Cotton Blossom Gets Pletcher Started at Spa

Cotton Blossom Gets Pletcher Started at Spa
Photo: AP/NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Cotton Blossom joined the list of Schuylerville winners for trainer Todd Pletcher.
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(from Saratoga report)
Things haven't changed much at Saratoga Race Course, where the 138th season opened Wednesday. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez were back in the winner's circle after Cotton Blossom won the $111,300 Schuylerville (gr. III) for 2-year-old fillies before a crowd of 27,346.

For four straight seasons, Pletcher has been Saratoga's leading trainer and owns the track's single-season victory title. Three times in the last five years, Pletcher has won the six-furlong Schuylerville. The race wasn't run in 2005.

Dogwood Stable's Cotton Blossom assured that Pletcher and Velazquez would not be blanked at the Spa as she gamely held off 7-5 favorite Desire to Excel for a 1 3/4-length victory in 1:11.63 on the fast main track. She returned $18.60, $6.90 and $4.70 as an 8-1 underdog, a price that might be hard to get again on a Pletcher-trained horse again this meet.

Desire to Excel ($3.20, $2.50), ridden by Mike Smith, stumbled badly at the start, and that was all the edge that Velazquez needed, as he raced Cotton Blossom just off the early pace of :22.17 and :45.99, made a wide move on the turn and then drove her home under strong left-handed urging.

"Once Desire to Excel stumbled, we were in front of her," Velazquez said. "That worked out good for us. I was hoping we weren't moving too soon. I wanted to be wise and made sure we were saving ground by the three-eighths pole. After that, she responded when I asked her."

Smith, back at Saratoga after several years based in California, got a brave effort in defeat from Desire to Excel.

"She stumbled badly at the start, and I lost all chance," Smith said. "She would have won easy. It's tough to close today; you can't make up any ground outside.

"It's tough to tell (if she can stretch out later on) when a horse loses all its momentum at the start. She hung a little at the end, but I got to believe she will stretch out."

Cotton Blossom should have no problem stretching out. A daughter of Broken Vow  -For Dixie, by Dixieland Band, her older half-brother, Vicarage, ran earlier in the day – she is now undefeated in two starts. She will likely be pointed for the $250,000 Spinaway (gr. I) at seven furlongs on Sept. 3.

"I was a little worried about how the track was playing," Pletcher said. "We didn't want her to be too far away. We let her do her thing, and she ran a very professional race. She looked like a winner every step of the way. I always love to get that first win out of the way.

"You always fear a slump, and especially at Saratoga, you don't want to get off to a slow start. This is the one meet that everyone wants to do well at. We always try to show our best hand here. Saratoga plays to our program very well because of the number of two-year-old races. I would say the chances of running her back in the Spinaway are very good."

It was 7 1/4 lengths back to Chief Officer ($3.20) and Cornelio Velasquez, who set the early fractions. Expertise, Audacious Chloe, Angel Island, Becky's Flute and Frances G trailed, while Baroness Thatcher was scratched.

Jockey Edgar Prado got off to a big start winning three races, but the bigger story was the opening day on-track handle.

The meeting got off to a strong start with a record all-sources handle of $15,533,027, bettering the old mark of $14,941,864 set in 2002.

The crowd of 27,346 accounted for on-track handle of $3,789,795, which is a Saratoga opening day record for on-track handle on Saratoga races only. The previous mark of $3,723,441 was also set in 2002, when the on-track crowd was 32,913.

(Chart, Equibase)

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