In less than two weeks, one of the biggest and best of the nation’s “boutique meets” will open, ushering in race fans for the 153rd year. Located in a throwback town of yesteryear called Saratoga Springs, New York, NYRA’s Saratoga Race Course is one of the meccas of American thoroughbred horse racing.
The seven-week 2016 meet will feature 35 graded stakes (plus two graded steeplechase stakes races). Here is a preview of each of the graded stakes races leading up to Travers Stakes day:
Friday, July 22
Opening day at Saratoga features two graded stakes — the Grade II Lake George and Grade III Schuylerville.
The Lake George is a $200,000 1 1/16-mile turf route for 3-year-old fillies. Last year’s winner, Mrs McDougal, is pointed for this year’s Diana Stakes which will be held the day after this edition.
The Schuylerville is a $150K race slated for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs on the dirt. Last year’s winner was Off the Tracks, who just captured the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont on July 2.
Saturday, July 23
With the exception of Aug. 20, every Saturday at “The Spa” features multiple graded stakes action. The first Saturday for the Saratoga meet features three graded stakes: the Grade I Diana, the Grade I Coaching Club of America Oaks and the Grade III Sanford.
The Diana, a $500K 1 ⅛-mile turf route for fillies and mares three years old and up, is on the radar for the aforementioned Mrs McDougal, Sandiva and Recepta.
Per US Racing’s Laura Pugh, Songbird may make her next start in the Coaching Club of America Oaks. She quoted trainer Rick Porter as saying, “the plan is the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, the Cotillion and then the Breeders’ Cup. That is a long, long-range plan.”
The 1 ⅛-mile dirt route for 3-year-old fillies ($300K) sports an amazing list of winners over the last three years: Curalina (2015), Stopchargingmaria (2014) and Princess of Sylmar (2013).
The Sanford is the first graded stakes for 2-year-old colts and geldings on the Saratoga summer schedule. A $150K purse will be up for grabs for freshmen going six furlongs. The 1919 edition of this race was the only race that the great Man O’ War failed to win (he finished second to the aptly named Upset).
Wednesday, July 27
There are only two midweek graded stakes races on the flat on tap at Saratoga this meet — the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap on this day and the Grade II With Anticipation on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
For fillies and mares ages three and up, the $200K six-furlong Honorable Miss was won last year by La Verdad, who would go on to finish second in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, behind race winner Wavell Avenue.
Saturday, July 30
Four graded stakes races await race fans attending Saratoga on the last Saturday in July. The $600K Grade II Jim Dandy and the Grade I Vanderbilt Handicap, as well as the Grade II Bowling Green Handicap and Grade II Amsterdam will be contested on this day.
2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator is being pointed towards the Jim Dandy. Others with this 1 ⅛-mile route for 3-year-olds on their radar are Mohaymen, Mo Tom, and Governor Malibu.
Recent notable winners of the Jim Dandy are Texas Red (2015), Wicked Strong (2014), Palace Malice (2014), Street Sense (2007), Bernardini (2006) and Flower Alley (2005). Other winners include: Affirmed (1978), Louis Quatorze (1996) and Awesome Again (1997).
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap was first run in 1985, with the winner of the first two editions of the race being the Rick Dutrow-trained Cognizant (1985-1986). Horses three years old and upward will be racing six furlongs on the dirt for $350K in purse money.
Holy Boss won the latest edition of the Amsterdam before finishing third in the Grade I King’s Bishop Stakes behind Runhappy and Limousine Liberal. The conditions for the Amsterdam are the same: it is a 6 ½-furlong dirt sprint for 3-year-olds racing for $200K.
The Bowling Green Handicap ($250K) is the lone turf graded stakes race on this Saturday card, going a mile and three-eighths for horses age four and up. 2015 winner Red Rifle would finish second in the Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga his next time out to the even-money favorite Flintshire.
Sunday, July 31
Trainer Todd Pletcher has “owned” the Grade III Shuvee Handicap of late, winning three of the last four contests. He won with Stopchargingmaria (2015), Authenticity (2013) and Awesome Maria (2012). His only loss during that time came in 2014 when Unlimited Budget finished sixth of seven runners.
Run at 1 ⅛ miles on the dirt for fillies and mares three years old and upward for a purse of $200K, the race is named after the multiple graded stakes winning daughter of Nashua, who won the 1969 Alabama Stakes and the 1970 and 1971 editions of the Diana at Saratoga. She also won the 1969 Mother Goose Stakes at Aqueduct, and the Coaching Club of America Oaks at Belmont Park the same year.
Friday, August 5
The Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes is the feature on the first Friday in August. Notable winners of the $200K 1 1/16-mile turf route are: Notacatbutallama (2013), Big Blue Kitten (2011) and Artie Schiller (2004).
Formerly known as the Gallant Man Stakes, the race name was changed in 1992.
Saturday, August 6
The Grade I Whitney and the Travers Stakes share the highest purse structure at Saratoga this year at $1.25 million. Named after the historic Whitney family who are synonymous with Saratoga Race Course, this is one of the most famous non-Triple Crown Races in American racing history.
The Whitney is the featured race on this Saturday, but the Grade I Test and Grade III Fasig-Tipton Waya will also be run on the same card.
The Test is for 3-year-old fillies running seven furlongs for a slice of a $500K pie. Cavorting won last year’s edition. She was last seen winning the Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day this June.
The Test debuted at Saratoga in 1922.
First run in 1993, jockey Julie Krone won the first two editions of the Fasig-Tipton Waya aboard the aptly-named Saratoga Source (1993, 1994). French-bred Goldy Espony won last year’s race, which will be contested on the turf at 1 ½ miles. Fillies and mares three years old and upward will be vying for $200K in purse money.
But the big draw on this day is the Whitney. Run at 1 ⅛ miles on the dirt since 1955, the race debuted in 1928 (at 1 ¼ miles). For horses three years old and upward, past winners of this race are a veritable “who’s who” of great North American racehorses, including:
War Admiral (1938)
Tom Fool (1953)
Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965)
Dr. Fager (1968)
Personal Ensign (1988)
Easy Goer (1989)
Awesome Again (1998)
Victory Gallop (1999)
Lemon Drop Kid (2000)
Missing from this list is the great Secretariat, who was upset by Onion in the 1973 running of the Whitney. That race goes down in history as one of the most high-profile upsets in racing history (right up there with Upset’s win over Man o’ War in the Sanford).
Discovery won the race in three consecutive tries from 1934 to 1936.
Saturday, August 13
Two graded stakes are slated for the Saturday after the Whitney — the Grade I Fourstardave Handicap and the Grade II Adirondack.
Wise Dan won the 2012 and 2013 renewals of the Fourstardave Handicap. The two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and six-time Eclipse Award-winning gelding (2012 and 2013 Horse of the Year) also won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his penultimate career race in August of 2014.
At one mile on the turf course, the Foustardave showcases 3-year-olds and upward looking to make a big payday in the $500K race.
Probable entries for the 33rd running of the race include Takeover Target, Grand Arch and Ironicus.
The Adirondack is for 2-year-old fillies, running in a $200K 6 ½-furlong sprint on the dirt. Notable recent winners include: Cavorting (2014), Kauai Katie (2012) and My Miss Aurelia (2011).
The race was first run at Saratoga Springs in 1901. However, this will be the 100th running of the race, as it hasn’t always been run each year.
Sunday, August 14
The Grade II Saratoga Special has also been contested at “The Spa” since 1901. It began as a winner-take-all race for 2-year-olds. Currently run at six-and-a-half furlongs on the dirt, it’s still a race for 2-year-olds, but for a share of the $200K purse.
Notable winners of the Saratoga Special include: Regret (1914), Whirlaway (1940), Native Dancer (1952), Nearctic (1956), General Assembly (1978), Swale (1983), Summer Squall (1989), Dehere (1993) and Union Rags (2011).
Saturday, August 20
The premier graded stakes race for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga is the Grade I Alabama.
Going 1 ¼ miles on dirt, this year’s Alabama will feature a $600K purse.
Embellish the Lace beat I’m a Chatterbox and the favored Curalina in last year’s running of the Alabama.
The previous four winners of the race were Stopchargingmaria (2014), Princess of Sylmar (2013), Questing (2012) and Royal Delta (2011).
There’s a very good chance that this year’s race will be one of the best races for 3-year-old fillies in 2016 — and that includes the Breeders’ Cup. There’s a chance we could see Songbird, Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia, Catch a Glimpse and/or Off the Tracks here.
Sunday, August 21
The Grade II Lake Placid ($300K) is a 1 ⅛-mile turf route for 3-year-old fillies.
This year will be the 33rd running of the race — it was won by Stephanie’s Kitten in 2012, and Senteria Italia last year — and will be the last graded stakes before the biggest day of the Saratoga meet: Travers Stakes day.
USRacing.com will have an extensive Travers Stakes day full card analysis, including the following races on Saturday, Aug. 27:
- Grade II Woodford Reserve Ballson Spa Stakes
- Grade I Ballerina Stakes
- Grade I Ketel One King’s Bishop Stakes
- Grade I The Priority One Jets Forego Stakes
- Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes
- Grade I Longines Sword Dancer Stakes
- Grade I Travers Stakes
In last years’ running of the Travers, Keen Ice upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. This year’s race is shaping up as quite a showdown in the 3-year-old male division. Stay tuned to USRacing.com for more news and notes about Saratoga.