ELMONT, N.Y. – Featuring 69 stakes worth a record $18.725 million, anchored by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney on August 6 and the 147th edition of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 27, live thoroughbred racing moves to Saratoga Race Course on Friday, July 22 for the 40-day summer meet packed with exciting racing action and a variety of special events designed for fans of all ages.
First post time is 1 p.m. on Friday, with gates opening at 11 a.m. Opening Day will kick off with a pair of graded stakes: the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies as well as a $150,000 Guaranteed Pick 6.
Saturday highlights include the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford for juveniles and the first Grade 1 of the meet, the $500,000 Diana for turf fillies and mares, while Sunday marks the appearance of reigning Juvenile Filly Eclipse champion Songbird in the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
“We are very fortunate to have Songbird running on Opening Weekend,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. “The following weekend is the [Grade 2, $600,000] Jim Dandy, in which we are likely to see the Belmont winner, August 13, and the Preakness winner, Exaggerator. Looking beyond that, nearly every weekend there will be a champion or a star running, and that’s what Saratoga is all about.”
Vying for the H. Allen Jerkens training title once again will be Todd Pletcher, who has won six straight and 12 total titles, and Mechanicville, N.Y. native Chad Brown, runner-up each year since 2011. Brown, the leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit in 2015, appears poised to turn the tables on his seven-time Eclipse Award winning rival, having just won his first Belmont spring/summer training title with 38 winners to Pletcher’s 25.
New faces among trainers include Tom Amoss, who will also be serving as a racing analyst on Saratoga Live, Larry Rivelli from Arlington Park and A.C. Avila from California.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be defending his first Angel Cordero, Jr. riding championship against his younger brother, Jose, leading jockey at the just-concluded Belmont Park spring/summer meet, and three-time Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, who last year rode Keen Ice to upset Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and win a record fifth Travers. New to the jockey colony this year will be the French-born Florent Geroux, most recently seen at Belmont Park winning the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks aboard Catch a Glimpse.
The prestigious 1 1/8-mile Whitney will pair with the Grade 1, $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies, with the Grade 3, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya for turf fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles rounding out the graded stakes offerings on the first “must-see” card of the meet.
Joining the Mid-Summer Derby for 3-year-olds on August 27 are five other Grade 1 stakes: the $1 million Longines Sword Dancer Invitational at 1 ½ miles on the turf, the $500,000 Ballerina for filly and mare sprinters, the $700,000 Priority One Jets Forego at seven furlongs, the $750,000 Ketel One King’s Bishop and the $750,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles. Rounding out the blockbuster card is the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa for turf fillies and mares.
Last year, the newly enhanced Travers Day card saw the addition of the Personal Ensign and the Forego, which received purse hikes along with that of the Sword Dancer. With the crowd capped at 50,000, more than $51 million was wagered on the day. In all, the meet broke record in both handle ($656 million) and paid attendance (1,065,625).
“We just came off a year in which we crushed the old record,” said Panza. “We are the only race meet in the country running six days a week, which is not an easy thing to do with the foal crop hovering around 20,000 a year. The weather will be a factor, as it always is at Saratoga. The day-to-day racing should be good, and the stars will be out on the weekends.”
After Opening Weekend presented by NYRA Bets on July 22-25, racing will be conducted Wednesday through Mondays, concluding on Labor Day, September 5.