SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 2021 stakes schedule at Saratoga Race Course will look much like it did in 2019, with two notable exceptions.
The COVID-19 pandemic forcing a domino effect of changes last year, most significantly Churchill Downs’ decision to move the Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May to September, leading to some front-is-back, back-is-front shake-up in the 2020 Saratoga stakes calendar.
The Spa will return to its typical format in 2021, while the New York Racing Association has exchanged two Breeders’ Cup Win-And-You’re-In qualifying races traditionally run at Belmont Park for two races that have been run at Saratoga in recent years.
The Saratoga meet adds the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Flower Bowl, usually run in October at Belmont, while the Woodward and Waya will move from Saratoga and take that spot during the Belmont fall meet.
This affords a wider time cushion between the two Breeders’ Cup qualifiers and the Breeders’ Cup itself, which will be held Nov. 5-6 at Del Mar in California. That could make the JCGC and Flower Bowl more attractive to trainers of the best horses pointing toward the BC Classic and BC Filly & Mare Turf, respectively.
NYRA released some of the key Saratoga dates four weeks ago, and announced the full stakes schedule on Friday. The 153rd meet will open on Thursday, July 15, and close with its 40th day of racing on Labor Day, Sept. 6.
The 152nd Travers will be held on Saturday, Aug. 28, and Whitney Day will be Saturday, Aug. 7.
Dark days at Saratoga will continue to be Mondays and Tuesdays.
A total of 76 stakes worth a combined $21.5 million are scheduled, with 20 Grade I stakes that include the Travers, Whitney, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Flower Bowl.
The mile-and-a-quarter Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of the most prestigious and historic dirt route races in North America, and the Flower Bowl will both be held on closing Saturday, Sept. 4.
The JCGC was first run in 1919. Despite being the flagship race of the Belmont fall meet, it has drawn an average field size of just six horses over the last six years.
The Travers card will include five other Grade I’s besides the headliner: the Ballerina, Forego, Allen Jerkens, Personal Ensign and Sword Dancer.
The Whitney card will include the Grade I Test sprint for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade I Saratoga Derby, a turf race for 3-year-olds.
The Grade I Alabama for 3-year-old fillies will be held on Aug. 21.
The complete stakes schedule can be found at https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/stakes-schedule/.
As of now, there has been no final word on whether fans will be allowed to attend the Saratoga meet.
Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that live sports and entertainment venues with a minimum reserved seating capacity of 10,000 will be permitted to re-open to a limited number of spectators beginning on Feb. 23 with approval from the New York State Department of Health. All attendees must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the event and adhere to health and safety requirements, including mandatory facial coverings and social distancing.
According to the NYRA release announcing the stakes schedule: “NYRA will continue to closely monitor New York State-issued regulations to determine how they impact Saratoga Race Course. Additional details on fan attendance and tickets for the 2021 summer meet will be provided as information becomes available.”
Live racing is currently being conducted at Aqueduct, where the 2021 winter meet continues through Sunday, March 28. Following the conclusion of the 2021 winter meet, the 11-day spring meet will open on Thursday, April 1 and conclude on Sunday, April 18.
Following the conclusion of the 2021 Aqueduct spring meet, live racing will shift to Belmont Park for a 48-day spring/summer meet.
The 2021 spring/summer meet will run from Thursday April 22 through Sunday, July 11. Live racing will generally be conducted four days per week throughout the spring/summer meet, Thursday-Sunday.