The centerpiece of the card, which features 10 races restricted to horses bred in New York and will be telecast on MSG+ from 4-6 p.m., is the 36th running of the $250,000 Empire Classic for 3-year-olds and up. A field of nine, including the 3-year-old filly Haldane, will contest the 1 1/8-mile race, in which 5-year-old Lunar Victory is the 8-5 favorite to pick up his fifth win in six 2012 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
Owned by Juddmonte Farms, Lunar Victory came to Mott late last year from England, where he had one victory in eight starts for trainer John Gosden. The son of Speightstown finished second over a sloppy Aqueduct Racetrack in his American debut, then reeled off five straight victories, including the Evan Shipman in July at Saratoga Race Course, before stumbling at the start and finishing second in the Promenade All overnight stakes on September 23 at Belmont.
Junior Alvarado is back aboard Lunar Victory, who drew post position 9.
The second choice at 9-5 is Saratoga Snacks, who is owned by Bill Parcells’ August Dawn Farm and who carries a four-race win streak into the Empire Classic.
“He’s got himself together,” said trainer Gary Sciacca of the 3-year-old Tale of the Cat colt. “He’s a big, good-looking horse … he’s hitting everything right. He’s going to be tough. He’s going to bring a good race.”
With Ramon Dominguez in the irons, Saratoga Snacks drew post position 7.
Trainer Dominic Galluscio, who won back-to-back editions of the Empire Classic in 2006 and 2007 with full brothers Organizer and Dr. V’s Magic, returns with their full sister, Haldane, and Johannesburg Smile, third in last year’s running.
“Johannesburg Smile always tries very hard,” said Galluscio of the 5-year-old son of Johannesburg, who carries the colors of Francis Paolangeli. “We’ve been giving him time off over the winter and he’s staying good and sound. Hopefully he’ll run well this year, and maybe we’ll be there next year, too.”
Haldane, a daughter of Raffie’s Majesty out of the Summer Squall mare Treasure Always, will be making her stakes debut in the Empire Classic and enters the race with a record of 2-0-1 from four starts.
“Her full brothers won the race, so she gets the 1 1/8 miles,” said Galluscio. “She has two wins lifetime, but I think she’s going to come with a good race.”
With Cornelio Velasquez aboard, Johannesburg Smile drew post position 2 at 12-1 on the morning line, while Haldane, 30-1, will leave from post position 4 under C. C. Lopez.
Also contesting the Empire Classic will be the David Jacobson-trained entry of Big Business and Fiddlers Afleet; Sailmate, fourth in the Promenade All; 2011 Albany winner Bigger Is Bettor, and supplementary entry Saxophone Len.
Some of New York’s most popular turf horses return in the McMahon of Saratoga Mohawk and the Ticonderoga for fillies and mares, both $175,000 races at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
Run as race 7, the Ticonderoga features yet another rematch between multiple stakes winners Hessonite and Gitchee Goomie, who finished first and second in last year’s edition and who are 4-5 and 5-1 on the morning line.
The pair have met on five occasions this year and own two wins apiece, with Gitchee Goomie finishing fourth in the John Hettinger and Yaddo, both won by Hessonite, and Hessonite finishing second behind Gitchee Goomie in the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial and the Mount Vernon.
Ten others will line up against Gitchee Goomie, who drew post position 6 under Alan Garcia, and Hessonite, who drew the rail with Ramon Dominguez aboard, with three others entered main track only.
Lubash has been a pleasant surprise for trainer Christophe Clement this year, and Saturday he is the 3-1 favorite to extend his winning streak to three when he faces eleven others in the McMahon of Saratoga Mohawk, the final race of the day.
Second in the Kingston to Compliance Officer in his first start for Clement, the 5-year-old son of Freud next was fourth in the Grade 3 Red Bank at Monmouth Park, and then posted back-to-back wins in the West Point presented by Trustco Bank at Saratoga and the Ashley T. Cole at Belmont.
“He’s getting older, and sometimes they get better when they get older,” said Clement of Lubash, who drew post position 4 with Jose Lezcano aboard. “He’s been very consistent – he races on soft, he races on firm, and that’s nice, because this time of year anything can happen.”
Compliance Officer, 1-2-1 in four 2012 starts, drew post position 8 with Alex Solis named to ride as he defends his title in the McMahon of Saratoga Mohawk.
The former claimer’s victory in last year’s Mohawk capped a five-race win streak, but the 6-year-old Officer gelding has yet to return to the winner’s circle since taking the Kingston in May. Towards that end, trainer Bruce Brown also will enter the speedy Strong Impact to ensure an honest pace.
“Often times with a rabbit, you think the horse doesn’t have a shot,” said Brown of Strong Impact, who drew post 10 under Javier Castellano. “But I think if no one goes with [Strong Impact], he could possibly settle down and win the race.”
Also expected to attract support in the McMahon of Saratoga Mohawk are Street Game, looking to move forward from a third-place finish in the Ashley T. Cole, and Grade 3 Saranac winner Unbridled Command.
Saginaw, winner of eight of his last nine starts, will cut back in distance for the $150,000 Hudson at six furlongs.
Owned by Drawing Away Stable and trainer David Jacobson, Saginaw held off Empire Classic entrant Lunar Victory by a half-length to win the one-mile Promenade All. The 6-year-old was considered for the Empire Classic but instead will make his first start going six furlongs since a runner-up effort in a maiden special weight in 2009.
David Cohen will ride Saginaw, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, from post 2.
“It’s a whole new cast of characters he’s running against this time,” said Jacobson. “He’s been running against the same group of horses in his last couple of races, so we’re going to have to look at the Form and David [Cohen] and I will come up with a plan. We’re down on the inside and not happy about that; it kind of limits our options. We’re going to have to get him off there. The longer he goes, the more hold [the jockey] has to take. He’s a really strong horse to ride. I have no problem with him going three quarters, even if we have to sit and come from behind. He’s coming into the race as good as he’s ever come into a race before.”
Flying Zee Racing Stables’ Shrewd One is 3-3-0 in six starts this year and has made three straight starts against open company at seven furlongs. After finishing second in an entry-level allowance on June 23 at Belmont, the 5-year-old cleared that condition by two lengths on July 21 and captured a second-level optional claimer by a head on August 18 at Saratoga.
“The horses he’s going to face in the Hudson are tougher than the horses he’s been facing,” said trainer Phil Serpe. “He was two-for-two at Saratoga, and that’s tough for any horse to do. His last race there was a grueling stretch run, and he showed his worth for sure. He never lets us down, even if he doesn’t win, so we’re confident he’ll run well.”
Hall of Famer Edgar Prado gets back aboard Shrewd One, who was installed at 3-1 and drew post 6.
Fillies and mares will travel seven furlongs in the $150,000 Iroquois, which will serve as a rematch between Beautiful But Blue and Risky Rachel, the respective top two finishers in the Fleet Indian on August 1 at Saratoga Race Course.
The Fleet Indian was Beautiful Blue Blue’s first start against older fillies and mares, and after the race she has finished third in two races against sophomores: the Grade 1 Test on August 25 at the Spa and the Charles Town Oaks on September 22. Her last four starts, including her win in the Bouwerie in June at Belmont, have come at seven furlongs.
“You’ve got to run against the older ones sometime,” said trainer Tom Bush, who trains the Chester and Mary Broman homebred. “Going long, she’s probably got a little bit more speed, but going short, she’s a good stalker. That’s probably the kind of trip we’ll have again in this race. I hope so.”
Junior Alvarado will ride Beautiful But Blue, 7-2, from post 6.
Risky Rachel, who won the 2011 Iroquois for trainer H. James Bond, will represent first-year trainer and former Bond assistant Juan “Manny” Coronel in this year’s edition. After finishing second to Beautiful But Blue, the Sanford Bacon color-bearer won Saratoga’s Union Avenue by 3 ½ lengths on August 20.
“We gave her a little break after her race in Saratoga,” said Coronel. “Perfect. She had three very tough races, one at Belmont and one at Saratoga. I couldn’t be more happy pointing for [the Iroquois]. She’s coming in a little fresh, but she loves to be fresh. She needs a little space [between races], and everything is really, really good. Seven furlongs, I don’t mind. She’s going to give a huge race.”
Risky Rachel, 7-2, will depart from post 7 with Javier Castellano at the helm.
Red and Black Stable’s Weekend Hideaway is the 5-2 favorite for the $125,000 Bertram F. Bongard for 2-year-olds off his 6 ¼-length win against New York-breds in the David overnight stakes at Saratoga on August 20 and third in the Grade 2 Futurity on September 30 at Belmont Park. The Bongard will be his first start at seven furlongs.
“I thought he ran really well in the Futurity,” said trainer Phil Serpe. “It was a lot for him to do, but I thought he ran a very productive race. For a 2-year-old, he’s a real pro. We felt that if he won the Futurity, we were thinking of running in the Breeders’ Cup, but he did not, so this was the other part of the plan. We’re more than happy to be here. He’s out of a Wiseman’s Ferry mare, so I don’t think [seven furlongs] will be an issue. When he ran in a stakes in Saratoga, he rated off another horse without much of a problem. He doesn’t act like he’s ridiculously headstrong, so we’re pretty confident in him.”
Unlike the baseball team, Meet the Mets has a chance to post a big win this October as he is 8-1 for the Bongard. In two career starts, he debuted a half-length winner on August 22 at Saratoga and missed by 1 ¼ lengths when second in an allowance on September 27 at Belmont.
“He was a little rank the first part [of the allowance race] and made the lead a little sooner than he needed, and then didn’t really know what to do when he made the lead,” said Bruce Brown, who trains Meet the Mets for Gold Square LLC. “But he is developing nicely with racing and training, so I expect big things from him.”
Matchmadeinheaven aims for her third stakes win in the $125,000 Joseph A. Gimma for 2-year-old fillies. The Gimma will be her first start away from Finger Lakes as she won the Lady Finger Stakes by a neck on September 3 first time out, then added a 1 ¼-length score in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes on September 29.
Jose Lezcano will ride Matchmadeinheaven, who races for trainer Chris Englehart and owner/breeder Merrylegs Farm. She drew the outside post in the field of 12 and was tabbed at 8-1 on the morning line.