Saratoga Weekly Round Up – Opening Weekend
"It is now post time...and party time."
Hokey words, but ones that an entire generation of Capital Region kids will forever identify with Saratoga Race Course, and ones that so sublimely and succinctly summarize the summer place to be.
Post time and party time. Come for the horses, come for the backyard festivities, or come just to watch the horsemen vent their frustration and the PBR drinkers get rowdy. Whatever.
Post, party, or other. It's no matter, because whichever you choose, well...
Such is why what started some 150 years ago as four days of racing has grown tenfold, becoming what many believe to be the greatest meet in the world. Such is also why over 20,000 waded into an unbearable heat to celebrate the course's re-opening last Friday.
And how poetic it was that - with the head index well over 100 - the day would come to be highlighted by racing's own special brand of heat. Dead heat.
After Sage Valley rallied to win the year's first Stakes race, the Grade 3 James Marvin, a back and forth stretch duel broke out between Bahnah and Brazen Persuasion in the featured Grade 3 Schuylerville. It was one of many tight finishes on the day, but this time a clear winner couldn't be found even on close inspection of the photo. Both were awarded the win, capping a brilliant opening day of racing.
Saturday's feature would bring no such drama. Instead, it was the staking of a claim that Saratoga patrons were treated to in the Coaching Club American Oaks when Princess of Sylmar roared past them all and breezed to an easy victory. In taking this second leg of the Triple Tiara, the reigning Kentucky Oaks winner made it known that she may well be the best of her class, and that she'll be back to prove it again in late August's Alabama Stakes - a Grade 1 for three-year-old fillies.
On Sunday, the heat finally broke, just as the fireworks were beginning. First it was Rapscallion, who managed to wire the field and score at the lengthy price of 15-1. But his was just an opening act. Three races later, Happy Fella escaped to the outside and out-necked the competition in deep stretch at 28-1. His $58.50 return was impressive, but it, too, was a mere prelude to what would come in the last, when the 69-1 Galiana bullied her way to the lead and edged out She's Stone Sis in an incredible stretch battle. The impossibly long-odded filly returned $141.50 on a $2 win bet and touched off countless fits of viciously angry obscenities from handicappers.
And while the semantic title of "day winner" could go to whatever "That-horse's-name-is-funny-I'll-bet-her!" gambler actually picked Galiana, I'll give it to trainer Michael Dilger, who notched a Graded Stakes victory in his very first Saratoga start on Sunday. A long-time assistant to the silver haired fox, Todd Pletcher, Dilger stepped out onto his own this year, and helped guide Wired Bryan to a win in the Grade 2 Sanford.
A quiet day on Monday was highlighted by the 31-1 triumph of Angel's South and what turned out to be the best race of the abridged opening week - the Evan Shipman Stakes. It was a frantic, four-wide finish with Readthebyline and Groomedforvictory trying to hold off the furious charges of Bigger is Bettor and Awesome Vision. In the end, Bigger is Bettor came through on the rail to score the win by half a length, and provide the icing on the cake that was the first four of forty days from Saratoga.
This week, the first full week of the Spa meet, will bring the Lake George and Curlin Stakes on Wednesday and Friday respectively, but the feature is undoubtedly Saturday's Jim Dandy - the traditional prep race for the Travers.
For live handicapping and betting advice, as well as real-time updates from the track, follow me on Twitter @Joe_1045.
And for more Saratoga coverage, head to NoTicketSports.com. Look for our weekend preview every Thursday and Friday, including "Best Bets" and "Sure Things" for the wannabe handicapper.