Saratoga Race Course: 155th meet brings star power to racing fans

Clairiere gallops on the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday. (Erica Miller photo)

Clairiere gallops on the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday. (Erica Miller photo)

Article Audio:

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The question was prefaced by a desire to talk about the stars in trainer Bill Mott’s barn at Saratoga Race Course.

“Well, we’ve got Bugsy here … who else?” he joked, walking past one of his stable ponies.

As vital as Bugsy may be to the Mott operation, the pony isn’t going to be the one running in the Whitney on Aug. 5 or the A.G. Vanderbilt on July 29.

That would be Cody’s Wish and Elite Power, respectively, and, as big as their achievements have been to date, they represent just a small fraction of the star power the 155th Saratoga meet will bring.

The meet kicks off on Thursday against the backdrop of equine deaths in conjunction with Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs in May that cast a shadow on both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, as well.

The meet could also mark the return of horses trained by Bob Baffert, who was suspended by the New York Racing Association for a year in the wake of Medina Spirit’s drug positive and disqualification from the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. was recently extended through the end of 2024, but as of January, his suspension in New York had ended.

In fact, he won the Preakness with National Treasure and ran him back in the Belmont Stakes, where National Treasure finished sixth to Arcangelo.

It’s unclear which of Baffert’s 3-year-old males could show up in the $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 26, the highlight of the Saratoga meet. But the race promises to be a pivot point in the division, which is still wide open for year-end championships honors.

The list of Travers contenders could include Derby winner Mage, Arcangelo, Belmont runner-up Forte, the Chad Brown-trained Preakness runner-up Blazing Sevens, Tapit Trice, First Mission and Disarm, but the first step for horses like that could be the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29 or the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 22.

Forte was the morning-line favorite for the Derby, but was scratched the morning of the race with a minor injury and missed the Preakness while on the veterinarians list. Despite all that, he could still put himself in position for an Eclipse Award, especially if he wins the Travers.

Brown’s barn is loaded for a run at what would be his fifth training title in the last six years and sixth title in the last eight. Since 2010, he and Todd Pletcher, who started a streak of six straight Spa training championships that year, have won all of them.

The tone should be set on Saturday, when Brown will saddle four of the five entered in the Grade I Diana for fillies and mares on the turf, a race he has dominated.

It’s not unusual for him to have four horses in the Diana — he’s already done that three times. He’s won it a record seven times, including six of the last seven.

This time, his stacked hand includes In Italian, who won the Diana last year, and Marketsegmentation, Fluffy Socks and Whitebeam.

A total of 71 stakes races worth a combined $20.8 million in purses are on the schedule.

Travers Day alone will account for $4.15 million of that, between the Travers, Personal Ensign, Sword Dancer, Forego, Allen Jerkens, Ballerina and Smart N Fancy.

Horses who are targeting races for older fillies and mares on the dirt like the Shuvee and Personal Ensign include Clairiere, the leader of the division off wins in the Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park and the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, and Nest, the 2023 3-year-old filly champion who swept the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga last year.

While the 3-year-old male division is wide open, the top spot in the 3-year-old filly division is firmly held by Pretty Mischievous after she won the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, albeit by small margins.

A rising star in that division, though, is a sprinter. And the Bill Parcells-owned Maple Leaf Mel will bring a 5-for-5 record into the Grade I Test on Whitney Day Aug. 5.

She’s sure to be a fan favorite, not only because of her owner and undefeated record, but because she’s a New York-bred who won twice at Saratoga last year, in a maiden race and the Seeking the Ante.

Cody’s Wish is also a fan favorite, based on his backstory involving a young man named Cody Dorman who met the horse through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

It’s a heart-warming story by itself, but Cody’s Wish may also be the best horse in training in North America, having won six straight, including the Forego and Breeders’ Cup Mile last year and most recently the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day.

“He’s doing his part [in the story],” Mott said.

There is the question of the nine-furlong distance. Cody’s Wish has raced that long just one other time, in an allowance at Saratoga two years ago.

“We know what he can do at a mile,” Mott said. “Maybe, now older and more experienced, seasoned, the mile and an eighth is more within his reach.

“You kind of get forced into it thinking about other things. Look, if they had a flat mile here that was a million dollars, we’d be looking at that. But they don’t have it. So the Whitney is one of the more prestigious races they have up here.”

One interesting challenger in the Whitney should be Charge It, after he easily won the mile-and-a-quarter Suburban at Belmont on Saturday.

According to the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database, three horses died due to incidents that occurred during racing at the 2022 Saratoga meet, there were nine deaths from training incidents from June 3 to Oct. 3 (the Oklahoma Training Track is open from April to November) and three were listed as “other,” usually indicating untreatable ailments like laminitis or incidents that happen off-track.

During the 2023 spring season, 12 horses died in a span of six weeks at Churchills Downs, prompting the track to suspend racing operations and move the spring meet to Ellis Park.

On Preakness Day, the Baffert-trained Havnameltdown was euthanized after breaking down in the Chick Lang Stakes, a few hours before National Treasure won the Preakness. A horse broke down and was euthanized at Belmont Park after the last race of the Belmont Stakes card June 10 and another was euthanized after the first race on the June 11 card.

Two Saratoga-based racehorses have been euthanized this year at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for ailments listed as “other,” one on May 26 and another, for laminitis, on June 10.

There will be a change to the general admission price structure at Saratoga this year, which will be $10 on the day of racing, or $7 if purchased at least a day in advance. That admission price will afford access to both the general grandstand and clubhouse areas. Previously, fans paid $7 for grandstand only, and could upgrade for $3 to include clubhouse access.

Racing will be conducted Wednesday through Sunday until closing week, when there will be six days of racing from Wednesday, Aug. 30 to Labor Day Set. 4.

First post daily is 1:10 p.m., except for Whitney Day (12:35), Travers Day (11:40 a.m.) and the last three days of the meet (12:40).

Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

Categories: At The Track, ATT Newsletter, Sports

Leave a Reply