finished third in the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic, closing good ground after making a wide move in the stretch. He’s been in consistently good form all year, and returns to a track where he’s already enjoyed success this year. He should sit a good trip rating just off the pace and will be in prime position to make a winning move. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Woodward three times: Lawyer Ron in 2007; Quality Road in 2010; and Liam’s Map in 2015.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Brendan Walsh
Career record: 9 starts – 7 wins – 1 second – 1 third
Career earnings: $1,450,902
Earnings per start: $161,211
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Street Sense – Velvety, by Bernardini
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Maxfield entered the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes on Aug. 7 at Saratoga as a major Horse of the Year contender. After being beset by injuries as a 3-year-old, he rattled off three graded stakes wins in the first six months of his 4-year-old campaign, including a sharp 3 ¼-length win in the Stephen Foster Stakes in June. As the second betting choice in the Whitney, he chased the speedy Knicks Go around the track and finished second, 1 ¾ lengths in front of third-place Silver State. It was a fine performance, but Maxfield enters the Woodward with a slightly diminished reputation. However, he should get a more honest pace to run into Saturday. While there’s some fast horses in the race, no one is as imposing as Knicks Go. Maxfield has proven several times over that he has a powerful closing kick, and that will play well on Belmont’s sweeping turns. If he shows up with the best version of himself, he’s going to be very tough to beat, and will thrust himself back into the Horse of the Year conversation. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s Godolphin won its lone Whitney to date in 2013 with Alpha.
3. Art Collector
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owner: Bruce Lunsford
Career record: 14 starts – 7 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $1,260,305
Earnings per start: $90,022
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Bernardini – Distorted Legacy, by Distorted Humor
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Art Collector looked like a serious Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender last year, scoring prep wins in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and the Ellis Park Derby. Unfortunately, a foot injury knocked him out of consideration for the run for the roses, and he ended his 3-year-old season unplaced in two races. His 4-year-old campaign did not start until late June, but he’s more than made up for lost time, posting wins in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga and the Grade 3 Charles Town Classic. He won both of those races while sitting on or near the early lead, and it’s likely he’ll try that strategy again. He’s improved with every race this year, including earning a career-best Equibase Speed Figure last out. It’s very possible that we haven’t seen the best of him yet, and if an even better version of Art Collector shows up, he’s going to be a serious contender. Bill Mott shares the record for most Woodward wins by a trainer at four with Robert Frankel and Elliott Burch. He won with Cigar in 1995 and 1996, To Honor and Serve in 2012, and Yoshida in 2018. Luis Saez won this race last year aboard Global Campaign.
4. Mo Gotcha
Jockey: Jalon Samuel
Trainer: Naipaul Chatterpaul
Owner: Knight R.B. Stables
Career record: 21 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 6 thirds
Career earnings: $291,724
Earnings per start: $13,892
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 101
Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Tie Dye, by Hard Spun
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding is a three-time winner this year, with all of those wins coming in claiming races. He stepped up in class for the Sept. 18 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational Stakes at Belmont last out and almost pulled off the 18.60-1 upset. Mo Gotcha set the early pace before tiring in the late stages of the 1 ⅝-mile contest. He held on to finish third, beaten 3 ¾ lengths by upset winner Locally Owned. While he’s in career-best form, having run back-to-back lifetime top figures, he’ll still have to improve a few points to contend in this race. Jockey Jalon Samuel looks for his first graded stakes win on Saturday. Naipaul Chatterpaul has won two graded stakes races, with his lone Grade 1 stakes victory coming in the 2011 Manhattan Handicap with Mission Approved.
5. Code of Honor
Jockey: Paco Lopez
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Owner: Will Farish
Career record: 17 starts – 7 wins – 4 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $2,881,320
Earnings per start: $169,489
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 120
Pedigree: Noble Mission – Reunited, by Dixie Union
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: After a very successful 3-year-old season (which included a pair of Grade 1 wins) and an up-and-down 4-year-old year, Code of Honor has raced just twice as a 5-year-old. He started 2021 with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational and then went to the sidelines for several months. Code of Honor returned in late August with a win in the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park, where he rated off the pace and coasted by in the stretch. He earned a career-high Equibase figure of 120 in that race, which is the highest mark anyone in the Woodward has earned at any point in their careers. Code of Honor returns to a track where he’s enjoyed success, having not missed the board in six races at Belmont. Making his second start off a long break, he’s a candidate to take a big step forward. Shug McGaughey has won the Woodward twice, with Polish Navy in 1987 and Easy Goer in 1989. Paco Lopez, coming off a dominant season at Monmouth Park, rode Code of Honor to victory in the Iselin and keeps the mount Saturday. He won the Woodward in 2014 with Itsmyluckyday.
6. Forza Di Oro
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Trainer: Bill Mott
Owner: Don Alberto Stable
Career record: 7 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 1 third
Career earnings: $309,375
Earnings per start: $44,196
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113
Pedigree: Speightstown – Filare l’Oro, by Hard Spun
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Although he’s had some trouble staying on the track, Forza di Oro has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career. Last year, he won the Grade 3 Discovery Stakes in his fifth career start on Nov. 28, which instantly stamped him as a major prospect for major older horse races this year. Unfortunately, he went on the sidelines after the Discovery and did not return to the races until July 21 at Saratoga. On the strength of an impressive allowance optional claiming win, he was the post-time favorite in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Saratoga on Sept. 4. He set the pace and held well, but faded in the last eighth and ended up third. Saturday, he’ll make his third start off the layoff and cut back in distance. He’s still very lightly raced for a horse of his age, and has the potential to take more steps forward. A front-runner like Forza Di Oro has an advantage in 1 ⅛-mile races at Belmont which feature a long straightaway. He’ll be able to set the early pace at his own tempo without any turns to worry about, and that may enable him to sneak away. Junior Alvarado won the Whitney in 2019 aboard Preservationist.
2021 schedule nyra stakes
Week Eight, the final week of the 2021 racing season at Saratoga Race Course begins September 1 and will see six straight days of racing with ten stakes races. Two Grade I races anchor the Saturday September 4 card.
The highlight of the final week is Saturday when the Jockey Club Gold Cup will sport an enhanced $1,000,000 purse and a new location at Saratoga. It replaces the Woodward Stakes that will be run at Belmont this Fall. The timing, distance and purse are meant to position the race as a springboard to the Breeder’s Cup Classic run November 6. Previously run at Belmont Park whose track configuration required an awkward starting position for the mile and one quarter distance, The Jockey Club Gold Cup now has a better starting position on Saratoga’s mile and an eighth oval.
The Saturday card has a second Grade I race in the Flower Bowl for older fillies and mares at a mile and three-eighths on the grass with a $600,000 purse. This race also has been moved from Belmont to Saratoga and sees a distance change to a mile and three eighths to match the distance of the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare turf to be run November 6.
The Prioress a Grade II for three-year-old fillies sprinting 6 furlongs for $250,000 and the Saranac a Grade III for three-year-olds going a mile and a sixteenth on the grass for $200,000 round out
The historical significance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup cannot be overstated. The astounding list of its winners includes – Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation, Nashua (twice), Kelso (an unfathomable five straight times), Buckpasser, Damascus, Shuvee (twice), Forego, Affirmed, John Henry, Easy Goer, Cigar, Skip Away (twice) and Curlin (twice). Through its history it has been run at numerous distances and at different racetracks and its renewal in 2021 at Saratoga begins yet another new chapter.
Before discussing the rest of the week, I want to look back at a maiden winner on August 19. Saratoga is about special moments and special people. Many are well known- others are not. Owner Michael Dubb’s first homebred winner – Marvelous Maude - is named after Maude Walsh who is known to many owners and fans for her love and knowledge of the sport and through her former work in Horseman’s Relations for the NYRA. Last week Maude and her husband Dan Kadyszewski were in the Winner’s Circle to celebrate the win of her namesake. She told me “When Chad Brown told me he ‘had my horse,’ I was flattered to find it was named for me. Winning at Saratoga was special for this Maude, who is also a New York bred.”
Class horse; class woman.
The beginning of the final week starts on Wednesday with the With Anticipation a Grade III grass event at a mile and a sixteenth for 2-year-olds.
Thursday features the filly counterpart to the With Anticipation with the P. G Johnson Stakes for two-year old fillies on the grass at a mile and a sixteenth. The race is a personal favorite of mine as it is named in honor of one of my earliest employers – Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997, Johnson trained thoroughbreds for parts of seven decades compiling 2,315 wins while training the winners of scores of stakes races. Quiet Little Table’s upset of the mighty Forego in the 1977 Suburban is just one example. Johnson won training titles at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga and won at least one race at Saratoga for 36 consecutive years 1962-2003.
His most famous win occurred in his native Chicago when Volponi (a horse Johnson bred) won the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Arlington Park at odds of 43-1. It was the culmination of almost 60 years of knowledge and dedication and Johnson’s biggest win.
(Notably, his training feat that day unearthed an ongoing computer fraud by industry computer programmers engaging in post-race betting into the pick 6 pools. Not only did Johnson’s Volponi defeat a world-class field that day he saved bettors and the sport from the ongoing theft.)
I spoke this week with one of Johnson’s daughters – Karen Johnson - who modestly and graciously said “My sister Kathy and I always look forward to the day the P.G. Johnson Stakes is run. Through the great kindness of former NYRA racing secretary, Mike Lakow, a race was named in my dad’s honor, one year after his passing. With Covid last year, we weren’t able to make the trophy presentation, so we’re really looking forward to resuming the honor this year.”
Friday’s highlight is the Lucky Coin for older horses at five and one-half furlongs on the turf.
On Sunday two-year-old fillies stretch out to 7 furlongs in the Grade I Spinaway which has been run since 1880 and won by the incomparable Ruffian in 1974. This year’s renewal expects to highlight recent winner Echo Zulu.
The 2021 meet wraps up with a Monday Labor Day card featuring two stakes -the Grade II Bernard Baruch at mile and a sixteenth for 3-year-olds and up and the Grade I Hopeful for two year olds at 7 furlongs. The Hopeful is traditionally the closing day feature having been run since 1901. Past winners of the Hopeful include Secretariat and Affirmed. This year’s favorite is expected to be the undefeated Wit from the Todd Pletcher barn.
NYRA Announces 2021 Stakes Schedule for Saratoga Race Course’s Summer Meet
Attention racing fans – the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) has just released even more details about the upcoming 2021 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. The 40-day Saratoga season will feature 76 stakes worth $21.5 million in total purses, and below we’ve highlighted some important updates and noteworthy racing days.
The Countdown to Opening Day Is Underway
Last month, NYRA announced that the 2021 summer meet at Saratoga will begin on Thursday, July 15, and conclude on Monday, September 6. Following the four-day opening weekend, racing will be held five days a week, Wednesdays – Sundays, with the exception of the final week, which ends on Labor Day.
Today, NYRA released the full 2021 stakes schedule, which has at least one named stakes race every live racing day. In addition to the popular Travers Day and Whitney Day, this year’s schedule will include the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl, which in past years have taken place during the fall meet at Belmont Park.
In addition, NY State has said that live sports and entertainment venues with a minimum reserved seating capacity of 10,000 will be permitted to reopen with a limited number of spectators (plus testing and health and safety protocols in place) starting on February 23 with approval from the state health department. At the moment, NYRA is monitoring the NY State-issued regulations to determine how they may impact Saratoga Race Course.
“Additional details on fan attendance and tickets for the 2021 summer meet will be provided as information becomes available,” said NYRA in a press release.
Mark Your Calendar for These Major Racing Days
There are a lot of exciting racing days scheduled for the summer meet at Saratoga, and some noteworthy ones include:
- Opening Day (July 15): Featuring the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville and the Grade 3, $120,000 Quick Call
- Whitney Day (August 7): Featuring the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney, the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test, the Grade 1, $1 million Saratoga Derby Invitational, the Grade 2, $250,000 Glens Falls, and the $120,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure
- Travers Day (August 28): Featuring the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers, the Grade 1, $750,000 Sword Dancer, the Grade 1, $600,000 Personal Ensign, the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina, the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego, the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial, and the Grade 2, $400,000 Ballston Spa
- Closing Day (September 6): Featuring the Grade 2, $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap and the Grade 1, $300,000 Hopeful
Take a look at the full racing calendar here >>
Find local lodging in the Saratoga area >>
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Saratoga Race Course set for another blockbuster stakes schedule
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Post time for the first race of the day at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday will be 7 a.m.
That’s when the gates open to the public, who surely will be showing a good turn of foot scrambling to reserve picnic tables in the back yard.
The real running starts at 1:05 p.m., though, post time for the first race of the 153rd Saratoga meet.
The meet will kick off with a low-priced claiming race, and fans, locked out of the track by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, probably won’t mind any kind of live action they can get at this point. But they won’t have to wait long for the serious racing fireworks to blast off.
Saratoga will offer 76 stakes races carrying purses totaling $21.5 million, including 20 Grade I races, the first of which is the Diana for fillies and mares on the turf on Saturday.
Three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, a Mechanicville native who has won the Saratoga meet title three times since 2016, has won the Diana the last five years (six overall) and has two top contenders in on Saturday. He has noticed an uptick in anticipation for the 2021 meet, not just because fans missed it last year, but for the usual buzz of outstanding racing for 40 days through Labor Day Sept. 6.
“Things are looking pretty lively already around here,” he said on Tuesday morning.
“Really, sort of a depressing meet last year. We tried to maintain some positivity. NYRA did offer a lot of nice races up here, and we had a lot of good horses to run and won some nice races, but it’s so different, to go through it with no fans there, no family. It was just a very empty feeling throughout the meet for everybody.”
“I think it’s going to feel … normal again,” said Todd Pletcher, who will be inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in August. The bigger question is how strange did last year feel. Saratoga is the one place where we race that has the most electric crowd, and the most enthusiastic crowd. The fans are very knowledgeable. It’s what you’ve grown accustomed to your whole career.
“Last year just didn’t seem right.”
“I think the place is ready to explode,” said veteran trainer Jim Bond, who has a farm in Stillwater. “Every phone call, every person I talk to about Saratoga, they just can’t wait to get here and get going. I think it’s going to be a coming-out party like they’ve never seen before.”
The stakes schedule will get going on Thursday with the Quick Call turf sprint for 3-year-olds and the Grade III Schuylerville, the first in the series of graded stakes on the dirt restricted to 2-year-olds.
After the Diana on Saturday, some of the biggest highlights of the meet will be Whitney Day Aug. 7, the Alabama for 3-year-old fillies on Aug. 21 and Travers Day Aug. 28, with closing weekend featuring a new addition, the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, historically won at Belmont Park but moved earlier to Saratoga to bolster what should be a field of Breeders’ Cup Classic hopefuls.
Although the Travers is still well over a month away, it’s easy to identify an early favorite, the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality, the 2020 champion 2-year-old male. His only career loss was a fourth by just a length to Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby, and that result is still pending after Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test.
If Medina Spirit ultimately is disqualified, the Derby would be handed to another of Cox’s top 3-year-old’s, Mandaloun, who was second.
After the Haskell at Monmouth Park, Mandaloun could wind up in the $1.25 million Travers against his stablemate Essential Quality.
Another intriguing Travers hopeful is undefeated but lightly raced First Captain, trained by Shug McGaughey. He easily won the Dwyer at Belmont on July 5, a race that the McGaughey-trained Code of Honor won prior to winning the Travers in 2019, although Code of Honor was much more experienced by the time he got to the Dwyer.
Pletcher and Brown are in scramble mode trying to get a horse to the Travers.
They’ll both use the Curlin on July 30 to gauge whether Wood Memorial runner-up Dynamic One (Pletcher) and the very lightly raced Miles D (Brown) are worthy of Travers consideration.
“Miles D is a nice horse, we’ve always thought a lot of him,” Brown said. “He got hurt last year as a 2-year-old. He was one of my main Derby hopes, really. He had all the markings to maybe get on the trail, and then that happened and I missed everything.
“I’ve been waiting to run him in the Curlin. He probably doesn’t have the seasoning to catch up that fast, but I’m going to give him a chance.”
Before Dynamic One gets to the Curlin, his next assignment will be a breeze this weekend, which will serve the dual role of getting him sharp, but also keeping his stablemate, Malathaat, on her toes, as they regularly breeze in company together.
If Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality is the leader of the 3-year-old male division, Pletcher’s Malathaat is even more clearly the leader of the 3-year-old fillies. She’s undefeated from five career starts, and won a fierce stretch duel over the Brown-trained Search Results in the Kentucky Oaks.
Malathaat is so good that Pletcher was considering running her against males in the Belmont — he won it with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007 — but pulled back on that to give her a breather from the schedule.
“We were very serious about it,” he said. “We just felt like she had those two races four weeks apart, and I thought she just lost a little bit of weight, and my biggest concern was if she had a really hard race in the Belmont, it might knock her out for the entire summer and even longer.
“So we felt like freshening her up at that time and by waiting for the CCA Oaks, hopefully the Alabama, we could duplicate what we did when she went from the Demoiselle being freshened to the Ashland and three weeks back to the Kentucky Oaks. So far, it’s all gone according to plan, and we’re looking forward to getting going again. If the Belmont had been two or three weeks later, maybe we would’ve.”
The CCA Oaks is July 24, and the next logical step for horses targeting that race is the Aug. 21 Alabama.
Brown said Search Results will skip those longer dirt stakes in favor of the seven-furlong Test on Aug. 7, but will have no qualms about eventually getting her back to a mile and an eighth, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff distance.
“I thought she had some tough races back-to-back-to-back,” Brown said, “from the race right before the Kentucky Oaks at Aqueduct [Gazelle], to the Oaks, which was a gut-wrenching race to lay it on the line, and then another one back in five weeks in the Acorn, where she was really running to the wire to hold on.
“Those were taxing efforts. More than the distance of seven-eighths — because she ran really great in the Oaks at a mile and an eighth, I’m not afraid to run her a mile and an eighth — it’s really the time.”
He could send Mother Goose runner-up Always Carina to the CCA Oaks, but might wait until the Test with her, too.
“They’re two nice fillies, but obviously the leader of the division right now is Malathaat,” Brown said.
Last year’s Alabama winner, Swiss Skydiver, who went on to beat males in the Preakness during the pandemic-distorted 2020 scedule, is at Saratoga and pointing toward the Shuvee on July 25 and Personal Ensign on Aug. 28, Travers Day.
The three top contenders for the Whitney are Pegasus World Cup winner Knicks Go, who returned to his winning ways with an easy victory in the Cornhusker for Cox; Maxfield, whose only career loss is a third in the Santa Anita Handicap; and the Steve Asmussen-trained Silver State, who is riding a six-race winning streak, most recently the Grade I Met Mile on Belmont Day June 5.
“Good race,” Cox said of the potential Whitney matchup. “Our horse, he ran the way he was training in the Cornhusker. It gave us enough confidence to go into the Whitney, as long as he’s training well over the next few weeks.
“The Met Mile, we took a step back there [fourth as the 4-5 betting favorite]. I don’t think it has anything to do with how he was training, because he was definitely training the part. We wouldn’t have taken a shot if he wasn’t. For whatever reason, he’s just a better horse around two turns and has proved that. We’ll get two turns in the Whitney.”
The competition for the jockey’s meet title has been dominated by the Ortiz brothers, Irad Jr. and Jose, who won three each in the last six years, but there is a load of talent right behind them looking to win the big races.
Saratoga training championships have been a big part of Pletcher’s now-Hall of Fame career, and he and Brown have been duking it out the last few years, after a short burst of domination by Brown.
“Last year, everything sort of fell in place,” Pletcher said. “In order to win meets, you have to have conditions, maidens, one-other-thans, things like that you can win.
“For one, I don’t think our stable is quite balanced enough yet to win a title, and it’s going to be a super-tough meet. There’s some strong outfits here, and I think Kentucky’s going to be well represented.”
“It’s a lot like a golf tournament,” Brown said. “You’ve got guys with leads, you’re going into last week last year, you’re seven strokes up, and then all of a sudden on the back nine, it falls apart. Whether it’s weather, couple favorites get beat, somebody gets hot, birdies three holes … then all of a sudden you can get beat.
“This meet is a lot like a four-day major. What you try to do is have a steady meet, top to bottom. You know you’re going to have some tough beats and rain-offs, and you’re going to lose some races you should’ve won. You try to win a few you didn’t plan on winning.”
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