SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The start of the 2019 Saratoga Race Course has been pushed forward on the calendar, but much of the traditional stakes schedule will remain in similar positions, with a few changes and additions.
The most significant of those is the creation of two well-funded turf stakes for 3-year-olds that will serve as the second leg of a series of stakes for that division at Belmont Park and Saratoga.
For the 151st Saratoga meet, the New York Racing Association will offer 76 stakes over the usual 40 racing days beginning on July 11, as NYRA has changed the weekly format from five race days (Wednesday through Sunday) for the bulk of the meet, bookended by a four-day opening week and a six-day closing week.
Stakes purses total $20.85 million, highlighted by the $1.25 million Travers on Saturday, Aug. 24 and the $1 million Whitney Saturday, Aug. 3.
Whitney weekend will also feature the two new turf stakes for 3-year-olds, the $750,000 Saratoga Oaks for fillies on Aug. 2 and the $1 million Saratoga Derby on Aug. 4. These races are the second leg in the Turf Tiara and Turf Trinity, respectively, that NYRA has created this year in its continuing effort to support high-quality grass racing in North America.
Since 2010, the Saratoga meet has been run for six racing days per week, with a dark day on Tuesdays. As in the past, the 2019 meet will end on Labor Day (Sept. 2), but will begin sooner and have Mondays and Tuesdays off. That's one step to accommodate a year-round schedule that will include major construction at Belmont Park, where ground will be broken this spring for the NHL New York Islanders' new hockey arena.
Saratoga Opening Day on Thursday, July 11 will feature two stakes, the Quick Call turf sprint (which has been elevated to Grade III status) and the Grade III Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, which will be run nine days earlier than it was in 2018, giving over a week more spacing before the next leg in that division, the Saratoga Special.
Likewise, the other first leg in the 2-year-old division, the Sanford, will be run on Saturday, July 13 on the Grade I Diana card, eight days earlier than the Sanford was run in 2018.
Of the four new stakes on the schedule, two were previously run at Belmont, the Stillwater on July 18 (renamed from the Lynbrook), and the Rick Violette for New York-breds on July 17 (renamed from the Rockville Centre).
The Rick Violette is a tribute to the long-time well-respected trainer who died on Oct. 21 and was an advocate for horsemen for years as president of the New York Horsemen's Association.
The other new races are the Mahony on Aug. 7, named for the long-time NYRA senior vice president of mutuels Patrick Mahony, who retired in 2016, and the Galway on Aug. 11.
After some juggling and shifting in the early part of the stakes calendar, the schedule falls more into line with that of recent years.
The July 20 Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies will be run on the second weekend instead of the first to keep it four weeks from the Grade I Alabama on Aug. 17.
The July 27 Jim Dandy, Saratoga's traditional steppingstone to the Travers, will be run during week 3 instead of week 2 this year, to preserve the four-week cushion between it and the Travers.
The Travers card will look the same, with a loaded undercard on Aug. 23 that includes the Forego, Allen Jerkens, Ballerina, Personal Ensign, Sword Dancer and Ballston Spa.
The four-stakes Woodward card on Aug. 31 will swap out the Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies for the Prioress for 3-year-old filly sprinters, which had been run on the following Sunday. The Glens Falls and Saranac remain on the Woodward card, with the Spinaway to be run on Sunday, Sept. 1.
Closing day on Labor Day, Sept. 2, will look the same, featuring the Bernard Baruch on turf and the Hopeful for 2-year-olds.