The Saratoga season is upon us and opening day will be Friday July 21. It will run till Labor Day, September 4. Nearly 70 stakes will be offered during the stand and they will be worth nearly $19 million.
Fans can enjoy quality right off the bat as the first weekend of the Saratoga meeting figures to be excellent.
This Saturday, the $500,000 Grade 1 Diana Stakes will be run for the 80th time. The race is for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. On the undercard on Saturday, Saratoga will schedule the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds.
Over the decades champions like Gamely, Shuvee, Waya, Just a Game and Forever Together have won the Diana. Last year Dacita, who was coming off a win in the New York Stakes, won the x` by a nose with a clever 101 Beyer Speed Figure.
Sophomore fillies take the center stage on Sunday and will square off in the Grade 1 $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks. The Coaching Club American Oaks is the second leg of the Triple Tiara. The Triple Tiara is a series of races that starts with the Acorn Stakes and ends with the Alabama Stakes.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has owned the Coaching Club American Oaks. He has won the Coaching Club American Oaks seven times including four of the last seven years. Last season the great Songbird won the CCA Oaks and just last Saturday Songbird brought her record to 13 for 14 winning the Delaware Handicap.
Saratoga, also known as the Spa, has also been called the Graveyard of Favorites, and you better pay strict attention to last moniker before eating chalk this meeting.
Mother Nature will come into play at this meet for sure and we all know the rains will come. It can ruin a grass schedule quicker than you can say flash thunderstorm and just like on the dirt track, all turf courses can play different when they get some moisture seeping in.
When looking over Saratoga, a good handicapper must also try to identify key races before they become super obvious. If one is not ahead of the curve as far as figuring out which races project to be live, then the information is much less useful.
Just like at most other venues, speed is extremely potent going short on dirt at Saratoga and you can go wire-to-wire going long on dirt under the right circumstances.
On the grass, it can pretty much be pick a number at the top of the lane. The fields will be competitive, with comebackers, Europeans, and shippers mixed in with those coming up from Belmont.
One thing to pay attention to is the main track only runners. They will be designated in the Racing Form as such and will be in the outside slots generally. When the weather is wet, grass races are usually taken off the turf and these main track only horses can suddenly become prime time contenders.
This is the meeting that all the superior barns point to for the season. Don’t be averse to taking shots with comebackers at this meet. All the pretty people have likely instructed their well-paid conditioners to save some live runners for this meet. Nothing can be finer than to take a nice little contingent down to the winner’s circle before dinner and drinks at some of the fancy restaurants all around Saratoga Springs.
Once again the usual trainers figure to dominate at Saratoga and the early betting says that Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown will fight it out for the training title.
Last year, Brown saddled 31 fewer horses than Pletcher and finished the meeting three winners behind the top conditioner. Only six other trainers had double digit wins so if one can isolate a smaller barn that has live runners, that is a good way to go at Saratoga this season.
One of the guys to watch is Barclay Tagg. This trainer knows what to do with a good horse as he won the Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide. Last year at Saratoga, Tagg sent out 19 starters and seven returned to the winner’s circle.
Anthony Dutrow again figures to be loaded for bear at this Saratoga meeting. He traditionally has a big Saratoga meeting and last year was no exception. Every horse he sent out at the stand was live. He won with seven of his twenty starters and ten others ran in the money.
Brad Cox runs horses around the country and although he only saddled a few last year at Saratoga, he made them count. Four of his 13 starters won and another ran third.
Claude ‘Shug’ McGaughey trains for some of the most prestigious owners in the sport and he is always geared up for Saratoga. Last year 15 of his 40 starters were in the exacta and eight won.
Some trainers, like NBA basketball players, have ‘go to’ moves.
Barclay Tagg is a patient man and it shows the way he brings horses back to the sport. In the last five years he has saddled 17 horses that have been away for 180 days or more and five of them won at a median payoff of 4-1. Four others ran in the money at odds between 7-2 and 9-1.
Tagg also knows when to hold them and when to fold them. In the last five years when he has dropped a horse from a Maiden Special Weight race into a maiden claimer he has won at 23%.
McGaughey, similar to some great trainers of the past like Charlie Whittingham, is not averse to giving a horse a race. Over the last five years he is only 9% with his first-time starters but double that percentage with his second shooters.
Cox is a master at changing things up and he loves to run horses on dirt and then switch to turf. In this category, he has won with 30% of his starters in the last five years and 55% have run in the money. Some trainers excel by just having a good eye. Cox is one of those guys. He has won with 31% of his starters the last five years first off the claim.
Class prevails at Saratoga year in and year out so never take for granted the racer that had some success in his previous form. That kind of lightning may strike at this meeting.
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