Saratoga 2020: What to look for in America's best meet

Saratoga 2020: What to look for in America's best meet
Photo: NYRA Photo

At long last, opening day at Saratoga is just a few days away. America’s best meet of racing always brings the highest levels of quality, history and anticipation. This year, even without fans being able to attend, will be no different.

The 7 1/2 weeks of topnotch racing kicks off on Thursday, July 16, with a pair of graded stakes. The Grade 3 Peter Pan brings together a nice mix of lightly raced colts against more experienced runners hoping to prove that they belong in bigger races such as the Travers and Kentucky Derby. Look for the lightly raced Mystic Guide to take a step forward in this one.

Meanwhile, the day’s other feature, the Schuylerville (G3) for 2-year-old fillies, will be led by Beautiful Memories. The daughter of Hard Spun looked like any kind when she romped home in her career debut at Churchill Downs by 10 widening lengths.

On Saturday, the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) offers little in 3-year-old filly star power, but it should be a wide open affair and good betting race. Also on Saturday, look for West Point Thoroughbreds’ Decorated Invader to continue to demonstrate why he might be America’s best 3-year-old male turf horse when he runs in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (G2).

Week 2 at the Spa will be highlighted by the return of the champion Sistercharlie. The 6-year-old daughter of Myboycharlie has been a model of consistency but was denied a second straight Eclipse Award when she was upset in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Next Saturday’s Ballston Spa (G2) will be her first race in more than eight months.

Also on that Saturday, July 25, card we will be treated to a sprinting showdown when the new hotshot Volatile, coming off a track record performance at Churchill Downs, meets the salty old pro Whitmore in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1). The 7-year-old is still tough as nails, but he might have his hands full with the awesome speed of the Asmussen charge, three years his junior.

Moving forward a week, the stars will be out in a trio of Grade 1 races on Saturday, Aug. 1. Leading the way will be the historic Whitney, which should bring together for the first time two of the nation’s top older horses in Tom’s d’Etat and Code of Honor.  

Both classy males will be in top form and meeting on a track where they've each had plenty of success in the past. Sure to attract other strong runners, the Whitney should be one of the Saratoga highlights in 2020 and should also give us an early glimpse as to what to expect for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.

The Whitney day card also is expected to include the next appearance for one of America’s biggest stars in Midnight Bisou. You’ll remember last year, she won a sensational battle over Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1). On Aug. 1, she is expected back to defend her title and continue her march toward another championship.

The final Grade 1 of the Whitney card is the always interesting H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. Named after the legendary trainer, this seven-furlong race always brings the goods with past winners such as Hard Spun, Caleb’s Posse, Runhappy, Drefong, and last year’s hero Mind Control.

Of course, you cannot talk about Saratoga without talking Mid-Summer Derby. Last year, Code of Honor won the Travers in impressive style. This year, we’ll have the division leader and Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law as the horse to beat in the historic event.

The sensational New York-bred won his career debut at Saratoga in 2019 and has since gone on to stardom. His wins in the Holy Bull, Florida Derby and Belmont set him apart from the rest, but this is a race that is seldom easy. This year’s Travers, set for Saturday, Aug. 8, also will serve as the final race before the Kentucky Derby four weeks later at Churchill Downs.

As always, the Travers card will be a big one. Before the day’s biggest feature, all eyes will be on Gamine as she comes back from a tour-de-force victory in the Acorn (G1). Undefeated in three starts, the Bob Baffert-trained filly is thought to be an emerging superstar but should find some serious competition in the seven-furlong Test (G1) in the form of the streaking half-sister to McCraken, Four Graces, who will be coming in off a track record performance at Keeneland.

After this year’s early Travers, there will be plenty of big races remaining at Saratoga, such as the Alabama (G1) on Aug. 15, plus important turf tilts such as the Saratoga Derby, Saratoga Oaks, and a pair of Grade 1 races on the lawn that always have serious Breeders’ Cup implications in the Fourstardave and the Diana, set for Aug. 22 and 23, respectively.

On Aug. 29, the Forego (G1) is the expected next start for Vekoma. Unbeaten in three starts this year, the Horse of the Year candidate exits a career-defining victory in the recent Met Mile (G1). On that same card, the 12-furlong Sword Dancer should be an important race on the road to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The closing Labor Day weekend will feature both a glimpse into the future with Saratoga’s two most prestigious races for juveniles, the Spinaway (G1) and the Hopeful (G1), plus what should be a key prep to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Woodward (G1), which has been extended to 10 furlongs this year and is expected to attract recent Suburban winner, Tacitus

And all this is really just the tip of the iceberg for what is an always anticipated meet at Saratoga. Excellent racing each day, it brings the best America has to offer to one magical place each summer.

Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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