Sunday, July 21, 2024

Breaking down Saratoga meet which begins today

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It’s time! For the call to the post and “riders up, please.”

For the railbirds chirping for their number as they turn for home.

For the photo finishes. For dead heats and dead rails.

The Saratoga meet kicks off on Thursday. egory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

For early-morning thunder on the Oklahoma training track.

For hats, hats and more hats.

For the chalk players, bridge jumpers and jumper races.

For the gate scratches that have you sprinting for the betting window. For the blinking “INQUIRY” after you’ve counted your winnings.

Yes, it’s time for Saratoga!

The 40-day Saratoga meet starts Thursday. Racing will be held five days a week, Wednesdays thru Sundays, until Labor Day, Sept. 2.

A total of 71 stake races will be run at the nation’s premier meet with purses topping $20 million.

Dates to remember: the Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20, the Jim Dandy on July 27, the Whitney on Aug, 3, the Alabama on Aug, 17, the Travers on Aug. 24 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 1.

Dornoch edged out Mindframe to win the Belmont in June, which was held at Saratoga Race Course. Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Promotion days: Tumbler on July 19, baseball jersey on Aug. 2, trucker hat on Aug. 16 and the Saratoga windbreaker on Sept. 1.

Horses: The Triple Crown champs — Derby winner Mystik Dan, Preakness winner Seize the Gray and my personal favorite, Dornoch, who won the first ever Belmont Stakes at Saratoga — are all pointed to the Travers.

Sierra Leone and Muth may also be entered.

Thorpedo Anna, arguably better than them all, may race in both the CCAO and four weeks later in the Alabama.

And heavyweight champ National Treasure, arguably the best horse on the planet, is scheduled to race in the Whitney.

Trainers: Last year Chad Brown and Linda Rice finished in a 35-win dead-heat atop the standings.

Brown and Rice ran 1-2 at the Belmont at the Big A meet.

Trainer Chad Brown AP

Chris Clement and Rick Dutrow were a distant third and fourth. Brad “make them count” Cox had the highest win percentage (seven winners from 15 starts, 47 percent).

And no, I didn’t forget Steve Asmussen.

I’m going with Todd Pletcher, who last won the title in 2020.

Jockeys: Irad Ortiz Jr. has won two straight titles and a three-peat seems inevitable.

But hold on, brother.

Little bro Jose Ortiz and Tyler Gaffalione move to Saratoga after finishing in a tie for top rider at Churchill Downs.

Manny Franco, Flavien Prat and Joel Roasio will win their fair share.

Hall of Famer John “Johnny V” Velazquez, who picks his spots wisely, will have his picture taken in the winner’s circle.

Dylan Davis and his sister Katie will make long-shot players happy.

An upset at the top? How about Luis Saez?

The four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival held at the Spa was a huge success.

Nevertheless, last summer the meet suffered.

Between heavy rainfall amounts, which knocked races off the turf, to equine deaths (12, including the gut-wrenching Maple Leaf Mel in front of a national TV audience), the betting handle was down 9 percent from 2022.

“Last year was challenging, unfortunate, but we move forward,” said David O’Rourke, NYRA CEO and president. “The industry is in the best place it’s ever been in terms of safety. We’re looking forward to having a great, safe meet.”

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