SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the weeks and days leading up to this year’s meet, there were a few concerns that despite the switch to a five-day race week, Saratoga might have trouble filling races. You’ve heard it before.
This year’s argument was that Monmouth Park is offering bigger purses, as is Ellis Park in Kentucky, and that Saratoga might be the unlucky one as more trainers opt to stay home or closer to home in New Jersey and Kentucky, even though the purses aren’t as high.
That didn’t take California into account and it didn’t acknowledge one of horse racing’s truths: when champagne is offered, don’t settle for house white.
On Thursday, two California-based horses captured both stakes races, as Comical looked very professional in winning the Grade III, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, and Listing won the Grade III, $100,000 Quick Call by a half-length.
Saratoga has an effect on horse people, and the more those people understand sports, the more reverent their tone. Erik Johnson, a defenseman with the Colorado Avalanche and one of the owners of Comical, put the filly’s win into perspective.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win at Saratoga, and we’re blessed,” Johnson said. “To get a win here feels absolutely amazing. It’s like winning at Lambeau (Field) if you’re a football player. Hopefully I can win the Stanley Cup later next year and get a daily double.
“I don’t take for granted how difficult it is,” he added.
Johnson said the Grade I Del Mar Debutante is the filly’s likely next race.
A ripe Apple
For a Grade III at a mile on the turf, Friday’s Forbidden Apple is an enticing betting race.
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The most interesting story is Voodoo Song’s attempt to win a graded stake at Saratoga for the third consecutive year. The 5-year-old horse, who is 5 for 6 at the Spa, won the Grade III Saranac in 2017 and the Grade I Fourstardave in 2018. This will be his first race this year.
Ironically, Voodoo Song won last year’s Forbidden Apple when it was held at Belmont Park.
Winning a graded stake here three straight years is not an easy accomplishment. While Fourstardave famously won a race at Saratoga for eight straight years, he only won a graded stakes two years in a row. Kelso won the Whitney three times, but in 1961, 1963 and 1965.
Fellow 5-year-old Made You Look, the 2016 With Anticipation winner here, also makes his 2019 debut in the race. Qurbaan will run in his fifth straight graded stakes, and has placed in three of them, but is looking for a win coming off an eighth in the Grade I Manhattan. Also, Hembree is coming off a solid second in the Grade III Poker.
Quite a day
Gary Gullo took the early lead in the trainers’ race with two wins. His Armament ($11.40) won the first race, and Big Q ($30) took the fifth.
Gullo, 59, tied for 24th at the recently concluded Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
Joel Rosario has the jockeys’ lead with three wins.
A day for geldings
Geldings won four of the six races they were eligible for Thursday.