New York Racing Association director of racing P.J. Campo said the Saratoga Race Course meet is all about “the stakes races, 2-year-olds and turf racing.”
Check . . . hmm . . . and check.
The turf racing, of course, is always subject to how much rain we get, but likely will again be enhanced by the presence of Wise Dan, this time as a reigning Horse of the Year.
He’s scheduled to run in the Firecracker at Churchill Downs tonight and is targeting a return to the Fourstardave at Saratoga, which he won last year to bolster his year-end honors. Besides Horse of the Year, he won Eclipse Awards for Older Male and Male Turf Horse.
The overall stakes program at Saratoga will be spectacular once again, with almost $15 million in purses over the course of the 40-day meet, which begins on July 19.
The 2-year-old program, however, has some question marks, in part because the rainy weather this spring has prevented trainers from getting their juveniles enough training time.
Since they’re behind, there haven’t been enough race-ready 2-year-olds to fill fields the way Aqueduct and Belmont usually do heading into Saratoga.
The few horses who break their maiden on the NYRA circuit before Saratoga will be eligible for a $100,000 bonus if they win a NYRA juvenile graded-stakes race, beginning with the Saratoga meet.
That bonus program was implemented last year, and a beneficiary was Starlight Racing’s Shanghai Bobby, who broke his maiden at Aqueduct in April, then went on to win the Hopeful.
“Last year, it was a huge impact, but, again, the weather plays a huge role in it,” Campo said on Monday while in Saratoga for a meet preview press conference. “We’ve had so much rain, between upstate and downstate, that it’s backed these guys up tremendously.
“And we can’t forget, the foal crop’s down 25 percent, so it’s going to hit the racetrack eventually. We just hope we can sustain the product that we have.”
As usual, the first wave of Saratoga juvenile races will take place on opening weekend, with the Grade III Schuylerville for fillies on opening day and the Grade II Sanford on Sunday, July 21.
The second round includes the Grade II Adirondack for fillies and Saratoga Special for colts on Sunday, Aug. 11, followed by the Grade I Spinaway on Sunday, Sept. 1, and the Hopeful on closing day, Monday, Sept. 2.
After a year as a Grade II, the Hopeful was returned to Grade I status this year.
Despite the slow start to the 2-year-old program, “It won’t be hard to fill them [stakes races],” Campo said. “Usually, we get horses from all over the country, whether from Kentucky, Florida, New Jersey, Delaware . . .”
The last time three distinct Triple Crown race winners competed against each other in the Travers was 1982, when Runaway Groom, owned by Schenectady native Albert Coppola Sr., beat Derby winner Gato Del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler and Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo.
It will take plenty of good luck to get all three to the Travers this year, but at least the connections have said that they want to run in it, so that’s a start.
Belmont winner Palace Malice arrived at Todd Pletcher’s barn on the Oklahoma training track on Monday, Derby winner Orb is training at Fair Hill in Maryland and Preakness winner Oxbow is at Churchill Downs and is scheduled to arrive in Saratoga next week.
“This is the place to be,” Campo said. “The good part about it, when you really think outside the box a little bit, the 3-year-old championship is up for grabs. If you have just one leg of the Triple Crown, they have to be a little more aggressive, and the Travers obviously plays a big role.”
NYRA added some enticement to the Fourstardave last year, and was rewarded when Wise Dan, trained by Charles LoPresti, showed up and beat Corporate Jungle by five lengths. They’ll face each other in the Firecracker (Wise Dan is the 2-5 morning-line favorite, Corporate Jungle is 12-1).
“I read something where he [LoPresti] left the door open for the Whitney,” Campo said. “I’d really like to see him in the Fourstardave. That’s part of my project, that NYRA was lacking a mile turf race throughout the year, and I think last year, making it a mile and making it $500,000, hopefully we can get it to a Grade I. If he runs in it two years in a row and wins it, that would help.”
Fort Larned, most recently winner of the Stephen Foster, is on schedule to return to defend his Whitney victory, which led to a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Wise Dan definitely going to run here. If you have him and Fort Larned, the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and the three Triple Crown winners, it should be pretty exciting,” Campo said.
WISE DAN ROLLING
Wise Dan, a 6-year-old gelding, has done nothing wrong in 2013, winning both starts, the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland and the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
His only loss since 2011 is a second by a head to Ron the Greek in last year’s Stephen Foster, a string of nine wins from 10 starts, seven of which were Grade I.
“He’s doing as well as I could ask,” LoPresti said.
On the Downs After Dark card, post time for the Firecracker is scheduled for 10:11 p.m.
The card also includes the Grade III Bashford Manor for 2-year-olds and the seven-furlong Kelly’s Landing.
Belmont Park has two graded stakes today — the Grade II New York for fillies and mares at a mile on the turf and the Grade III Victory Ride for 3-year-old filly sprinters that has drawn the Stonestreet/Pletcher coupled entry of Kauai Katie and Teen Pauline at even money.
Teen Pauline hasn’t won in two starts since breaking a track record at Saratoga, finishing third to So Many Ways in the Spinaway.
Kauai Katie’s 2013 season has been similiar to 2012, when she won her first three starts, including the Adirondack, before losing, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
She got on a nice little run this year, winning three straight, before finishing third behind Midnight Lucky and Close Hatches at a mile in the Grade I Acorn.
“I didn’t think she ran badly in the Acorn from the rail,” Pletcher said. “She was never in a great position and was getting a lot of dirt in her face, and she’d never really been in that situation. I thought she ran hard; Midnight Lucky was just too good that day.”
Pletcher will also saddle 5-2 second choice Fusaichiswonderful, who was second to So Many Ways in the Eight Belles on Derby weekend.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown has the 5-2 favorite in the New York, Dream Peace, who is still trying to find the winner’s circle since coming to the U.S. last year.
She’s been in all four U.S. starts, including the money four times, including a second to Winter Memories in the Diana.
Dream Peace is coming off a third in the Beaugay at Belmont.
“That was a little too short for her, and the turf was very firm that day,” Brown said. “Heading into the New York, I would welcome a little bit of rain. She appreciates some give in the ground.”
Hollywood Park has a pair of Grade I’s — the Shoemaker Mile and Triple Bend at seven furlongs.
Grade I Malibu winner Jimmy Creed will try to make it three wins in a row when he runs in the Triple Bend.
Grade I Humana Distaff winner Aubby K is 2-1 in the seven-furlong Chicago Handicap at Arlington Park.
She capped her 2012 season with an eighth in the Test at Saratoga, but is 2-for-2 in 2013, also winning the Grade II Inside Information at Gulfstream Park.
Two-time graded stakes placed Manando will make his first start outside California as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade III Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows for trainer Bob Baffert.
The night card also includes the Grade III Iowa Oaks, where Black-Eyed Susan winner Fiftyshadesofhay is 5-2, and the Grade III Cornhusker, featuring Prayer for Relief and Silver Max.
Saratoga Snacks, owned by Bill Parcells, is ready for his comeback race in the $100,000 Shy Groom for New York-breds at seven furlongs at Belmont on Sunday.
It will be his first start since winning the Alex M. Robb at Aqueduct in December. He was given time off to heal a bruised foot.
The plan is to get to an allowance at Saratoga, then a stakes against open company.
“Bill lives in Saratoga and wants to see him train and run in Saratoga,” trainer Gary Sciacca said.
LOVELY SYN RETIRED
The undefeated New York-bred Lovely Syn was scheduled to run in the Victory Ride, but was retired this week after fracturing her left front sesamoid during a four-furlong workout at Belmont last Saturday.
She had successful surgery at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania and is expected to recover fully.
Lovely Syn, a 3-year-old daughter of Freud, was unraced at 2 and 4-for-4 this year, including the Bouwerie Stakes.
HERE AND THERE
Pletcher said Dreaming of Julia, second as the 2-5 favorite in the Mother Goose, will point toward the Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama or “possibly both.”
She was on the same van with Palace Malice that arrived in Saratoga from New York on Monday. Also making that trip was Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar, owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco. . . .
Trainer Bill Mott said Flat Out, whose four-race winning streak was stopped in the Met Mile, would more likely run in the Suburban at Belmont than the Whitney. . . .
In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of racing at Saratoga, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has added two special film presentations to its daily program through Labor Day.
Besides the museum’s traditional “Race America” at 11 a.m., there will be daily showings of “Saratoga Centennial: 1963” and “Racing at Saratoga”, offered consecutively at noon, in the Hall of Fame
“Saratoga Centennial: 1963” looks at Saratoga during the celebration of its 100-year anniversary and includes footage of the major races held that summer.
“Racing at Saratoga” traces the history of the sport in Saratoga Springs from 1963 to present.