Welcome back, Saratoga! This Friday is Christmas Day for horse racing fans because that’s when the greatest meet of the year opens for another season. The Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville will be the first stakes race of the historic meet and is looked upon as one of the most celebrated of the season. It has drawn a field of 10 evenly-matched juvenile fillies this year, which will lead to great betting opportunities. The event is scheduled for race eight on a 10-race loaded opening day card.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is always the headliner during Saratoga’s 2-year-old races, and this year will likely be no different. In the Schuylerville, he will saddle Nonna Madeline, who broke her maiden at Monmouth Park on debut. Pletcher has used Monmouth as a prep for races like the Schuylerville and the Grade 3 Sandford Stakes in the past with great success. Nonna Madeline broke poorly from the rail in her debut, but she still crushed the field in runaway fashion despite spotting her rivals a few lengths at the start.
Lonely Road is another entry with solid New York connections between trainer Christophe Clement and jockey Manny Franco. She was an impressive winner at Belmont Park in her last start by over 4 lengths after losing on debut. Clement is not known for fielding many first-out winners, so the level of improvement that this filly showed in her second start was not surprising. She will break from post 5, which should be a perfect spot.
Trainer Mark Casse has three entered in the race, and his son Norm Casse will saddle a horse in here, too. Mark is no stranger to success at Saratoga, but this will be Norm’s first time starter as the lead trainer at the Saratoga meet. Norm brings Fightress after she broke her maiden at Churchill Downs on debut.
“She’s trained really well since she’s broke her maiden,” Norm said. “The thing that’s encouraging me the most is the fact you can noticeably tell she’s a better horse. It’s obviously a tough race being a stake in Saratoga, we’re proud to be a part of it. I think she’ll run really respectable.”
His dad’s trio includes Catherinethegreat (who won at second asking at Gulfstream Park), Tapping Pearl (who won on debut at Churchill Downs), and Eyeinthesky (who was third last time out in the $150,000 Astoria Stakes).
“She’s training well and we’re happy with her,” Mark said about Catherinethegreat, who followed her debut with a win by over 10 lengths in her second start. “I would have liked a post a little further out, but we’ll take it. A lot of times, our horses tend to improve from the first start. I just think she broke slow the first time and it was very sloppy that day. The next time, she broke a little better and had clear sailing and off she went.”
The full field from the rail out: Catherinethegreat, Nonna Madeline, Congrats Girl, Fightress, Lonely Road, Tapping Pearl, Serengeti Empress, Eyeinthesky, Lady Apple, and Blame the Frog.
#2 Nonna Madeline – We have seen Pletcher over the last few years send 2-year-olds to Monmouth Park to break their maidens, then come to Saratoga and win on opening weekend. Two years ago, he did that exact thing with Sweet Loretta, who also had the same owners as Nonna Madeline. All the angles seem to fit before even diving in to Nonna Madeline’s last race, which was impressive in its own right. She broke poorly from the rail but made a huge move at the top of the stretch, then kicked clear of her rivals to win going away. That kind of huge move could be hard for the front-runners to hold off in this spot, as the pace should be very hot. Pletcher looks poised to win the Schuylerville once again.
Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers
#5 Lonely Road – Clement was second in this race last year with Best Performance and brings another filly with a solid chance here. Lonely Road was poor on debut but woke up in a big way last time out when she dominated a maiden special weight field at Belmont Park by nearly 5 lengths. That win was not surprising, as Clement horses usually improve in their second start, and that type of race will make Lonely Road dangerous. This filly should have every shot to pick up a victory in this tough spot.
#1 Catherinethegreat – After a solid runner-up debut at Guflstream Park, this horse exploded next time out. That type of win is always eye-catching when watching juveniles, and now Jose Ortiz has signed on to ride for the first time. With a repeat effort in this spot, she should be very difficult to beat, and she has also shown the ability to sit off of the pace, which will be important in a race that is loaded with speed.
#9 Lady Apple – She may still be a maiden, but don’t let that fool you – she was a neck away from winning the Astoria last time out. This filly should appreciate another stretch out in distance as an extra furlong helped her when going from a maiden race to the Astoria. Trainer Steve Asmussen had nothing but positive things to stay about her in Mike “Saratoga Slim” Spector’s latest article that you can read here. You can bet that she will be in the mix in this race right down to the end.
#6 Tapping Pearl – Anytime a daughter of Tapit hits the track, people pay attention, and this filly did not disappoint on debut, winning by two lengths. One important factor with that win was the fact it was at 6 furlongs, which is the same distance as this race, and many in this field do not have experience going this long. However, her speed figure for that debut race did not come back all that fast, but she is still one to heavily consider here.
#8 Eyeinthesky – We will see if experience makes a difference in this race with both Eyeinthesky and Lady Apple, the 2-3 finishers in the Astoria last time out. Before that race, Eyeinthesky was a runaway winner at Churchill Downs going 4 1/2 furlongs. Her connections can be deadly in these kinds of races, and this horse should not be intimidated by the level of competition.
#7 Serengeti Empress – Both of the “Party Crasher” horses have the same story: they won on debut in impressive fashion, but they both did it while running at smaller tracks. Serengeti Empress debuted at Indiana Grand with a 5 1/2-length victory. That win came in front running fashion as she simply outclassed the competition with relative ease. That sort of trip is not likely to happen in this race that is filled with talent, but it is important to note that her speed figure came back stronger than any other horse in the race.
#3 Congrats Gal – How will her Laurel Park form hold up at Saratoga? That is the main question here when she takes a major jump up in class. In her debut race at Laurel, she was ultra-impressive, winning by over 6 lengths in wire-to-wire fashion. She might be able to get to the front in this spot, but she will have a lot more company to deal with, as several in this race have speed. If the price is right, she is still worth a small play, though, as she did show a decent amount of talent on debut. If she sneaks away from this field early, she might be able to hold on to the wire.
#4 Fightress – She broke her maiden on debut for Norm, but her speed figure came back below a few of the top horses in this race. It is never wise to disregard a young horse early in its career, but in the case of betting this race, she is worth taking a stand against.
#10 Blame the Frog – This daughter of Blame broke her maiden in her third lifetime start at Churchill Downs. The fact that it took her three times to break her maiden is a bit scary, considering all of her competition was able to win on debut or their second time out.
NONNA MADELINE comes into this race off of a maiden special weight win at Monmouth Park, which is a strategy trainer Todd Pletcher has used successfully to win this race in the past. LONELY ROAD provides tremendous value at 15-1 after breaking her maiden impressively at Belmont Park last time out. CATHERINETHEGREAT ships up from Gulfstream Park after breaking her maiden by over 10 lengths in her second career start. LADY APPLE is still a maiden, but almost won the $150K Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park in her last start.