SARATOGA SPRINGS — Once again, the Saratoga race meet will serve as the strainer in horse racing’s giant recipe. A lot of competitors will be seen during the 40 days of racing, but by the end of it on Labor Day, fans should have a clearer picture of which animals and humans are the best.
As is often the case, few fields, if any, have an unquestioned leader. The only one that seems to be a lock on paper is the training title. Two-time Saratoga training champion Chad Brown, a Mechanicville native, has about 250 horses in his care, and just seems to have more stock and quality than any other trainer can compete with. Brown, the three-time defending Eclipse Award-winning trainer, is coming off his fourth straight Belmont Park spring/summer title.
Brown set a Saratoga record last year with 46 wins.
He will have company for top honors, at least for a while, from multiple Eclipse Award-winner Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Linda Rice, Bill Mott, Jeremiah Englehart and others. Mark Casse, conditioner of Preakness winner War of Will and Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston, has said he plans to run more at Ellis Park in Kentucky this summer and less at Saratoga, though he will certainly come back with horses for the bigger races.
The jockey race could be interesting. Brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz have claimed the last four Saratoga riding titles, and they will certainly be favorites again, but should get challenges from Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, recent Belmont winner Jose Lezcano, Luis Saez, Joel Rosario and possibly Aqueduct spring and winter champion Manny Franco. This past Belmont meeting’s race came down to the final day, with five wins separating the top five finishers.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, now 47, seems to be cutting back his mounts this year, but is always to be respected when he chooses to ride.
Everybody’s favorite division, the 3-year-olds, has no clear leader, with three different Triple Crown-race winners (with Kentucky Derby winner Country House done for the year) and several others such as Dwyer winner Honor Code and Ohio Derby winner Owendale coming into form as the Grade II Jim Dandy (July 27) and Grade I, $1.25 million Travers (Aug. 24) approach.
The male turf division has a clear leader in Bricks and Mortar, but Brown is pointing him toward the Arlington Million. The older female division’s leader, Midnight Bisou is a possibility for the Personal Ensign on Travers Day. As for older males, Metropolitan Handicap runner-up McKinzie and Gold Cup winner Vino Rosso are on target for the Whitney Stakes on Aug. 3. Top-class sprinter World of Trouble may be seen in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt here on July 27. Rushing Fall, last year’s Grade II Lake Placid winner and winner of her last three Grade I’s, is entered in Saturday’s Grade I, $500,000 Diana.