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Frosted, Songbird Highlight Festive 148th Saratoga Meet

Frosted, Songbird Highlight Festive 148th Saratoga Meet by Reinier Macatangay: Beginning on July 22, the racing world will once again focus on Saratoga Springs, N.Y. for the 148th meet at Saratoga Race Course, and indications point towards another successful and magical few months.

Saratoga

Beginning on July 22, the racing world will once again focus on Saratoga Springs, N.Y. for the 148th meet at Saratoga Race Course, and indications point towards another successful and magical few months.

Quite often, fans compare the traditional meet at Saratoga Race Course to opening presents as a kid on Christmas morning. Although certain cards are weaker than others, overall the meet is a plethora of strong races for handicappers to sort through, which means better odds on quality horses.

“ … the competitive quality of the races is unmatched in North America,” once said Toby Cobitz, a respected handicapper and bloodstock agent, for Travel + Leisure.

Plus, the in-person Saratoga experience is nice too.

Unlike Aqueduct and Belmont, the experience is more personal. For instance, regular people can park next to the Oklahoma Training Track early in the morning, and right off the bat observe famous horses galloping up close.

Oh sure, people can wake up early and watch horses train at most racetracks around the country, but the parking lot at this one is literally right next to the rail. Imagine parking on grass near the barns, stepping out of the car, and boom, Stradivari and Destin are in the midst of a four-furlong spin for Todd Pletcher. At Saratoga, this can happen.

After a short walk covering a block or so, attendees will see the entrance. It is possible horses will be seen walking across the street to the racetrack, so who knows if cars need to stop so Preakness champion Exaggerator can walk by? The son of Curlin is a probable contestant for the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (GII) on July 30.

Also, Saratoga offers a “festival” atmosphere.

Once inside, the careful presentation of manicured grass found in other elite racetracks is replaced by a sandier-looking floor, and the architecture of the facility itself is reminiscent of a small-town fair littered with food stands and casual-looking attendees, rather than a multi-million dollar property where elite horses compete.

The description is not a knock on Saratoga though, but a testament to the uniqueness of the environment and how well it blends with the summer season, people and surrounding city.

In 1986, legendary turf writer Andrew Beyer wrote on the unique Saratoga atmosphere for The Washington Post:

“The genial, relaxed atmosphere of Saratoga is most evident when the ninth race has been run and the crowd is dispersing. At almost any other track, people show varying degrees of disgruntlement as they stomp toward the exits. Here they leave leisurely and, for the most part, they look happy and content.”

In addition, racegoers will be able to feel the history of Saratoga, by standing near the finish line and thinking of all the great horses who fought hard only to lose in a stunning upset, hence the name “Graveyard of Champions.”

Yes, even the immortal Triple Crown-champion Secretariat lost at Saratoga in the 1976 Whitney Stakes. More recently, modern Triple Crown-champion American Pharoah was nailed by Keen Ice in the Travers Stakes (GI).

This year, the $1,250,000 Whitney (GI) will be held on Aug. 6, and Godolphin’s Frosted is likely to compete for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. With a devastating Metropolitan Handicap (GI) win in tow, followers hope the excellent form continues. The $500,000 Test Stakes (GI) for 3-year-old fillies is scheduled on the same card.

If a superstar-status filly is on fans’ wish list, then the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) on July 24 and $600,000 Alabama Stakes (GI) on Aug. 20 are must-see races. The exceptional Songbird, who has faced softer competition, will attempt to silence any remaining doubters for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Fox Hill Farms.

Saratoga will run many more Grade I events, including the Diana Stakes on July 24; the Vanderbilt Handicap on July 30, the Fourstardave Handicap on Aug. 13; the Lake Placid Stakes on Aug. 21; the Travers, Sword Dancer, Personal Ensign, Forego, Ballerina and King’s Bishop Stakes on Aug. 27; the Woodward and Spinaway Stakes on Sept. 3; and the Hopeful Stakes on Sept. 5. No wonder fans compare Saratoga to opening Christmas presents.

Above list does not even take the Grade I steeplechase races into account, or the lower-end stakes races filled with top-quality horses. Do not forget the numerous 2-year-old maiden contests filled with future stars either.

While it sounds cliché to those who never visited, the racetrack truly has to be seen in person. This statement comes from someone who never saw Saratoga before last year, and had a few doubts.

Otherwise, cash in on the major stakes races this year, and make plans to visit next summer.

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