Saratoga: Bet on a Sensational Summer at the Spa

Scarcely a month after Saratoga Race Course hosted the Belmont Stakes for the first time, the “Summer Place to Be” kicks off its traditional meet on Thursday, July 11, with 40 days of top-flight racing buoyed by a dizzying schedule of entertainment, attractions and events.

As always, the twin pillars of the meet are the $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) on Aug. 3 and the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) on Aug. 24.


The June, July, August AND September place to be

The opening salvo for the 71 stakes worth $20.75 million is the Schuylerville, featuring 11 2-year-old fillies headed by impressive maiden winner Complexion, stablemate to Belmont Stakes hero Dornoch.

The first of 19 Grade 1s of the season, the Diana for turf fillies and mares, is Saturday, with the Kelso (G3) and the Sanford (G3) on the undercard. The four-day opening week also features the Coronation Cup and Wilton on Friday and the Quick Call (G3) on Sunday.

Racing returns to a five-day-a-week schedule on Wednesday, highlighted by the first of two Grade 1 steeplechases, the A.P. Smithwick Memorial. Its brother race, the Jonathan Sheppard, will be contested on Aug. 14.

Sophomore fillies take center stage on July 20 in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), with the local prep for the Travers, the Jim Dandy (G2), sharing the spotlight on July 27 with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) for sprinters.

In addition to the Whitney – a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race – Aug. 3 also offers two more Grade 1 races, the Test for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlong and the Saratoga Derby Invitational for 3-year-olds at 1 3/16 miles on the turf.

This year, the 1 ¼ mile Travers likely will feature the three winners of each of the Triple Crown races – Kentucky Derby winner Mystic Dan, Preakness winner Seize the Grey, and Belmont winner Dornoch, who would be the only horse with a Grade 1 win at 1 ¼ miles over the track to run in the “Midsummer Derby.”

Also eyeing the race are last year’s champion 2-year-old Fierceness, Sierra Leone, second by a nose in the Derby and third in the Belmont, and Honor Marie, fourth in the Belmont. Trainer Kenny McPeek said if Mystic Dan does not run, he would enter Kentucky Oaks winner Thorpedo Anna. The last filly to win the Travers was Lady Rotha in 1915, and she did so via the DQ of Trial by Jury.

Travers Day offers four additional Grade 1s:  the 7-furlong Forego for 4-year-olds and up and the 7-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-old fillies, along with a pair of Breeders’ Cup qualifiers, the 7-furlong Ballerina for fillies and mares and the 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer on the turf.

Additional Breeders’ Cup qualifiers include the Fourstardave Handicap (G2) on Aug. 10, the Flower Bowl (G2) and Spinaway (G1) on Aug. 31 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on Sept. 1.

The meet concludes on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 2, with the Hopeful (G1) for 2-year-olds.

Who’s who of racing

The top trainers and jockeys in the country – and elsewhere – descend upon Saratoga Springs every summer, all hoping to reach the winners’ circle at least once and avoid the shame of having to leave the meet with “the duck,” which equates to a GPA of 0.0.

Two trainers who got “off the duck” right off the bat and continued the battle for the H. Allen Jerkens training title down to the final day – nay, final race – of the meet were Chad Brown and Linda Rice. Rice, who won the title in 2009, trailed Brown by five wins with 20 races remaining at the meet. After winning three races on Sunday, she had eight horses in seven races and won the $150,000 Bernard Baruch with Pioneering Spirit and the finale, when Lt. Mitchell took the finale by five lengths over the Brown-trained Fake Celebrity, with each finishing with 35 winners.

Chad Brown

It was Brown’s third straight and sixth overall.

Todd Pletcher, third last year and a winner of 14 titles at the Spa, is expected to figure prominently this year again along with Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, and Shug McGaughey.

The Ortiz brothers – Irad, Jr. and Jose – have been fixtures at the top of the jockey standings for years, remarkable considering how deep the colony is, with the likes of Johnny Velazquez, Luis Saez, Joel Rosario, and Javier Castellano riding full-time. Joining them this year will be Frankie Dettori, he of the flying dismount, who had such a good year in 2023 he decided to un-retire.

And the giveaways

The Saratoga tradition of premium giveaways will continue in 2024 beginning on July 19, when the first of four is a 40-ounce white drink tumbler with a screw-on cap and a reusable straw. It will, of course, like the others, bear the Saratoga logo.

Next up, on Aug. 2, a Saratoga baseball jersey! Followed by a Saratoga trucker hat on Aug. 16!

The final giveaway, on Sept. 1 is a snazzy-looking black windbreaker with the Saratoga logo in white embroidered on the left. Like the jersey, it will be available in two sizes: medium and extra-large.

Other fun stuff

July 19: Fans will have an opportunity to meet returning members of the 2014 Union College Hockey Men’s championship team. The Division I Men’s national championship trophy will also be on display as players gather for a championship reunion.

Aug. 14: Stewart’s Shops will be providing free ice cream for fans in the backyard! Complimentary scoops will be available while supplies last.

Aug. 17: Many of the sport’s most prominent trainers will sign autographs for fans at the Jockey Silks Porch from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. to honor the legacy of trainer Dominic Galluscio. Suggested donations will benefit the Lustgarten Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is to advance scientific and medical research related to pancreatic cancer.

Aug. 28-Sept. 2: Saratoga will say “Thank you, fans!” with special offers on tickets, food and beverage, and hospitality during the final week of the season.

And, last, but certainly not least: Breakfast at Saratoga! Fans can enjoy a morning buffet at The Porch with a view of the thoroughbreds training on the main track every live racing day, except for Travers Day and Labor Day. It is offered from 7-9:30 a.m.

Fans can also go behind the scenes with free 45-minute backstretch tram tours from 7:30 a.m.- 9 a.m.

Post times

For those who bet horse racing online, first post at the Spa will be 1:10 p.m. every day except Saturdays, when first post is 12:35 p.m. Travers Day has an earlier post time of 11:40 a.m.

Admission gates open for live racing 11 a.m. for all days but Travers Day, when gates open at 9 a.m.


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