I started going to Saratoga in the 1980’s with my best
racetrack friend and his son. Back then Ted and I attended Monmouth Park in the
summer on the weekends and we went to what was then the new Meadowlands every
Thursday night. But our three-day
trip to Saratoga was the highlight of our racing year. We attended the same
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in August each summer.
For us, a day at the Spa
always began the same way, with a trip to the Big Red Spring in the far corner
of the backyard. There we splashed
our faces with the distinctive mineral water, washed our hands off, and if
feeling brave that day, we even took a small sip of Saratoga’s finest.
From there it was off to
watch the morning works and enjoy breakfast from one of the owner’s boxes in
the clubhouse. We listened to the dialog of Mary Ryan as she identified the
horses, riders, and trainers. Of course, at the same time we were continuing to
handicap for that day’s races because back then you were lucky to get the past
performances even one day in advance.
You had to leave the track
by 10am, so from there we would go across the street to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame or take a walk into town and catch the art exhibit
at the Holiday Inn. We would take the time to relax and finalize our picks for
that day’s card. Saratoga is different from other towns because there you feel
out of place if you are NOT carrying a Racing
Wagering was a bit easier
back then because the only multi-race wagers available were the early and late
daily doubles. Exactas, trifectas, and quinellas were as exotic as the betting
got back then.
Some 30 years later I usually
go to the races by myself, not that I am alone when I get there. My
responsibilities as a writer for HRN take me to places at the track that I used
to dream about visiting back in the 80’s: the paddock, press box, barn area,
etc. Still many of those old traditions are my favorites. I never miss a visit
to Big Red and breakfast at Saratoga is a must.
After the races, I usually
meet up with my wife at one of our favorite restaurants for cocktails and a
great meal. Saratoga is one of my favorite towns in the country.
Friday is opening day and
the card has that great Saratoga feeling with three races for two-year fillies.
Two maiden special weights carry amazing $80,000 purses and the feature race is
the 94th running of the Schuylerville (G3). Five of the seven fillies entered are eligible for a new $100,000
bonus that NYRA offered to any horse that broke her maiden during the spring
meets at Aqueduct or Belmont.
Todd Pletcher is excited about the added incentive, “It’s a
great attempt by NYRA to spice up the 2-year-old program. It seems like the
2-year-old maiden races filled consistently, and filled sooner. We’re looking
forward to the possiblity of earning a bonus, and hopefully Can’t Explain and
some of our other 2-year-olds are able to go on and get lucky and earn the
bonus.” Can't Explain is a New Jersey-bred that Pletcher bought as a
two-year old for $150,000 in March.
The eighth race is the James Marvin (G3), which is run at
seven furlongs and features a match-up between the versatile veteran Caixa Eletronica and the distance
specialist, Jackson Bend. Caixa is enjoying a great season with three wins in
six starts and earnings of over $900,000 for owner Mike Repole. Repole loves this horse, “Usually I get nervous when
my horses run; with him, I’m entertained. He’s a throwback horse. He can win at
any distance, any weather condition. Here’s a horse who ran in $16,000
claimers, and he’s won graded stakes from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles at age 7.
He’s the kind of horse that drew me to the game to begin with.”
Jackson Bend is the 7-5 morning line favorite for trainer Nick Zito. Jackson Bend has never lost at seven furlongs in four
career tries including a victory in this race last year.
Here are my picks:
In the James Marvin both
Jackson Bend and Caixa like to come off of the pace and there is plenty of speed in the race to set things
up for their closing duel. Both of them have been training sharply here at the
Spa and they both will carry 123 pounds. When Jackson Bend is on his game he is
very hard to defeat, but I am going to try and beat the favorite with Caixa Eletronica because like Repole I
am a sucker for the gutsy seven-year old.
How often do you see
Pletcher in a race for two-year olds listed as 5-1 in the morning line? That’s
the potential price on Can’t Explain, who is the only filly in the
Schuylerville to have two starts.
Richard Dutrow Jr.’s Baby J is
the 5-2 favorite off a June 28 maiden win at Belmont that earned a race high 84
BSF. She won that race for trainer Michelle
Nihei and now makes her first start for Dutrow. Brown Eyes Blue, who is trained by Dale Romans, will try and give
sire Big Brown a first crop stakes winner. I am picking my fellow Jersey-bred Can’t
Explain to win the Schuylerville and get the Saratoga meeting started with a
Todd-Todd stakes race double.