Saratoga returns Thursday and Monmouth Park presents the Haskell Stakes (G1) on Saturday. It doesn’t get better than that for East Coast racing fans.
As usual, Saratoga offers a rich trove of stakes races: 76 in all, worth $21.5 million sprinkled over the 40-day meet that concludes on Labor Day. The biggest of the big are the $1.25 Travers (G1) for 3-year-olds on Aug. 28 and the $1 million Whitney (G1) for the handicap division on Aug. 7.
The fun begins Thursday at the Spa with a pair of Grade 3 sprint stakes: the Quick Call for 3-year-olds on the turf and the Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies.
Golden Pal headlines the Quick Call, his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2).
The colt trained by Wesley Ward has already compiled an impressive resume. In addition to the BC victory, he had a second-place finish at Ascot and a stakes win at Saratoga in the Skidmore.
“He’s doing really well. We’re excited about him,” Ward said. “I think he’ll be the best horse I ever had, but we’ll see if it comes out that way. He does things in the mornings that are just so impressive. He’s just an immensely talented horse and we’re looking forward to getting his season started here at Saratoga on opening day. Hopefully, that leads into the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the year.”
It could be a banner opening-day for Ward who also sends out Happy Soul in the Schuylerville
Happy Soul won her last two races at Belmont Park by a combined 23 ¼ lengths. She left no doubt in the Astoria Stakes, winning her stakes debut last time out while dominating from gate to wire.
The Saratoga weekend topper is the Diana (G1) on Saturday for fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the turf. Althiqa and Summer Romance look like a couple of tough customers for Godolphin. Of course, you can never look past Chad Brown, fresh from a sixth straight Belmont spring/summer training title. Brown won the last five editions of this race and could be represented by Lemista and Pocket Square.
Second-season for leading 3-year-olds starts with the Haskell
Haskell Day will have a different feel this year without trainer Bob Baffert represented in his usual midsummer plaything.
Baffert has won Monmouth’s premier event a stunning nine times, including last year with Authentic.
Baffert has more pressing issues on his mind this time around. He is waging war on several legal fronts, fighting to preserve Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby (G1) victory despite a post-race positive for a prohibited medication while also contesting bans against him issued by the New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs for repeated drug infractions.
Baffert told the Monmouth race office that Medina Spirit wasn’t ready for the cross-country trip to the Jersey Shore. Just as well. Baffert would have been the focus of intense media scrutiny, none of it helpful to the race or the sport.
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It should be a solid contest, even without Baffert. Likely starters include Mandaloun, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby who might yet be crowned king if Medina Spirit is disqualified; Derby third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie; Midnight Bourbon who was second in the Preakness; Basso; Pickin’ Time; Antigravity; and Following Sea.
The Haskell, traditionally run at the end of July, has been gradually creeping earlier and earlier on the calendar. It creates an unfortunate situation Saturday by falling on the same day as one of New Jersey’s other major stakes, the Meadowlands Pace.
Both events would benefit from a little breathing room.
Harvey Pack hits the finish line at 94
Talk about a life well-lived. Harvey Pack died last week, and racing lost one of its authentic legends.
Colleague Ed McNamara wrote an excellent commemorative piece for usracing.com and I heartily recommend a read if you missed it.
Pack was a longtime New York racing analyst on radio and television who blended insight with humor.
The only shame in an illustrious career was that he never became a truly national figure. Perhaps he was just too New York for the rest of the country. Or perhaps he was simply too irreverent for the stuffed shirts that ran racing and the television networks in his day.
That was their loss … and the New York racing fans’ gain.