SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – 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 the centerpiece of a glittering 40-day meet that runs through Labor Day, September 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 New York Racing Association, Inc. (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 habitués 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.
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 ¼-mile Travers on August 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 as he prepares to 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 for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $100,000 James Marvin for sprinters on opening day, with the Grade 1, $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies set for Saturday, July 21.
The Grade 1 parade continues with the $600,000 Diana on Saturday, July 28; the $750,000 Whitney Handicap, newly joined by the $300,000 Prioress, on Saturday, August 4; the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on Sunday, August 5; the $600,000 Alabama and the $600,000 Sword Dancer on Saturday, August 18; the $150,000 New York Turf Writers’ Cup steeplechase on Thursday, August 23, and the $500,000 Ballerina in its new spot on Friday, August 24.
On the stellar card supporting the “Midsummer Derby” on Travers Day is the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King’s Bishop for 3-year-old sprinters, the Grade 1, $500,000 Test for 3-year-old filly sprinters, and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa 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, August 11 and go through Saturday, September 1. Additionally, MSG+ will be airing live broadcasts on two days during the meet – Saturday, July 28 and Saturday, August 4.
The meet’s home stretch includes a quartet of prestigious Grade 1s: the $600,000 Personal Ensign on Sunday, August 26; the $750,000 Woodward and the $500,000 Forego on Saturday, September 1, and the $300,000 Spinaway on Sunday, September 2, with the Grade 2, $300,000 Three Chimneys Hopeful and the Grade 3, $150,000 Glens Falls 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 August 31.