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HRN Original Blog:
A New York State of Racing

Saratoga 2012 Opening Day Preview

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 Form.
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. 


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Older Comments about Saratoga 2012 Opening Day Preview...

PJ's BBQ is no more! It is now BBQ USA...
  • Mike in SB · I know they were going to make it into a real restaurant, but is the food the same? Love the chicken sandwich. · 1411 days ago
Jackson Bend is a 7F and saratoga specialist, he should win it here. http://handicrapper.blogspot.com/
Mama Riso's (up by Lake George) and PJ's Barbecue are two of my Saratoga favorites!
johnsnare -- Is Mama Riso's in downtown Saratoga? Max London's is a favorite of ours.
Saratoga, what a great place to visit. The area, the restaurants, Lake George. Everything in one area. what's not to like. Try Mama Riso's, for some fine Italian dining.
*gutsy* [not sure how "gusty" would characterize a horse, but it doesn't necessarily sound good!]
JB is undefeated at the distance and Saratoga. I believe the gusty little guy will take the James Marvin
I agree he is going to be amazing! that is if he can hadle distance.
Wish I could be there, great preview though!! Maybe one time I can enjoy Saratoga with you Mr.Scoggins!!
I also like the New Jersey bred best in the Schuylerville, but I expect Jackson Bend to get back to his winning ways over the strip he loves. Have fun at the Spa, Matt!

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 Meet Matt Shifman 

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.


Matt’s articles and tweets frequently appear in the America’s Best Racing weekly Notebook. In 2012 he became a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.


The best way to get to know Matt is to check out some of his favorite articles from the past couple years.

• Preakness Interview with Trainer Todd Pletcher

• Kentucky Derby 2016 Handicapping Tips from A to Z


• Edison: the Travels of a Million Dollar Colt 

• A Kentucky Derby Field with Just 14 Horses

• What is the Best Kentucky Derby Running Style?



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