Despite seven graded stakes opportunities for juveniles to assume center stage over these next 40 days of racing at the Spa, it is the barrage of maiden races for 2-year-olds that more often than not capture the imagination, each presenting the prospect of racing’s next star being unveiled.
Last summer, despite the laughingly easy Hopeful victory by Boys At Toscanova, it was a scintillating, 14-length debut romp by a son of Indian Charlie on the Travers Day undercard that had fans buzzing.
Uncle Mo went on to add the Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to his year-end, Eclipse Award-winning resume, and is now being targeted for a potential return to the races in the King’s Bishop, ironically enough on the Travers Day undercard.
Of course, Uncle Mo was far from the only 2-year-old of quality substance that debuted locally last year. Nor was he the only instance of juvenile success enjoyed by Team Pletcher.
Anthony’s Cross (winner of the Robert Lewis), Buster’s Ready (Mother Goose), Justin Phillip (Woody Stephens), More Than Real (Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf), Silver Medallion (El Camino Real), Street Game (Hill Prince), To Honor and Serve (Remsen) and Winter Memories (Sands Point) are just some of the runners to begin their careers during last summer’s meet that have since gone on to become graded stakes winners.
Todd Pletcher ended a three-year drought without a Saratoga training title by saddling 36 winners at the 2010 meet, a tally buoyed by 18 wins from juveniles.
With first-time starters, Pletcher unveiled a remarkable 28 runners during the meet last summer, with 10 of those finding the winner’s circle (36 percent) at first asking.
Considering one out of every five races contested at the Spa is for juveniles (79 such events from the 395 total races run here last summer), and the fact Pletcher had representation in more than half of these, the trainer’s title will once again hinge on the success of Pletcher’s young guns.
For the most part, handicappers did a good job of knowing when to back Pletcher babies versus when to look elsewhere.
Pletcher-trained juveniles went to the post favored in 19 races, and rewarded their supporters on 12 such occasions (63 percent). By contrast, 2-year-old starters from the Pletcher barn that were not favored went just 6 for 35 (17 percent).
Besides Pletcher runners that didn’t attract the majority of wagering dollars, the other area where his 2-year-olds struggled was on the turf, where he went just 1 for 13 (Excited on Aug. 27 marking the lone victor).
With so many juveniles to run, Pletcher babies faced off with each other in the same race nine times. In six of these he saddled the eventual winner — and in fact completed the exacta in half of the six — and three times the longer priced runner proved victorious. The best example of this was the Grade I Spinaway, where Pletcher sent out favored Valiant Passion (2-1) and an entry of Sky Hosoya and Stopspendingmaria (5-2), but won the race with R Heat Lightning at a shade over 4-1.
For all of the uncertainty and lack of past performances to base selections, the betting public actually did a remarkable job here last summer in the juvenile races, as favorites won at a stout 37 percent clip, up slightly from the overall meet average of 33 percent.
Of the 79 juvenile races held last year, 24 winners returned under $6 to win, while just 11 lit up the tote board north of $20. The longest priced juvenile winner of the meet was Marvel Gaye, who paid $69 for the connections of Dallas Stewart and Kent Desormeaux.
Other barns to find substantial Saratoga juvenile success last summer included Chad Brown (5 for 17) and Richard Dutrow Jr. (4 for 10).
Steve Asmussen is another with a deep bench of 2-year-olds. Last summer, he sent out freshmen winners Wine Police, Abide, Kantharos and Astrology, and after going an abysmal 1 for 23 with juveniles at the recently concluded Churchill Downs spring meet, should have bountiful representation in these eagerly awaited Saratoga maiden races with runners that have gained valuable experience.
Kyle Brownell is The Post-Star’s horse racing handicapper.