Saratoga’s summer meet is considered the best of the year from a horseplayers standpoint. For the first time in years, Virginia has four different Off Track Betting Centers where fans can watch and wager the action. Breakers Sports Grill is in Henrico, Ponies & Pints is in downtown Richmond, Buckets Bar & Grill is in Chesapeake and The Windmill OTB Sports Grill is located just outside of Martinsville. Virginia residents can also bet on line at TVG.com, XpressBet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com.
Live Thoroughbred racing will return to historic Saratoga Race Course on Friday, July 20 for its premier 40-day summer meet. The 2018 meet includes 69 stakes worth a record $18.85 million in purses, and will run through Labor Day, Monday, September 3. After opening weekend, racing will be conducted six days a week, Wednesdays through Mondays.
Opening weekend features several graded stakes races showcasing some of the best fillies and mares in the country. The meet will get underway on Friday, July 20 with gates opening at 11 a.m. and first post time at 1 p.m. The Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 3, $150,000 Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies headline the day.
On Saturday, the focal point is the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. The Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford, a six-furlong race for 2-year-olds, will also be run on Saturday. Capping the star-studded weekend, Sunday’s Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies is expected to feature a rematch between Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and Acorn winner Monomoy Girl and the ever-impressive Midnight Bisou, third in the Oaks and recent six-length winner of the Grade 2 Mother Goose.
The 91st running of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney highlights an amazing day of racing on Saturday, August 4. A Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Classic this fall, the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up regularly attracts the best older horses in the country. This year’s field is likely to include multiple Grade 1 winner and reigning New York-bred Horse of the Year Mind Your Biscuits. The day also features the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test for 3-year-old fillies, as well as three other stakes.
Joining the Mid-Summer Derby are four Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races: the Grade 1, $1 million Sword Dancer for 3-year-olds and up on the turf at 1 ½ miles offering an all-fees-paid berth into the Longines Turf; the Grade 1, $700,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles for a spot in the Longines Distaff; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina over seven furlongs for fillies and mares for the Filly & Mare Sprint; and the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego Stakes at seven furlongs for an entry into the Dirt Mile.
The day also features the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens, a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, and the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa for fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
In 2017, Todd Pletcher regained his place at the top of the trainer standings to earn his 13th H. Allen Jerkens training title. Pletcher’s 40 victories tied the win record set the year before by Mechanicville, N.Y. native Chad Brown, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer who is coming off his third straight training title for the Belmont spring/summer meet.
The race for top jockey will likely come down to a renewed bout of sibling rivalry, with 2017 Angel Cordero, Jr. winner Jose Ortiz looking to defend his first Saratoga riding championship against his older brother, 2015 Saratoga leader Irad Ortiz, Jr. Up-and-coming jockey Manny Franco, who picked up his first riding title for the 2018 Aqueduct winter meet, will likely try to improve on his fourth-place finish in last year’s standings. Hall of Famers John Velazquez and Javier Castellano are also expected to vie for contention.
Saratoga will also play host to a pair of live-money handicapping contests this summer with the Saratoga Challenge on August 10 and the Fourstardave Challenge August 11. In addition to cash prizes, horseplayers will compete for seats to the 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge and the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC). For more information, please visit NYRA.com/challenge.
The 2018 meet will also mark the return of NYRA’s flagship TV show “Saratoga Live,” presented by Claiborne Farm. It will be available in 75 million households nationally through FS2 and regionally through MSG+, FOX Sports Prime Ticket, FOX Sports San Diego, and the Altitude Sports Network.
Beginning on July 21, “Saratoga Live” will be broadcast nearly every day of the meet from 4 to 6:30 p.m. and features a broadcast team that includes host Greg Wolf, handicapper Andy Serling, analyst Paul Lo Duca, paddock analyst Maggie Wolfendale, trainer Tom Amoss, and analyst Gabby Gaudet.
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