The time-tested traditions of two-year-olds and turf racing highlight Friday’s Opening Day stakes at Saratoga Race Course as the historic track opens its gates for its 148th meet.
First race post time for the 10-race card is 1 p.m., with a $150,000 Guaranteed Pick 6 beginning in Race 5.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, 12 times the champion trainer at the Spa, goes in search of his sixth victory in the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies with St. Elias Stable’s Sweet Loretta. The bay daughter of Tapit, a $750,000 weanling purchase at Keeneland, started her career with a seven-length maiden victory on June 18 at Monmouth Park.
She will leave from post position 4 under Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Lining up to challenge her in the six-furlong race, which will be contested as race 8, willl be eight other winners, including the Steve Asmussen-trained Made Me Shiver, who won by 5 ¾ lengths at first asking on June 17 at Churchill Downs. Asmussen, who has won three runnings of the Schuylerville, will give a leg up to Irad Ortiz, Jr., winner of last year’s riding title at Saratoga.
The pair will leave from post position 5.
Rounding the far-flung entrants are maiden winners Olive Branch, Platinum Spark, and Summer Sally from Belmont Park; Inspired Flight, a one-length winner on debut on July 1 at Laurel Park; Lightning Dove, who won in April at Keeneland, as well as Fun and Harlands Thunder, both victorious at Churchill Downs.
#5 Made Me Shiver – Out of all the Steve Asmussen maiden 2 year old winners I think this filly has looked as good as any of them so far. I have been anticipating her next race, and did assume that it could be in this spot so I was delighted to see her entered. The theme of these early baby races are the same…it’s very hard to separate them all. So if you see a maiden winner you really liked on debut, you might as well follow them and give them a shot when they try stakes company. Asmussen is no stranger to winning 2 year old races at the Spa, and this would be a great way to kick off the meet for him.
#4 Sweet Loretta – Anytime a Pletcher two year old runs like Sweet Loretta did last time out you must pay attention. It was seven length romp…but the only thing that makes you slightly apprehensive is the race was ran at Monmouth Park. Pletcher could have simply sent Sweet Loretta there to get her maiden broke with this race in mind, or perhaps he though at first this filly might not be good enough to break her maiden at Belmont. Either way she proved her worth to me, but that one little question mark was the difference between me ranking her first or second among these entered today.
#1 Olive Branch – She won one of Belmont’s 100k maiden special weight events which I suspect had some pretty good horses entered in it. Of course you can be for sure about that yet because its very early in the game for two year olds. Olive Branch looks to be coming into this race in good form with a bullet work at Belmont Park last time out, and does have the services of Jose Ortiz who is one quite a roll right now in New York. No reason why she can’t win this thing today, but just couldn’t rank her ahead of the Pletcher and Asmussen entries.
#7 Platinum Shark – A gray filly by Hansen is sure to get everyone’s attention in the beautiful Saratoga paddock as Hansen was such a cool horse to see in person. Platinum Shark looks like she can do a bit of running as she won her debut race nicely and the speed figure came back fairly strong. The waters will be deeper today, but these connections can be sneaky good at this track. Her rider Manny Franco is riding better than he ever has before so this young filly is in with a big shot.
#6 Summer Sally – Lets face it…it’s very tough to separate many of these off just one race, but you have to find a way to do so and with Summer Sally her time and speed figure was low even though she broke her maiden on debut. The numbers could be skewed though as she won over a muddy Belmont track, and I never fully trust times or speed figurers when the track is off. This one is a bit of a mystery, but I’m assuming she’ll be a factor.
#9 Harlans Thunder – Was an impressive maiden winner on debut for Bill Mott which actually doesn’t happen all that often. Usually Mott has more success with second time starters, but in this filly’s second start things went horribly as she finished sixth in the Astoria Stakes. Something tells me to draw a line through that one though, and if she can get back to her previous form there’s a chance she can compete today. Hopefully the price will be right to play her with a small bet on top.
#3 Lightning Dove – Like most Wesley Ward horses this filly won nicely first time out at Keeneland. Past that Ward youngsters can go one of two ways, and last time out in the Astoria Stakes she did run all that well. Might just not be good enough for this type of race.
#2 Inspired Flight – Comes in from Laurel Park so you have to question what she ran against last time out. This is most likely going to be a big jump up in competition today.
#8 Fun – Was not an impressive Churchill Downs maiden winner, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s not very good. In a race like this almost anyone can jump up and get the job done…but she’s unlikely compared to others.