SARATOGA SPRINGS – As a sportswriter in Upstate New York, and specifically Saratoga Springs, I spend the majority of my summer stationed at Saratoga Race Course, the jewel of the Capital Region.
Having opened in 1863, Saratoga is the highlight of the NYRA circuit every year. Don’t believe me? Ask 2015 Saratoga meet winner Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Every day they love horses, the whole sport,” Ortiz said of the Saratoga fans. “They love this and they come every day and we feel good. We feel good about it… (Saratoga’s) the best. No matter what, it’s the best. The best horses, the best trainers, the best owners.”
So, with the Saratoga meet underway, I’ve decided to center this week’s Hot Takes around the historic race course and horse racing topics. With that, here’s this week’s set of Ebs’ Hot Takes:
The Spa doesn’t need American Pharoah. From a pure numbers standpoint, there wasn’t as much excitement this year compared to opening weekend 2015. Not to mention ESPN filmed a SportsCenter from Saratoga Race Course last summer and didn’t this past weekend.
However, that doesn’t mean that horse racing fans shouldn’t be excited for the new meet.
By Sept. 5, most of the sport’s biggest stars will have visited the Spa. Heck, one already has. Undefeated Songbird ran in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks Sunday and blew the field away to improve her record to 9-0, but we’ll get to the 3-year-old filly later.
While many, and myself included, are hoping Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will take his talents to the Spa and run in the Travers, it’s unlikely at the moment. The 3-year-old would need to pull off the same turnaround American Pharoah did a year ago, racing in the Haskell Invitational Sunday before coming to the Spa for the Travers at the end of August.
Even if Nyquist doesn’t come to the 518, there are still many household names projected to visit the Spa this summer.
Kentucky Derby runners Gun Runner, Destin, Creator and Mohaymen are all listed as either possibles or probables for the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on Saturday. Then you have some stars like Effinex, Upstart and Frosted all listed as probables for the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on August 6. Lastly, you have the Grade 1 Travers Stake on Aug. 27, which could feature Destin, Creator, Exaggerator, Mohaymen and even Nyquist.
Most of star-studded horses will surely strut their stuff this summer at the Spa.
Where’s the love for California Chrome? Sitting in the press box this weekend, Songbird was the horse collecting all of the buzz. However, there was one star not present at the Spa that still deserves some love. Don’t forget about California Chrome.
Remember him? The 5-year-old that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2014.
After finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes and then a long layoff followed by a sixth-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby in Sept. 2014, California Chrome sort of fell off of the map. However, the Victor Espinoza-ridden horse has won five of his last eight races, including a current four-race winning streak.
California Chrome edged out Dortmund in an epic San Diego Handicap Saturday that could go down as the race of the year when all is said and done. This Bob Baffert-trained horse is making an incredible comeback and deserves more love.
Songbird is a stud. I watched Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks from atop the press box, and saw something very special. Songbird remained perfect, crushing the five-horse field.
I was in the exact same spot last summer when American Pharoah fell in the Travers, and part of me thought it might happen again. Luckily, it didn’t. Songbird, running as a 1-5 favorite, pulled through and beat the impressive field with ease.
Known as the Graveyard of Champions, the 3-year-old filly did something American Pharoah couldn’t and now has rightfully put herself in the conversation of the top 3-year-old in the country.
Next up for Songbird is the Alabama Stakes on Aug. 20.
P.s… Here’s a rockin’ tune to get you Songbirds goin’ on a Monday!