Anticipation has been steadily growing for the Saratoga Race Course meet, but the New York Racing Association will sneak in one more blockbuster stakes card at Belmont Park before moving north.
And two of the featured races Saturday will have a direct link to two new races at Saratoga via the Turf Triple series that NYRA added to its stakes calendar this year.
The inaugural $1 million Saratoga Derby will be held on Sunday, Aug. 4, and the $750,000 Saratoga Oaks is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 2.
Those races represent the second leg of the respective Turf Triple Series for 3-year-olds (Turf Trinity) and 3-year-old fillies (Turf Tiara). The third legs will be held back at Belmont in September.
"As American racing moves more towards the turf, both series of races should enhance the value of turf stallions, mares and quality turf runners," NYRA senior VP of racing operations Martin Panza said in a release when the series was announced in February. "If this helps farms, breeders, sales companies and owners, while at the same time providing an exciting new racing event for race fans to follow, then our efforts will be well rewarded."
On Belmont's annual Stars and Stripes card, both the Belmont Derby and Oaks drew well-stocked fields, which should bode well for the second wave in Saratoga, which opens on Thursday with a new format of five racing days per week and dark days on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Trainer Chad Brown has three of the nine entered in the Oaks, including 5-2 morning-line favorite Newspaperofrecord, and four in the wide-open Derby, which drew a full field of 14 plus one also-eligible in case of a scratch.
Both races have attracted solid contingents of international runners, including Master Fencer in the Derby. After racing in Japan, then finishing off the board in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Belmont Stakes, he'll try turf for the first time.
Two others from the U.S. Triple Crown on dirt will also make their grass debuts, Spinoff for trainer Todd Pletcher and Plus Que Parfait, who is making his first start since finishing mid-pack in the Kentucky Derby.
"There's a lot more turf racing going on in this country than there was previously, and the big races are always welcome," Plus Que Parfait's trainer Brendan Walsh said. "There's a big international factor to it, as well, so it's fantastic that there's something to entice the Europeans to come, as well. It's a lot more competitive, and I think we need that."
Spinoff, who was 18th in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Belmont Stakes, worked twice on the turf at Belmont in preparation for the Belmont Derby.
"Trying him on the turf was something that was always in the back of our minds," Pletcher said. "I'm not committing to a turf campaign yet. Even if he runs well, that doesn't mean he's going to stay on the turf. I was looking for options following the Belmont, and I'm not sure he gave me everything he had in that race."
The Belmont Oaks offers an interesting rematch between Newspaperofrecord and Concrete Rose, who was 3 3/4 lengths better in the Grade III Edgewood at Churchill Downs.
Newspaperofrecord was undefeated and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last year, but has finished twice on both 2019 starts, the Edgewood and the Wonder Again, to stablemate Cambier Parc.
Besides the first legs of the Turf Triple Series, the card includes the Grade III Dwyer, Grade II John Nerud and Grade II Suburban.
Code of Honor, who was third and placed second by the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, is the 4-5 favorite in the Dwyer.
The John Nerud field includes Promises Fulfilled, one of the stars of the 2018 Saratoga meet after he swept the Amsterdam and Allen Jerkens for owner Bob Baron of Voorheesville.
And 2018 Travers winner Catholic Boy is the 9-5 favorite in the Suburban, where he'll return to dirt after winning the Grade II Dixie on grass in his 2019 debut on May 18. With a win in the Suburban, Catholic Boy will have won a graded stakes on both dirt and turf three years in a row.
"It would be a pretty remarkable addition to his resume," trainer Jonathan Thomas said. "It [Suburban] will have a big say in where we head next or which direction we stay on. Hopefully he runs well, because we would love to come back and think about a race like the Woodward [Aug. 31 at Saratoga]."