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Opening Weekend at Saratoga - 2013

2013 is the first time I will be at Saratoga for opening day and this brings a special kind of excitement for me. This year huge purses, the usual great racing, and a chance to hit the Grand Slam have got me psyched to head upstate.
The purses are gigantic, at almost unbelievable levels. The condition book for opening day lists three maiden special weight races: one for NY-bred older horses with a purse of $75,000, open two year-old fillies for $80,000, and open older horses for $85,000.
The smallest purse in the first four days was $37,000 for maiden claimers in for a tag of $20,000. The biggest none stake purse was $95,000 for an OC100/NW3 optional claiming allowance going a mile on the turf.
The first four days of the meeting are jam packed with great racing, featuring five graded stakes races and the New York, east coast, debut of Eblouissante.
Eblouissante turned in a seven-furlong workout in 1:27.02 on Sunday in preparation for a start in either the Shuvee on July 20 or in an allowance on July 22.  Both races are slated to go nine furlongs, which pleases trainer John Shirreffs. “The dynamics of the two-turn races are entirely different from one-turn races,” said Shirreffs. “I love two-turn races and prefer them to one-turn races, personally. I think they give horses a chance to get into the gate, go into the turn, relax, find position. There’s a chance to use a few different gears.”
Aside from sharing the dam, Vertigineux, with her famous half-sister, Zenyatta, Eblouissante also likes to start her races slowly and close from off the pace to win, as she did in her only two career starts in California. She broke her maiden on the synthetic track of Hollywood Park in November of 2012 and followed that with an allowance score on the dirt at Santa Anita in January 2013.
Various minor setbacks since then have kept her from running, so her many fans are eager to see if this four year-old will continue to live up to her name which translates from French to mean dazzling, stunning, amazing.
The first opening day graded stakes race will be the James Marvin (G3) which is in only its sixth running and was won in 2011 by Saratoga favorite Jackson Bend. Trainer Tom Albertrani holds a strong hand on opening day with Soupy Speedy in the James Marvin. This colt took the Jaipur last out when moved up to the top spot after being herded out wide in the stretch run. Souper Speedy has only missed the money once in an eight race career.
In contrast this will be the 95th running of the Schuylerville (G3). Famous past two year-old fillies to win the race include: 2003 Ashado, 1997 Countess Diana, 1990 Meadow Star, 1986 Sacahuista, 1972 La Prevoyante, 1971 Numbered Account, and 1961 Cicada.
Albertrani brings his surprising filly, True Blue Nation into the Schuylerville after a Belmont maiden win at 17.80-1. “She was very impressive first time out,” said Albertrani. “Normally, I don’t really crank on the 2-year-olds to come out running first time out, but if they do, all the better. I would always expect a better performance second time around, so we were very pleased with that effort first time out.”
Day two of the meeting includes two graded stakes for fillies. The Shuvee (G3), first run in 1976, is for fillies and mares three-years old and up.  This year it is being run at Saratoga and at nine furlongs for the first time. If Eblouissante goes in the Shuvee she is likely to be joined by graded stakes winners Authenticity and Summer Applause.
In 2010 the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) moved to Saratoga from Belmont Park, where it was the last leg of the original Triple Tiara for the three year-old fillies. The race was named for the Coaching Club of America in which to be a member, one had to be able to drive a coach and four horses with a single group of reins. Sounds like something that is not easy to do.
Princess of Sylmar is expected to make her return to the races after winning the Kentucky Oaks at the very generous price of 38.80-1. The Princess could stamp herself as a leader in the wide-open three year-old filly division with a win in the CCA.
Day three features the juvenile boys in the historic Sanford(G2), which was won by Triple Crown winners Affirmed in 1977 and Secretariat in 1972. Man O’ War’s only career defeat came in the 1919 Sanford when Upset took home the winner’s purse of $3,925. Unbeaten Debt Ceiling is the Sanford headliner. The son of Discreet Cat has won all three of his starts including the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs.
To be a little bit different this summer I will be focusing on the Grand Slam wager at Saratoga. There is no shortage of handicappers that will give you their pick 4, 5, and 6 plays. The Grand Slam is a wager that at times produces some very good wagering value. In the Grand Slam you have to “Pick a horse to finish in the top three in three straight races, capped by the winner of the fourth race in the sequence.” So, to cash you have to pick 3 show horses in a row and then one winner.
I like to play the Grand Slam by singling a horse in each of the show legs and then spreading with up to three horses in the win leg. The base bet is $2, but I like play for $10. It’s a fun wager with a limited downside and when you hit a good pay out there is excellent profit. I will tweet my Grand Slam picks, so look for this graphic. I will also post it on the Horse Racing Nation homepage in the Plays of the Day. A couple of summers ago I played the Place Pick 6 at Monmouth Park everyday and showed a profit. I hope to do the same with the Grand Slam. 


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Older Comments about Opening Weekend at Saratoga - 2013...

Suddenly feeling a little queasy, a little feverish... don't think I can make it to work. In an unrelated note... I need a ride to Saratoga.
A month of Christmas every summer. Good luck to all.
I'm a bit surprised that Eblouissante is entered in the Shuvee!
I'm getting pumped!
Good luck to you, Matt. Will keep an eye on your Grand Slam picks. One thing I can relate to, is to experience opening day at a large meet. One of the exciting things to expect, would be for boxcar payoffs. All these horses shipping in from different tracks. Some will not show their form, for inability to adapt to their new surroundings, or, vice-versa.
I am very , very excited for the return of the Princess.
I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!!!!! :).
I've been waiting for the return of Princess of Sylmar since the day after the Oaks ... the day is almost here! Have a great time 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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