Graded Stakes Mark Saratoga Opening Weekend

Annapolis | Sarah Andrew

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How's your Saratoga opening weekend stakes knowledge?

You probably already knew that the Sanford S. is the only race that the legendary Man o' War ever lost. Or that over a five-year span in the '60s, the great Kelso amassed a staggering record of 63-39-12-2. You also knew that the late '80s warrior Quick Call, who lived to the ripe old age of 35, was denied a third consecutive GII Forego H. by a nose to Lay Down.

And if you are pretty sharp, then you have it down pat that the inaugural running of the Diana S. occurred the same year–1939– that Hitler invaded Poland, which was the last time mounted cavalry saw action against tanks.

Saratoga is dripping with history–it's literally in the water. The track's storied past reminds us of Max Weber's warning that, “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.” In other words, we need the magic to keep us anchored, as we bob along in a digital sea of information.

With the historical juices sufficiently percolating, here's a rundown of the weekend graded action.

GI Diana S. (Saturday)
Besides trainer Charlie Appleby in 2021, no one has been able to dethrone Chad Brown in this Grade I turf event since 2016. The likelihood of another win for Brown appears imminent, were it not for the presence of Fev Rover (Ire) (Gutaifan {Ire}).

Marketsegmentation | Sarah Andrew

Trained by Mark Casse, the 5-year-old mare is a MGSW who is making her first trip down from Woodbine. “She's coming back a little quick, but I'm going with the old Allen Jerkens line, 'When they're going good, run 'em,'” Casse said.

Out of Brown's four entries, Peter Brant's defending champ and 'TDN Rising Star' In Italian (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) looks best, but Marketsegmentation (American Pharoah), a 4-year-old filly owned by Klaravich Stables, is coming off a signature win June 9 in the GI New York S. at Belmont Park.

GIII Kelso S. (Saturday)
Shortening up over the grass, an experienced group of 4-year-olds and up assemble, with 'TDN Rising Star' and GISW Annapolis (War Front) serving as the standout. The Bass Stables homebred, who was second in last year's GI Saratoga Derby Invitational, won the GI Coolmore Turf Mile S. at Keeneland in October en route to a GI Breeders' Cup Mile berth.

Standing in his way is the accomplished grass miler Big Everest (GB) (The Gurkha {Ire}). Making his first graded stakes start, the 5-year-old gelding has won his last six out of seven starts.

“He was the kind of horse that, early on, he fought with the jockey,” said Big Everest's co-owner Dean Reeves. “We learned over time that he was fighting with the jockey because he had speed and wanted to go to the front. So, once we got out of his way and once he was gelded, he doesn't back up and they don't have enough to catch him.”

Also entered is the well-traveled fan-favorite, MGISW Casa Creed (Jimmy Creed), whose style for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott makes him extremely dangerous towards the wire.

GIII Sanford S. (Saturday)
Rounding out the Saturday graded action is this 2-year-old NYRA series test, which has drawn 10. Trainer Steve Asmussen watched Gold Sweep (Speightstown) romp home by nine lengths as he posted a 91 Beyer figure in the Tremont S. June 11 at Belmont Park. The Hall of Fame trainer has never won the Sanford.

Others of note include Market Street (Street Sense), trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who broke his maiden in front-running fashion over the slop by 3 3/4 lengths June 29 at Ellis Park. He will be joined by Triple Trea (Bolt d'Oro). The dark bay colt debuted a winner for Barbara Minshall with a late move in early June on Woodbine's Tapeta.

“He's really nice,” Minshall said. “He's very rideable and it looks like there's a lot of speed in the race. Hopefully, he makes his big run and can get the job done. There's some really nice horses in there–the Asmussen horse [Gold Sweep] looks really tough–but he's coming into it in good order.”

GIII Quick Call S. (Sunday)

No Nay Hudson | Coady Photography

The final graded stakes of the weekend on Sunday afternoon pits 3-year-old turf sprinters against one another. Wesley Ward has two entered in this spot with No Nay Hudson (Ire) (No Nay Never), winner last out of the May 13 William Walker S. at Churchill Downs, and Eye Witness (City of Light), a $650,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase who won the Paradise Creek S. at Belmont Park May 20.

“He's [No Nay Hudson] one we're just trying to get to settle. My main exercise rider, Julio Garcia, has got the horse to relax,” Ward said. “We're doing some nice, easy slow works and he's got a couple races in him now. Fitness isn't an issue. It's just trying to get his mind to where we can get him to settle. He's at Saratoga now and ready to go.”

Facing this pair is Gaslight Dancer (City of Light). The Mike Maker trainee should not be overlooked after winning the Palisades S. at Keeneland in April and the bay colt did finish third behind No Nay Hudson in the William Walker.

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