Saratoga Race Course is set to open its 40-day summer meet July 22 and will feature 69 stakes worth a record $18.725 million, anchored by the $1.25 million Whitney (gr. I) Aug. 6 and the $1.25 million Travers (gr. I) Aug. 27, during the 40-day stand.
Opening day starts with a pair of graded stakes: the grade III, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and the grade III, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillie. First post time is 1 p.m. EDT Friday, with gates opening at 11 a.m.
Saturday highlights include the grade III, $150,000 Sanford for juveniles and the first grade I of the meet, the $500,000 Diana for turf fillies and mares, while Sunday marks the appearance of reigning champion 2-year-old filly Songbird in the grade I, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
"We are very fortunate to have Songbird running on opening weekend," said Martin Panza, NYRA's senior vice president of racing operations. "The following weekend is the (grade II, $600,000) Jim Dandy, in which we are likely to see the Belmont (gr. I) winner (Creator) and the Preakness (gr. I) winner, Exaggerator . Looking beyond that, nearly every weekend there will be a champion or a star running, and that's what Saratoga is all about."
Vying for the H. Allen Jerkens training title once again will be Todd Pletcher, who has won six straight and 12 total titles, and Mechanicville, N.Y. native Chad Brown, runner-up each year since 2011. Brown, the leading trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit in 2015, appears poised to turn the tables on his seven-time Eclipse Award winning rival, having just won his first Belmont spring/summer training title with 38 winners to Pletcher's 25.
New faces among trainers include Tom Amoss, who will also be serving as a racing analyst on Saratoga Live, Larry Rivelli from Arlington Park and A.C. Avila from California.
Irad Ortiz Jr. will be defending his first Angel Cordero Jr. riding championship against his younger brother, Jose, leading jockey at the just-concluded Belmont Park spring/summer meet, and three-time Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, who last year rode Keen Ice to upset Triple Crown champion American Pharoah and win a record fifth Travers.
New to the jockey colony this year is Florent Geroux,.
The 1 1/8-mile Whitney will pair with the grade I, $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies, with the grade III, $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Waya for turf fillies and mares going 1 1/2 miles.
Joining the Travers for 3-year-olds Aug. 27 are five other grade I stakes: the $1 million Longines Sword Dancer Invitational at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, the $500,000 Ballerina for filly and mare sprinters, the $700,000 Priority One Jets Forego at seven furlongs, the $750,000 Ketel One King's Bishop, and the $750,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles. Rounding out the card is the grade II, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa for turf fillies and mares.
Last year, the newly enhanced Travers Day card saw the addition of the Personal Ensign and the Forego, which received purse hikes along with that of the Sword Dancer. With the crowd capped at 50,000, more than $51 million was wagered on the day. In all, the meet broke records in both handle ($656 million) and paid attendance (1,065,625).
"We just came off a year in which we crushed the old record," said Panza. "We are the only race meet in the country running six days a week, which is not an easy thing to do with the foal crop hovering around 20,000 a year. The weather will be a factor, as it always is at Saratoga. The day-to-day racing should be good, and the stars will be out on the weekends."
After opening weekend July 22-25, racing will be conducted Wednesdays through Mondays, concluding on Labor Day, Sept. 5.