There is no better time to be a horseplayer than the dog days of summer, as Saratoga and Del Mar both kicked off their summer meetings this week, with the top horses, trainers and jockeys converging at “The Spa” and “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”
The highlight of Sunday's card at Saratoga is the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks while the marquee race at Del Mar will be the Grade 1, $300,000 Eddie Read. Both races will be nationally televised as part of the Jockey Club Tour on Fox. The two-hour telecast kicks off at 5:30 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
Saratoga opened for its 40-day meeting on Friday, and 26,612 fans showed up to wager and take in the sights. The highlight of the day was the appearance of international riding star Frankie Dettori, who arrived at the track late without any of his equipment, which was still at the airport.
Dettori borrowed riding pants, goggles and a whip from his fellow riders and went out to win two races and place second with his other mount. He will be riding at the Spa until Monday.
"When I rode, I thought I was in Disney World, there were so many people," said Dettori, via John Durso, Jr of the NYRA. "I thought maybe I got the wrong venue. It's nice to see people at the races. It's very warm - the people make the atmosphere. There's a lot of warmth here."
"I am only here until Monday," he added, "but I may come back."
Del Mar opened on Thursday for its 75th anniversary season, and 42,021 fans packed the racetrack for the first of 36 days of top-class racing at the meeting.
The opening day feature was the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, which was won by Enterprising in an exciting photo finish. The race had some additional drama as the steel support bar that connects the starting gate to the tractor snapped, and the gate crew had less than two minutes to push the gate off the turf course manually before the horses came back around.
Sunday’s stakes action on Fox Sports 1 is not Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races, but both figure to produce contenders for the year-end championships on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.
The CCA Oaks will likely produce starters for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff while the Eddie Read runners could end up in either the Breeders’ Cup Turf or Mile.
Top Contenders for the Coaching Club American Oaks
Stopchargingmaria returns off a two-month break after winning the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan last out at Pimlico at today's 1 1/8 mile distance. The filly stalked the early pace, came with a four-wide bid and finished gamely to win by a neck.
The third-place finisher Fortune Pearl came back to win the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks in her next outing on July 5, and the fourth-place finisher Joint Return won the Our Mims Stakes on June 4 and then was second in the Delaware Oaks.
The filly is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the CCA Oaks five times, including last year with Princess of Sylmar. She ran well over the Spa main track last year, breaking her maiden in her debut and then running a good second in the Grade 1 Spinaway in her first start against winners.
While she came from off the pace last out, she has shown some good tactical speed in previous starts, and jockey Javier Castellano may use it as there is not much early speed signed up to go here. She looks primed to win her first Grade 1, but her price is going to be on the light side.
Miss Besilu was beaten by double-digit lengths in both of her starts against graded stakes company, but those were on turf and poly, and this is just her third career start on conventional dirt. Last out at Belmont Park, she tracked the early pace, came with a five-wide run and finished up well for the runner-up spot.
The filly has popped a couple of bullet works over the Spa training track. She may have more upside than most of these and is worth tossing in the mix here if she goes off near her 6-1 morning-line odds.
Unbridled Forever was outrun early and made a good late rally to finish third in the one-turn mile Acorn (Grade 1) last out at Belmont Park, catching a racing strip that was kind to off-the-pace types.
In her two previous starts, she ran third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks—no match for the brilliant Untapable, who is skipping this race and will take on the boys in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational next week. The extra ground should suit this filly, and she figures to be closer to the pace in this spot.
Top Contenders for the Eddie Read
Summer Front stalked the early pace while saving ground and finished up well in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile while unable to get to the loose on the lead winner. Obviously, he is one of the best turf milers in training right now. Now the five-year-old stretches back out to nine furlongs for the Christophe Clement barn as he makes his third start of his current form cycle.
His last start at today's distance came in the Grade 3 Ft. Marc two back at Belmont Park over ground labeled as good, where he came with a good late rally to finish second. Jockey Joe Bravo makes his first appearance at Del Mar since 1998, and the five-year-old looks primed for his first Grade 1 victory.
Tom's Tribute landed in a dead heat for third in the Shoemaker Mile and a half-length behind Summer Front for the place spot. The colt was off a beat slow, having to steady when crowded in traffic, and finished up well late.
The colt has done his best work at one mile. This will be his first try at 1 1/8 miles, but the way he has finished in his last two starts indicates he should be able to handle the extra ground. He reunited with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who was aboard two back in his victory in the Thunder Road Stakes at Santa Anita.
Statistics and morning-line odds courtesy of America’s Best Racing.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport