The Saratoga Race Course opened its gates Friday for the 146th time in what was a thrilling day of action with two stakes races to hint that the 40-day meet is set to craft another memorable summer for the sport in New York.
With an unprecedented $17.45 million in stakes purses, per The Associated Press (via The Boston Globe), the sport has once again seized the eyes of the globe in a way that no other can.
Friday was of particular interest, as two of the 10 races were of the stakes variety—the $150,000 Schuylerville for two-year-old fillies and the $100,000 Sir Cat for three-year-olds.
While major outlets like Fox Sports 1 don't begin television coverage until July 20, per NYRA.com's Jon Forbes, the kickoff event was littered with some of the sport's biggest names. From elite jockeys to the careful preparation from legendary trainers, New York was a star-studded meet for the best in the world.
Below is a look at the most prominent results.
Fashion Alert Races to Triumph at Schuylerville Stakes
For a brief moment, it appeared the overwhelming favorite in a five-horse face was set to be the victim of an unprecedented upset.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had the irons, though, and was having none of that, surviving an early bump with Evrybdymstgetstonz to chase down Take Charge Brandi before securing first place.
The payouts and top order were then about as expected:
|Fashion Alert||John R. Velazquez||$2.40||$2.10||$2.10|
|Take Charge Brandi||Corey J. Lanerie||$3.40||$2.20|
|Tulira's Star||Joe Bravo||$2.40|
Mike MacAdam of The Daily Gazette captured the special moment for Velazquez:
Success! My chalky pick, Fashion Alert, wins the Schuylerville. Not Success! My lousy photo finger only gets her nose pic.twitter.com/T3H9fseqtw— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) July 18, 2014
After Fashion Alert's winning time of 1:11.78 over six furlongs, Velazquez broke down in great detail how her resiliency won the day, according to Jenny Kellner of NYRA.com:
We wish we had a better break and got a better position at the first part. She kind of recuperated right away and got a good position going to the half-mile pole. From then on, I wanted to give her a little breather and see how she did, and down the lane she started leaning into the horse on the inside. Finally, she started getting away from her the last sixteenth of a mile. She didn't break as bad as last time out, but today was a little bit bad. So, I knew she was going to be quick enough to be there anyway.
As a result, Fashion Alert has made owners George Bolton and Barry Hall rather rich, as her 2-for-2 mark in stakes events—the other win coming in the Astoria on June 14—has nearly doubled what they purchased her for at auction.
It wasn't all bad for the rest of the field. Many in attendance seemed to concur that Take Charge Brandi put on an excellent show she can build on for future important events, as Matt Bernier of Daily Racing Form illustrates:
Couldn't have asked for a better run from Take Charge Brandi, thought she ran huge. Think she's got a big future ahead of her.— Matt Bernier (@bernier_matt) July 18, 2014
Tulira's Star even put on a strong show, overcoming Evrybdymstgetstonz late in the proceedings.
All things considered, the No. 3 race Friday and first stakes event of the season can be chalked up as a success, especially for those hardcore and causal bettors alike who play it safe with the favorites. That approach proved smart in the other stakes event, too.
Tourist and Joel Rosario Cruise in Sir Cat Stakes
Fans know Joel Rosario—he's "that guy."
That guy, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner atop Orb. That guy, who aboard Tonalist ruined California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown at the Preakness Stakes.
Yes, that guy, who entered as the leader at Belmont Park in terms of coin, per his agent Ronald T. Anderson:
Congrats to Joel Rosario for leading money standings again at Belmont spring meet. pic.twitter.com/XWW08Q8bQ8— Ronald T Anderson (@ronaldt54) July 14, 2014
He was aboard Tourist Friday in the Sir Cat Stakes, an 8-5 favorite, per NYRA's morning lines.
The duo had little issue storming past the eight-horse field out of the fifth gate in a gate-to-wire affair:
|Ring Weekend||John R. Velazquez||$4.60||$3.10|
|Storming Inti||Javier Castellano||$2.50|
Admittedly, the field was somewhat neutered by race time, with the recognizable Pablo Del Monte getting scratched beforehand. But fans will also recognize the name Ring Weekend, who was also coincidentally piloted by Velazquez.
As DRF's Mike Watchmaker notes, Ring Weekend appears to have also carved out a new niche after the strong showing:
All this talk about Tourist finding a home on turf after Sir Cat win. Runner up Ring Weekend might want to stay on turf, too. He ran well— Mike Watchmaker (@DRFWatchmaker) July 18, 2014
But as hinted, each competitor in the field allowed Tourist to get out of the gates the quickest, which immediately spelled doom for any hopes of a huge upset. Handicapper Andy Serling put it best:
Tourist was allowed to set a moderate pace....and he's far too good a horse to lose under those circumstances. Solid 2nd for Ring Weekend.— Andy Serling (@andyserling) July 18, 2014
Tourist is now 3-for-3 since switching to turf, a scary proposition for the rest of the field.
Paired with the other stakes event of the day, the Sir Cat was but a strong taste of what fans can expect over the course of the next two months, with the only off day for folks to catch their breath being each Tuesday in that span.
With plenty of high-profile names set to partake in the action, extensive media coverage and plenty of a $17 million pie still on the table, the best time of the year has arrived for racing enthusiasts.