40 days at the Spa, it just does not get any better for horseplayers.
The 144th summer meeting at Saratoga gets underway on Friday afternoon, and the top jockeys, trainers, owners, and horses in the industry will get together to battle over nearly $1 million in daily purses.
$13 million of the purse money will be distributed in the 54 stakes that are scheduled during the 40-day meeting, which runs until Labor Day, Sept. 3.
With the steady hum of the slot machines at the Resorts World New York at Aqueduct generating huge profits, we are going to see the daily purses rise from $670,000 last year to $930,000, a nearly 40% increase.
Trainer Todd Pletcher set an all-time record with 38 winners from 149 starters (26%) and his runners amassed more than $3 million in purse money.
The barn had a relatively quiet meeting at Belmont Park, winning 14 races from just 67 starters, putting him in a tie for sixth in the trainer standings, but the barn looks locked and loaded for the Spa.
Pletcher has runners entered in seven races on Friday’s opening day card.
Other trainers that had a strong meeting at the Spa last summer include Chad Brown (22 for 75, 29%), Steve Asmussen (17 for 51, 33%), Mike Hushion (9 for 28, 32%) and Tony Dutrow (6 for 17, 35%).
Rick Dutrow is having a strong 2012 and is coming off an outstanding Belmont Park meeting where he won with 27 of 107 starters (25%) to win the trainer’s title.
Last year at the Spa Tricky Rick went 6 for 34 (18%), which was good for a tie for 11th in the trainer’s standings.
There will be a new top jock this summer as last year’s leading rider John Velazquez is still a week or two away from getting back in the saddle in the afternoons.
Velazquez injured his collarbone in a spill at Churchill Downs on June 16.
He is back up working horses in the morning, and could return as early as July 28, but missing a minimum of even seven racing days will make it really tough for him to repeat.
Javier Castellano was second in the jockey standings last year with 52 winners, followed by Ramon Dominguez with 47 winners. Next in line was Julian Leparoux with 29 winners.
Southern California veteran Joel Rosario figures to have a major impact in the jockey standings this summer.
Rosario, the leading rider at Santa Anita has been in New York for about a month, picking up 5 wins from 51 starters at the Belmont Park meeting.
The 2012 jockey colony will be one of the best ever assembled in New York. Eight of the current top 10 jockeys in money earned will be at the Spa this summer, the lone exceptions Southern California based Joe Talamo and Rafael Bejarano.
Friday’s opening day card features a pair of graded stakes, the $100,000 James Marvin (G3) for three-year-olds and upward going seven furlongs, and the $150,000 Schuylerville (G3) for two-year-old fillies.
The first Grade 1 of the meeting is coming up on Saturday when three-year-old fillies will line up in the nine furlong $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), which was won last year by the Kiaran McLaughlin trained It’s Tricky.
Many of the top stakes will be broadcast live on NBC and the NBC Sports Network’s “Summer at Saratoga” which debuts this year on Aug. 11.
NBC will have a two hour broadcast on Travers Day on Aug. 25. The network will show four graded stakes that day including the marquee event of the meeting, the $1 million Travers Stakes (G1).
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Let’s head out to Saratoga for the Friday’s featured race of the day:
Saratoga Race 9 The Schuylerville (G3) Post time 5:30 ET
5 Fully Living 4-1
4 Can’t Explain 5-1
2 Baby J 5-2
1 Sweet Shirley Mae 7-2
Fully Living showed good early speed from the inside getting into an early speed duel, fell back as she came into the stretch and then battled back taking over just inside the final furlong and prevailed by a half-length in a good looking effort as the betting favorite in a field of five. The runner up in the race is our second choice Can’t Explain, who came out of that race to graduate in her next outing on June 20 for the Todd Pletcher barn. Our top pick was a $425,000 Keeneland purchase by Unbridled’s Song, about double the rate for the sire. The mare Half A.P. (Pulpit) finished third in her lone start and this is her first foal to race. Five of these she faces here went gate to wire in their maiden scores and this gal may be a bit more battled tested as she had to do some work to pick up her diploma.
Can’t Explain came back off her runner up finish to our top pick was smart looking maiden win second out, taking the field gate to wire as the 3-5 chalk. Pletcher has won this race four times including last summer with Georgie’s Angel. The $150,000 purchase is by Not for Love out of A.P. Indy mare that has dropped four other foals to race including stakes winner Together Indy ($229K). Pletcher had a strong summer here last year setting an all-time record with 38 winners from his 149 starters. Going back five years the barn has won 50 juvenile races, hitting at a 19% clip overall.
Baby J comes into the race owning the top last out speed fig, earned in a gate to wire score in her debut over the main track at Belmont Park on June 28 for the Michelle Nihei barn. The filly took advantage of a racing strip that day that was playing to inside speed. She was purchased privately after that race by Paul Pompa and landed in the Rick Dutrow barn that is 28% winners (with a +ROI) with newcomers to the barn She has a couple of sibs that are winners and they are both pretty good, stakes placed Que Posse (5 for 12, $193K) and stakes winner Laureate Conductor ($297K). Dutrow is coming off a strong Belmont Park meeting where he was the leading trainer with 27 winners from 107 starters. The main knock is going to be the light price.
WIN: Fully Living to win at 3-1 or better.
EXACTA: 4,5 / 1,2,4,5
TRIFECTA: 4,5 / 1,2,4,5 / 1,2,4,5,7