All-Star Roster Of Jockeys, Trainers Heading North
The nation’s finest horses, top jockeys and best trainers will once again gather in upstate New York when historic Saratoga Race Course commences its 144th season of racing on Friday, July 20, with the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes the centerpiece of a 40-day meet that runs through Labor Day, Sept. 3.
Battling for the H. Allen Jerkens training title-won in 2011 for the second straight year by Todd Pletcher -will be the leading conditioners on the NYRA circuit as well as a sizeable contingent from around the country. Making their presence felt will be New York-based Christophe Clement, Linda Rice, Kiaran McLaughlin and Chad Brown, along with Hall of Famers Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey and Nick Zito, and perennial Spa participants H. Graham Motion, Hall of Famers Jonathan Sheppard and D. Wayne Lukas, Ken McPeek, Steve Asmussen, and Dale Romans, trainer of 2012’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap winner Shackleford.
Coming in from Chicago this year is top conditioner Wayne Catalano, who trained 2006 and 2008 Juvenile Filly champions Dreaming of Anna and She Be Wild, respectively. Other new faces in for the meet include Canada’s Josie Carroll, New Orleansbased Bernie Flint, the mid-Atlantic’s Jason Servis, and Kelly Breen, trainer of 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. Mark Casse (Canada), Eoin Harty (California), Mike Trombetta (mid-Atlantic), and Kentucky’s Al Stall, Ian Wilkes and Charles Lopresti are among those returning for another season.
Expected to join Michael Matz’s Saratoga barn during the meet is 2012 Belmont Stakes hero Union Rags, who last year won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and whose next major target is the 1 1/4-mile Travers on Aug. 25. Also returning to the Spa with a string will be Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, whose Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter also is being pointed to the Travers and a potential rematch with Union Rags.
The always-fierce competition for the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title will gain an added edge this year with the arrival of top southern California jockey Joel Rosario. Winner of the Santa Anita riding title for the second straight year in 2012, Rosario will be building up his New York business over the next month.
He will take on a jockey colony that includes two-time reigning Eclipse champion Ramon Dominguez, recent arrival Rosie Napravik, Javier Castellano, Julien Leparoux, Cornelio Velasquez and Rajiv Maragh, along with two-time defending Saratoga champion, 2012 Belmont Stakes winner and newly minted Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who is expected to return from a broken collarbone at some point before or during the meet.
The first two of 54 stakes-good for at least one stakes races every live racing day-are the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes for two-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $100,000 James Marvin Stakes for sprinters on July 20. The Grade 1, $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for three-year-old fillies is set for Saturday, July 21.
The Grade 1 parade continues with the $600,000 Diana Stakes on Saturday, July 28; the $750,000 Whitney Handicap, newly joined by the $300,000 Prioress Stakes, on Saturday, Aug. 4; the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on Sunday, Aug. 5; the $600,000 Alabama Stakes and the $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 18; the $150,000 New York Turf Writers’ Cup steeplechase on Thursday, Aug. 23, and the $500,000 Ballerina Handicap in its new spot on Friday, Aug. 24.
On the card supporting the “Midsummer Derby” on Travers Day are the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes for three-yearold sprinters, the Grade 1, $500,000 Test Stakes for three-year-old filly sprinters, and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa Handicap presented by Jose Cuervo for turf fillies and mares.
The Travers will be broadcast live by the NBC Sports Group as one of five live “Summer at Saratoga” shows that start on Saturday, Aug. 11 and go through Saturday, Sept. 1. Additionally, MSG+ will be airing live broadcasts on two days during the meet-Saturday, July 28 and Saturday, Aug. 4.
The meet’s home stretch includes a quartet of prestigious Grade 1s: the $600,000 Personal Ensign Handicap on Sunday, Aug. 26; the $750,000 Woodward Stakes and the $500,000 Forego Stakes on Saturday, Sept. 1, and the $300,000 Spinaway Stakes on Sunday, Sept. 2, with the Grade 2, $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes and the Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls Handicap bringing the meet to a close on Labor Day.
The Whitney, the Ballerina, the Personal Ensign and the Three Chimneys Hopeful are all automatic qualifying races into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita in November.
After opening day, live racing will be conducted every day except Tuesdays, with a first race post time of 1 p.m. save for Travers Day (11:35 a.m.), Labor Day (12:30 p.m.) and 2:30 p.m. for the two “Party at the Spa” Fridays, July 27 and Aug. 31.
For more information, visit www.nyra.com.