The ebbs and flows of the Saratoga season began way back in April when the brisk chill of early spring mornings greeted the new batches of thoroughbreds arriving at the famed Oklahoma Training Track and beginning preparations for the historic meet to come.
The summer rolled around quickly, especially with the early start of the Saratoga meet this year on July 11. The heat picked up so much in mid-July that racing needed to be cancelled on July 20 due to extreme temperatures.
The heat broke into classic Saratoga thunderstorms, especially on Alabama Day (August 17), but by the time that late August arrived, the Saratoga weather couldn’t have been anymore glorious than it was on the last two Saturdays (Travers Day and Woodward Day) at the end of the meet.
The brisk early-morning chills are back in the air as early fall approaches, and the horse trailers have begun shipping the thoroughbreds back out of town.
The meet might have gone by too quickly, but while it lasted, we saw great performances from the top horses in training. To wrap up the meet, we’ll say adieu by remembering what we saw and counting down the Top 10 Horses of Saratoga 2019 in this last edition of the Saratoga Skinny for the year.
We start where we ended the meet by highlighting Preservationist’s win on closing weekend in the Woodward Stakes (G1). Coming into the Saratoga meet off of a breakthrough win in July’s Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park, Preservationist wasn’t likely to enter the Whitney Stakes (G1) in early August, but trainer Jimmy Jerkens said he was doing so well that he decided to roll the dice. Preservationist led early in the Whitney, but top older dirt male McKinzie was too much for him early and Preservationist faded to finish fourth. Returning off of four weeks’ rest, Preservationist looked none the worse for wear. He sat a good stalking trip and bulled his way between horses late to take down the Woodward for his first Grade 1 win. A try in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on November 2 is on his horizon, and his early speed may be dangerous in the biggest race at the end of the year.
Another horse with plans for the Breeders’ Cup is top sprinter Mitole after he throttled the Forego Stakes (G1) field on the Travers Day undercard. One start prior, Mitole finished a disappointing third in the Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) where he was stuck on a dead Saratoga rail and took heat early. Just like Preservationist, though, Mitole bounced back with a Grade 1 win. He has cemented himself atop the older male sprint division for Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The Met Mile (G1) winner will be the likely favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
8. Dunbar Road
Neither the aforementioned thunderstorms on Alabama Day, nor the subsequent sloppy track, could stop Dunbar Road from flashing her immense talent in the 1 1/4-mile test for 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Quality Road busted up the middle of the track to win the legendary Saratoga standard and will likely need to face elders in her next race, which could possibly be the Beldame Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on September 28. The meet’s top trainer Chad Brown has said that the Breeders’ Cup Distaff is the year-end goal for this filly who won the Mother Goose Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park back in June.
Chad Brown’s embarrassment of riches in the 3-year-old filly division is led by Guarana, who kicked off the Saratoga meet on July 21 with an impressive win in the Coaching Club America Oaks (G1). Despite the race being delayed a day by the sweltering heat and humidity that engulfed the Northeast that weekend, Guarana showed her dominance in one of the first Grade 1 stakes of the meet. The win followed up her Grade 1 triumph at Belmont in the Acorn, which was only her second career start. The lightly-raced filly will target the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx Racing on September 21. Brown has done a masterful job training his top two dirt fillies, keeping them separated as they captured the division’s biggest races this summer.
Chad Brown’s training prowess was on display throughout the whole Saratoga meet, as he amassed a leading 41 wins for his second straight training title and third in the last four years. In the first Grade 1 of the meet, Brown started his march to dominance with one of his top training feats by bringing back champion turf female Sistercharlie from an eight-month layoff to charge home late and win the Diana Stakes. It was Sistercharlie’s second Diana win in as many years. To put an icing on the 2019 edition, Brown hit the trifecta when Rushing Fall and Homerique finished second and third. Brown wasn’t done with Sistercharlie for the summer, though, shipping her out to Arlington Park to repeat as the Beverly D. Stakes (G1) victor. A prep in the Flower Bowl Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park is the next target for Sistercharlie, with a defense of her Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf her ultimate goal.
5. Midnight Bisou
A second try in the Breeders’ Cup is the ultimate goal for top dirt female Midnight Bisou, too. She is well on her way to favoritism in the Distaff after her gutsy win over a game Elate in a thrilling edition of the Personal Ensign (G1) on August 24. The Saratoga meet built a collision course for the top two older females in training, and the Personal Ensign didn’t disappoint. A nose-to-nose stretch duel for the ages ensued, with Midnight Bisou getting hers to the wire by the slimmest of margins over Elate. Asmussen is targeting the Beldame for Midnight Bisou’s final prep before the Breeders’ Cup. Will Elate also run in the Beldame and meet up with Midnight Bisou again? Or will Elate try the males going longer in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic? It will be an interesting fall for these two.
4. Imperial Hint
The performance of the summer came from the “Little Rocket” Imperial Hint in the Vanderbilt Handicap (G1). After sitting in the catbird seat behind pacesetters Strike Power and Mitole early, Imperial Hint exploded on the turn and came into the stretch like he had rockets tied to his hooves. The Luis Carvajal trainee drew away to set a new track record for 6 furlongs at The Spa. Thousands of 6-furlong sprints have been run in Saratoga’s history, so setting a new record is a feat to be remembered for a long time. Next up is likely the Vosburgh Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park for Imperial Hint before a third try in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint – and a highly-anticipated rematch with Mitole.
McKinzie proved that he deserves respect as a top older male when he shipped east for two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert and cruised to win the prestigious Whitney Stakes (G1). Only weeks after the death of the Queen of Saratoga Marylou Whitney, this year’s race will be remembered as the one that was run in her honor with heavy hearts throughout the crowd. McKinzie shipped back to California and has resumed training with an eye on the Awesome Again Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park at the end of September. It will be his final prep for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic.
2. Got Stormy
When a filly beats the boys in a Grade 1 at Saratoga, that’s worthy of high recognition on the list of Saratoga achievements in 2019. Got Stormy not only took the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) going one mile on the turf on August 10, but just a week earlier, she won the De La Rose Stakes against her female foes. Trainer Mark Casse believes in running his horses when they are in form and wheeled her back on short rest to win her first Grade 1. Next up is the Woodbine Mile (G1) north of the border on her way to a possible run in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
1. Code of Honor
The best story of the summer was trainer Shug McGaughey winning his fourth Travers Stakes (G1), this time with Code of Honor. McGaughey had a plan after his colt placed second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and he executed it brilliantly, getting his top colt to peak on Travers Day. Using a massive move on the turn to gobble up a good field of 3-year-olds, the late-developing, late-charging colt’s win sets him up to contest the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park next. Interestingly, a trip to California for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is still questionable.
- Perfect Alibi not only won the Adirondack Stakes (G2), but then she returned at juicy 5/1 odds to claim the Spinaway Stakes (G1) to end the meet as the top juvenile filly
- Covfefe sped to win the Test Stakes (G1)
- Annals of Time flew late to win the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1)
- Shancelot burned up the track to win the Amsterdam Stakes (G2)
- Mind Control had a nose for the wire in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1)
- Come Dancing romped in the Ballerina Stakes (G1)
- Tax got the trip to win the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2).
It’s been a blast! Saratoga never disappoints. It’ll be a long winter spent waiting for all of my friends and favorite horses to come back upstate to visit again, but I’ll always have the memories of this summer and the visions of Saratoga 2020 to get me through the doldrums.