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Jul 22, 2005

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


            Well the wait is over the highlight of the New York racing season is

up on, the opening of the Saratoga meeting. The 36-day meeting runs from opening

 day July 27th, 2005 through Labor Day, September 5th, 2005. Post time is 1 p.m.

each day and there is no racing on Tuesdays. As always the quality of racing at

 Saratoga is high, with 45 stakes races, 30 of which are graded and 13 of which are

Grade I races. The total stakes purses will exceed $10 million.

            The opening day stakes race is the Adirondack stakes for filly two year

olds, with a purse of $150,000, replacing the traditional Schuylerville stakes. On day

 two the Saratoga Special will replace the Sanford stakes. The first Grade I doesn’t

take long to get underway when the Grade I Diana for fillies and mares on the turf

is run on July 30th. On that same day the Grade II Jim Dandy stakes, a prep race for the Travers Stakes on August 27th, will also be run. The Grade I’s don’t stop as the very next

 day, July 31st Saratoga will host the Grade I Go For Wand Handicap. A race for fillies

 and mares, three years old and upward and will be run at a distance of 1 and 1/8th

miles. That race is expected to see ASHADO, last year’s three year old champion,

will be the one to beat if she makes the post. You can expect to see many champions

 during the Saratoga meeting and the highlight of the meeting, the $1 million

Travers Stakes, the Grade I “Mid-Summer Derby” is for three year olds and will be

 run at a distance of 1 and ¼ miles. The Preakness and Belmont hero AFLEET ALEX

 is expected for the race and may help lead him to not only champion three year

old but put him in position to win Horse of the Year especially with all the injuries

 to the Handicap division.

            The Whitney and Alabama are two significant Grade I races that will also

be run during the meeting. The Whitney will be run on August 6th, for three year

old and up, will be run at 1 and 1/8th miles with a purse of $750,000 and will see

 some of the top horses from the handicap division. SAINT LIAM is one horse

that might show up and he can try and cement his lead as the frontrunner for

Horse of the Year. The Grade I Alabama, which is the filly counterpart of the Travers

for three year olds fillies to be run at the same 1 and ¼ mile distance with a purse

 of $750,000. The three year old filly division that doesn’t have a solid leader right

now may be found in the Alabama. This is the type of racing that you will see

almost daily at Saratoga.

            Let’s take a look at the jockeys and trainers from last year’s meeting and

how it shapes up for 2005. Last year’s leading jockey, John Velazquez who scored

with 65 out of his 227 mounts for a winning percentage of 28.6% is one of the

 favorites coming in to the meet but a less than stellar Belmont meeting with less

than half the amount wins as leading rider Edgar Prado he will have to step it up.

 His main ally will be trainer Todd Pletcher who won the training title last year by

20 wins will be a big help in getting him the title if he can have a similar meeting.

 Prado who finished second last year and is currently dominating the Belmont meeting

 will be Velazquez’s main rival. Others who must be respected going into the meeting

are Jerry Bailey, Saratoga’s winningest rider with 661 is always a danger but he

doesn’t ride enough horses anymore and picks and chooses his spots. Javier Castellano

 and up and coming rider finished tied for third with Bailey last year and has been

riding in good form at Belmont meeting. Whoever wins the meeting this year will

earn it as Eibar Coa, (currently second at the Belmont meeting), Ramon Dominguez

 and Rafael Bejarano will be moving their tack to Saratoga which can make the

meeting only that more competitive.

            On the trainers side, we spoke about Todd Pletcher earlier who has to be

 odds-on to repeat as leading trainer. Some trainers to look for when looking for

 value are H. Graham Motion, who scored with five out of his 17 starters for a

winning percentage of 29.4% and an in the money percentage of 47.1%.James Jerkens

 is coming off a solid Belmont meeting and he also did well with limited starters

last year at Saratoga and must be respected. His father Allen Jerkens “the giant killer”

didn’t get that name for nothing and is another to look at when playing trainers.

Thomas Bush, who has been having a very good last few years won with four out

 of his nine starters for a winning percentage of 44.4% and is another that must be

respected at the Spa, especially at a price. One trainer that might be one to follow

 is Kiaran Mclaughlin, who had a great meeting two years back, a reasonable

meeting last year and is going through a very tough Belmont meeting, trains a lot

 of his horses up here and can turn it around in a big way that can produce some

 large mutuels. Good Luck!



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