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.