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150 Years of Racing History Lives On at Saratoga Race Course

By NYRA Press Office
Saratoga Race Course
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

A century and a half of racing history will come alive this summer when Saratoga Race Course opens its gates on Friday, July 19, for the 40-day meet that brings together the finest horses, top jockeys, and best trainers in the country in celebration of the track’s 150th anniversary.

Since its first thoroughbred meet in August, 1863, nearly all of racing’s legends have traversed the Spa’s famous oval, from Man o’War to Kelso, Beldame to Rachel Alexandra, Personal Ensign to Sky Beauty and Easy Goer to Curlin, all of whom will be recognized as part of the anniversary festivities.

With the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 24 as its centerpiece, the 2013 meet offers 53 listed and graded stakes races worth $14.95 million. Supporting the “Mid-Summer Derby” are 15 additional Grade 1 races, beginning with the $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on July 20 and concluding with the $300,000 Hopeful for juveniles on closing day, Monday, September 2.

“Saratoga’s unsurpassed stakes schedule, which this year is worth nearly $15 million; the 2-year-old program, which serves as a launching pad for many of our sport’s future stars, and its long-standing tradition of turf racing on our two courses make it unique among racetracks,” said P.J. Campo, NYRA’s vice-president and director of racing. “Last year, champions Wise Dan, Shanghai Bobby, Questing, Royal Delta and Trinniberg all raced here, as did Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice, who combined to win all three legs of this year’s Triple Crown. We’re proud of the quality of Saratoga racing, and we expect racing fans to respond enthusiastically to the product.”

The leading trainers on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit will make their annual trek north for the meet, including national leaders Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown – a native of nearby Mechanicville, N.Y. – Christophe Clement, David Jacobson and Linda Rice, as well as Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey, Nick Zito and Bill Mott, the latter of whom will try to continue the tradition of winning a race on his birthday, July 29.

Augmenting the powerful New York contingent is an array of the top trainers from across the country, including Tom Amoss, Wayne Catalano, Eddie Kenneally, Charles LoPresti, Michael Matz, Graham Motion, Kenny McPeek, Dale Romans, Al Stall, and Ian Wilkes. Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas and Jonathan Sheppard maintain strings at the Spa, with John Shireffs, newly relocated to New York, stabled there for the first time this year.

All will be vying for the H. Allen Jerkens training title, taken for the third straight time last year by Pletcher.

Accompanying McGaughey, Lukas and Pletcher to Saratoga will be the three winners of this year’s Triple Crown – Kentucky Derby hero Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow and Belmont victor Palace Malice, who could use the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 and the Travers as telling arguments for divisional supremacy.

Making Saratoga their summer home as well will be 2012’s Horse of the Year Wise Dan and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, who on August 3 will try to become the first horse to put together back-to-back victories in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney invitational Handicap since Discovery, who won it three straight times from 1934-36.

For 2-year-olds, Saratoga is indeed the summer place to be; Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice all ran at the Spa last summer. This summer will see the usual plethora of classy juvenile races including the traditional six-pack of graded stakes: theGrade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville (July 19), Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack (August 11) and Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway (September 1) for fillies along with the Grade 2, $200,00 Sanford (July 21), Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special (August 11) and aforementioned Hopeful, taken last year by eventual juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby.

Top-notch turf racing is traditional at the Spa, with the Grade 1, $600,000 Diana for fillies and mares on July 27 and the Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on July 27 capping the multitude of daily grass race offerings. Steeplechase racing as well gets a chance to shine, with the top jumpers in North America and abroad assembling for the Grade 1 A. P. Smithwick Memorial on August 1 and the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers’ Cup on August 22.

Competition for the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title is expected to be fierce, as the always-tough New York jockey colony looks to fill the shoes of the retired Ramon Dominguez, who won last year’s title with a record 68 winners. Among them are Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a five-time winner who is poised to surpass Jerry Bailey as the all-time leading jockey (1976-2013) at Saratoga; Javier Castellano, who has been runner-up the past three years; Derby-winning rider Joel Rosario; brothers Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Jose Ortiz, and Rosie Napravnik, who will rejoin the New York colony for the summer.