Jockey John Velazquez remembers well his first summer in Saratoga Springs back in 1990. A mere 18-years-old at the time, Velazquez won just three races during the entire meet. It was a similar story in four subsequent Saratoga summers for this native of Carolina, Puerto Rico."I went through what all young riders go through," said Velazquez, who entered Belmont's Saturday card the runaway leader in the jockey standings with 69 wins. "It's a struggle, but you've got to keep working hard. Eventually, it pays off." Since then, Velazquez, 31, has developed into one of the nation's leading riders with 12 New York riding titles. Velazquez, who won his first and only Spa title back in 1998, can get off on the right foot in the opening day feature, the $150,000 Schuylerville (g. II). In the six-furlong Schuylerville Velazquez teams up with Hermione's Magic, an impressive maiden winner at Belmont Park in late June.Hermione's Magic is one of eight 2-year-old fillies entered in the 86th Schuylerville (post time is approximately 5:18 p.m. Eastern).
Hermione's Magic, one of two fillies that Belmont's leading trainer, Todd Pletcher, entered in the race, drew post 5. A daughter of Forest Wildcat, she won her debut on June 25th by six lengths as the 1-2 favorite. The Schuylerville will be her first start beyond five furlongs."She's extremely quick; she's 'go go go' all the time," said Velazquez, who won last year's Schuylerville with Freedom's Daughter. "Her debut was real strong. She was within herself."Pletcher's other starter, Ashado, looks similar to Hermione's Magic. Like her stablemate, she drew off to win her debut by open lengths, bounding under the finish line seven lengths clear of her closest pursuer on June 18. Ashado, however, did it over a sloppy track. She drew post 7 in the Schuylerville, which will be her first start at six furlongs. Jockey Edgar Prado, Saratoga's leading rider last summer, has picked up the mount on Ashado. Velazquez was aboard the daughter of Saint Ballado.
For the first time in 11 years, trainer Tony Dutrow will have stalls at a New York track. One of them will be occupied by Bikini Wiggle, who finished a well-beaten third as the heavy favorite in Belmont's Fashion in early June. Owned by Win & Place Stable, Bikini Wiggle won her career debut by nearly eight lengths in early April at Aqueduct, but clearly resented the muddy track she caught in the Fashion when up the track at 3-5. Unraced since, she has been working bullets for her return at Laurel Park in Maryland. "She's training fantastic," said Dutrow, who won the 2001 Schuylerville with Touch Love. "That's why I'm going to give her a crack at the Schuylerville. I think she's got an excuse in her last race; she disliked the surface. Her maiden win was really impressive and she's doing so good right now."Team Valor's Maple Syrple is undefeated in a pair of starts at Woodbine this summer for trainer Mark Casse. An Ontario-bred, Maple Syrple gets a major class test in the Schuylerville. "I know she's a nice horse, but it's time to find out if she's a good horse," said Casse, who has had success in the past with Woodbine-based horses that ship into the United States. "She's not really quick out of the gate and at this time of the year a lot of the 2-year-olds that win, win because they have brilliant speed. She breaks slowly from the gate, but once she gets into gear, she has a lot of run. I like the way she increased her margin in the last eighth of her races."Her regular rider, Patrick Husbands, will be in for the mount. Maple Syrple drew post 8. She is the co 122-pound high weight with fellow stakes winners Be Gentle and Feline Story.Thomas Van Meter's Be Gentle starts for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a five-time winner of the Schuylerville. Like the majority of the fillies in the race, Be Gentle has yet to taste defeat. A daughter of Tale of the Cat, Be Gentle ran twice at Churchill Downs this spring/summer, winning her maiden and the Debutante (gr. III). Jockey Cornelio Velasquez has the mount from the rail. Be Gentle figures involved from the start.Einar Robsham's Feline Story brought her record to a perfect two for two when winning Belmont's Astoria on June 29. Feline Story, who has won both career starts by a combined 15 ½ lengths, has gone gate to wire in both races. Her regular rider, Jorge Chavez, has the mount for trainer Stanley Hough. $150,000 Schuylerville (gr. II), 2-year-old fillies, 6 furlongs
PP, HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1. Be Gentle, D. Wayne Lukas, Cornelio Velasquez, 122
2. Bikini Wiggle, Tony Dutrow, Jerry Bailey, i18
3. Feline Story, Stanley Hough, Jorge Chavez, 122
4. Secret Romance, Dale Romans, Robby Albarado, 118
5. Hermione's Magic, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, i18
6. Goodies Galore, Steve Asmussen, Pat Day, 118
7. Ashado, Todd Pletcher, Edgar Prado, 118
8. Maple Syrple, Mark Casse, Patrick Husbands, 122