Golden Ticket and Alpha made history last year when they finished the Travers Stakes in a dead heat, the first dead heat in the race's history (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
It is not too soon for the buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary of the first organized race meeting in Saratoga to begin.
New York Racing Association officials held a news conference Monday to detail the highlights of a meet that will extend from July 19 until Sept. 2 and has them thinking big in every way – starting with attendance.
“Weather is a huge factor. We did 900,000 last year,” said David O’Rourke, vice president of corporate development. “It would be great if we could do a million.”
An abundance of promotions tied into the sesquicentennial, when combined with world-class competition that will feature 53 listed and graded stakes worth almost $15 million in purses, should make that a realistic target.
SARATOGA: A TRADITION UNLIKE ANY OTHER
J.P. Campo, director of racing, already envisions the Aug. 24 Travers as a “huge deal” because the winners of all three Triple Crown races – Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice – are expected to train at Saratoga with an eye toward competing in the famed “Mid-Summer Derby.” It would be the first time the Travers attracted the winners of all three legs since 1982, when Gato Del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo were upset by Runaway Groom.
Campo is confident this year’s mile-and-a-quarter Travers, the centerpiece of 16 Grade 1 contests during the 40-day meet, can provide another showcase of champions. “I think all three trainers are game to compete,” he said. The $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2), on July 27, offers a prep race for the Travers.
Fort Larned, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is expected to defend his title in the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) on Aug. 3. He would attempt to become the first horse to take the prestigious Whitney in consecutive years since Discovery rattled off three in a row from 1934-36.
FORT LARNED WON LAST YEAR'S WHITNEY ON HIS WAY TO A BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC WIN
Wise Dan, reigning Horse of the Year, also is expected to settle in here for the summer. He is expected to target the $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap (Aug. 10) since that was among five graded stakes victories he earned last year.
Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice all strutted their stuff as 2-year-olds at Saratoga. Juveniles will again receive their share of the spotlight. Six graded stakes are offered for juveniles: the $150,000 Schuylerville (G3), July 19; the $200,000 Adirondack (G2), Aug. 11; the $300,000 Spinaway (G1), Sept. 1; the $200,000 Sanford (G2) on July 21, the $200,000 Saratoga Special (G2) on Aug. 11; and the $300,000 Hopeful (G1) on closing day. Shanghai Bobby used the Hopeful as a springboard to 2-year-old honors last season.
Although the progress of New York-based 2-year-old was hampered by recent heavy rain, Campo does not expect that factor to result in reduced field sizes because the Saratoga meet attracts trainers and horses from all racing states.
“Everyone brings first-class 2-year-olds to Saratoga to run,” Campo said. “I would be very surprised if it was an issue.”
The sesquicentennial will officially be marked on Aug. 3 to coincide with the Whitney. Thanks to Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson, a lucky individual will have the opportunity to place a $15,000 win wager on that day’s featured stakes race, a promotion that will continue each Saturday for the remainder of the historic meet.
SUMMER AT SARATOGA: 150 YEARS