Living in upstate New York, the doldrums of winter are only made bearable by the dreams of a Saratoga summer. When I’m blowing a foot of snow off of my driveway in January, I often mentally transport myself to a warm August afternoon, standing in the Saratoga paddock with the sun beaming down on me and the greatest horses in the country parading around me. It’s my happy place.
For those that have been following my coverage of Saratoga since 2016, though, you already know this about me.
Now in my fourth year of covering the 40-day meet for the Racing Dudes, this column previews what’s to come in the weeks ahead. Released on dark Tuesdays each week, I’ll look at the probables for the upcoming big stakes to get you mentally prepared even before the entries come out so that you can study in advance. Due to the Saratoga meet elongating to eight weeks, we now get two days (Monday and Tuesday) off each week. It’ll be easier than ever for handicappers to get ready ahead of time, and we’re here to help!
As you get ready to buckle in for this 40-day roller coaster ride, I’ll start off the first Saratoga Skinny of 2019 by looking at Opening Day and some of the entries that will grace The Spa soon.
Schuylerville Starts It Off!
An opening day on a Thursday?! Yes, get ready for a mid-week start on July 11 with the traditional Opening Day headliner, the Schuylerville Stakes (G3) for juvenile fillies.
West coast-based trainer Doug O’Neill ships in Comical, who won by 6 lengths on debut at Santa Anita to end May. Along the way to New York, O’Neill also picked up Shippy for the ride after she impressively won her debut by over 10 lengths at Laurel Park on June 14. The hype that Shippy stirred caused Reeves Thoroughbred Racing to privately purchase her and transfer her training from Tim Kreiser to O’Neill.
“Both fillies are doing really well,” O’Neill said in a NYRA press release. “With Shippy, we just took over her training, so we don’t know that much about her, other than her debut was super impressive. Comical has been pointed to this race for a while. She’s been training really well coming into it. We have two nice fillies and two top riders. I’m optimistic for both.”
Here’s Shippy’s win, if you haven’t seen it yet:
On numbers alone, the two O’Neill fillies tower over the field; both registered gaudy 97 Brisnet speed figures.
The next best last-out figure in this field comes from trainer Wesley Ward’s Aurelia Garland, who put up an 89 Brisnet speed rating when winning on debut at Belmont to start May.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Schuylerville six times and has two debut winners entered here: Integral and Kiss the Girls, the latter who will leave from the outside 9 post under Hall of Famer John Velazquez. All of the fillies in here will be stretching out to 6 furlongs for the first time in this race.
A Quick Call on Opening Day
The Opening Day companion race to the Schuylerville had been the Lake George Stakes (G3), but that race was moved to the second Friday of the meet, on July 19.
Instead, the other Opening Day graded stakes action is the Quick Call Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. Last year’s Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) winner Call Paul will try the turf for the first time in his career here, which may be a move that trainer Jason Servis and owner Mike Dubb hope will replicate the massive success that they had with World of Trouble making the same move here last summer. World of Trouble has become one of the best turf sprinters in the world, so we’ll see if Call Paul can follow in his stablemate’s hoof prints.
Last year’s Sanford Stakes (G3) winner Sombeyay will also try turf for the first time in his career. Pletcher only scores at 16% trying turf for the first time, though, which is a low percentage compared to many of his other moves.
If you want speed in this race, then there may be none quicker out of the gate than the Hutcheson Stakes winner Gladiator King, and he may be the spice price. He may get pressed by the field’s lone filly Abyssinian, but her trainer Wesley Ward recently told NYRA, “She’s doing great coming into the race. We’re also considering the Coronation Cup (a turf sprint stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday), but the Quick Call is very tempting since it’s a Grade 3 and those opportunities don’t come up often for turf sprinters. She’s got proven turf sprint form and I think she’s got a chance.”
Another interesting entry is Listing, who ships from the west coast for trainer Ben Cecil after a strong win in the Desert Code Stakes on June 9 at Santa Anita Park.
Since Opening Day comes so quickly, I wanted to get a quick hit out for all of my fellow Saratoga lovers to whet their appetites for the meet. Check back for another possible mid-week Saratoga Skinny looking at the weekend action, including the Diana Stakes (G1), which may feature as many as four of trainer Chad Brown’s best turf fillies: Sistercharlie, Homerique, Rymska, and Rushing Fall. A full preview of the Diana will be on RacingDudes.com later this week.
And remember, it’s a long meet, so wade gently into the deep Saratoga waters and don’t fire away blindly with excitement. The worst feeling is being down big after four days at the meet and realizing that you still have 36 more to conquer.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for all of my thoughts, live coverage, and photos of the Saratoga 2019 meet!