There are few things in life that excite American
horseplayers more than the start of the summer meets in New York and Southern
California. Whether it is the historic
vibe of Saratoga Springs or the breeze from the Pacific Ocean that helps
provide the flawless climate and picture-perfect ambiance at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, racing fans know they have roughly a month and a half of ecstasy to look
forward to starting on Thursday afternoon. While the Travers Stakes and the Pacific Classic headline the respective
meets, fans also know these meets offer some of the best day-to-day grass
racing the United States has to offer. Between
two-year-old races for up and coming stars, and the plethora of stakes events on
the lawn during the next month and a half, it is arguably the best time of year
for North American thoroughbred turf racing.
Saratoga’s 151st year of racing commences with two stakes events on the turf in their first weekend and does not ease up at any point until the meet culminates on Monday September 1st. The Sir Cat Stakes, won in 2013 by Todd Pletcher trainee Winning Cause, is an overnight stakes race for three-year-olds
run at one mile. The $100,000 opening
day event has a strong group of 28 nominees including five from Pletcher’s
barn, Mark Hennig’s Cabo Cat and Christophe Clement’s Green Mask. While the
race is limited to non-graded stakes winners on the grass, it certainly
promises to be a stacked field of talented young colts.
Saratoga’s first Saturday of racing is highlighted by the
Grade I TVG Diana Stakes at a mile and an eighth for fillies and mares three
years old and upward. The $500,000
affair has an incredibly strong list of nominees including probable starters
Stephanie’s Kitten, Discreet Marq and Abaco. Also in the mix is Alan Goldberg
trainee Tannery. Goldberg won last year’s event with Laughing and may have his
sights set on back-to-back wins with the Irish bred daughter of Dylan Thomas. Much
like the Sir Cat Stakes, the Diana promises to get NYRA’s calendar of summer
grass racing off to a flying start. The
Lucky Coin Stakes, a turf sprint for older horses, concludes turf stakes racing
for opening week at the Spa. The race
named for the retired daughter of Hadeer should offer New York bettors yet another
excellent opportunity on Sunday afternoon.
While the runners remain a mystery for the grass stakes
events over the remainder of the racing calendar, the quality of the fields is
all but guaranteed at the prestigious upstate New York meet. Whether it is the
Grade II Lake George Stakes won last year by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Kitten's Dumplings, the Grade II Fourstardave Handicap owned by champion colt Wise Dan the last two years, or the Grade I Sword Dancer at the grueling mile and a half
distance, there is little doubt Saratoga’s lawn will see some of the nation’s most talented equine athletes from July 18th through the end of the meet on September 1st.
Del Mar’s stakes races on the turf may not rival Saratoga’s
quality, but their calendar of top level grass races certainly is not far
behind. The opening day running of the Oceanside Stakes and Sunday’s Grade I
Eddie Read Handicap get things rolling where the “Turf meets the Surf ” and much like
Saratoga things do not stop until the meet closes in early September. The $100,000 Oceanside, contested at a mile,
has drawn a full field and should not only be a great race to watch, but also
to wager on. The entrants include Jerry
Hollendorfer’s California bred colt G.G. Ryder who is 5 for 9 and 2 for 3 over
the turf, as well as Glen Hill Farm’s son of Elusive Quality, Enterprising, who
returns after a brief freshening with Mike Smith up for the mount. It should be a wide-open affair with plenty
of value to be found for the Southern California horseplayer.
In addition to the first week's grass races, the rest of the Southern California turf calendar is packed with equally noteworthy happenings. The Grade II $250,000 John C. Mabee Stakes on August 10th for the ladies, as well as the August 16th Grade I Del Mar Oaks for three-year
old fillies, are two of the more significant graded events scheduled. The Grade II Del Mar Derby and the Oak Tree
Juvenile Turf for two-year olds conclude the meet’s turf stakes contests and
should involve some of the up and coming stars of the West Coast. One can be sure that California’s most
talented grass runners will be present throughout the entire meet in San Diego.
There is much to be excited about as we approach the start
of Del Mar’s meet on Thursday and then Saratoga’s opener on Friday. Please be
sure to stay tuned to “First Time Turf” as I will be analyzing, giving
selections and providing suggested wagers for many of the key midsummer turf
races including a breakdown of this Thursday’s Oceanside Stakes as well as
Saturday’s Grade I TVG Diana Stakes in the coming days. For complete coverage
of the entire Saratoga meet feel free to visit shapperdacapper.com each day for
my plays of the day and my boxcar selections.
I cannot be anymore excited for my favorite time of the
year! Hopefully we can make some $$$$$ and have some fun in the process!!!