The long awaited boutique summer horse racing meets are set to get underway, starting with Saratoga on Thursday.
But it will not be business as usual at Saratoga. There will be 40 days of racing, just like 2018.However, this is where many of the similarities end.
Saratoga has run a six-days-a-week schedule for as long as I can remember, but not this year. Instead of the seven-week meet, Saratoga will race eight weeks in 2019, and opens before the start of Del Mar (which opens July 17) for the first time I can recall. There is a four-day opening week starting Thursday, followed by six five-day race weeks. There will be six racing days the final week with closing day on Labor Day Monday September 2.
The longer stay at Saratoga means increased housing and other expenses for trainers shipping from out of state. With an increased purse structure at Ellis Park this year and the re-opening of Colonial Downs, Kentucky trainers like Mark Casse and Mike Maker have taken less stalls and figure to be less active in New York.
There are changes for the horseplayers, too. Until last week, the late Pick Five at New York Racing Association (NYRA) tracks was available only to their NYRA Bets account holders. On last Saturday’s Stars and Stripes card at Belmont, the late Pick Five, which has now been made available to all horseplayers, saw total handle jump to $909,120 after handling just $103,113 on Saturday June 22.
The NYRA late Pick Five has a player-friendly 15 percent takeout, so expect the handle to continue to climb at Saratoga.
The NYRA is also planning to switch from the old fashioned $2 Pick Six to a $.20 Rainbow Pick Six format sometime during the meet. The wager will be called the “Empire Six.” If there is more than a single winning Pick Six ticket, 75 percent of the pool would be distributed to winning tickets with 25 percent of the pool to be carried into the jackpot pool. The carryover money will only be distributed when there is a single winning ticket in the Empire Six or if there is a mandatory payout day when tickets with the most winners will split up the pool.
There is a plan in place to help out owners who cannot afford spending six to seven figures at auction for yearlings or juveniles. Maiden Special Weight races will be written that are restricted to horses that sold for $45,000 or less at their most recent auction. The purses of these restricted Maiden races will be $75,000, as opposed to the normal Saratoga MSW races that carry a $90,000 purse.
This represents a good way for the smaller barns to try to develop their less expensive purchases without having to face expensive youngsters time after time. It is a good incentive to increase the local horse population and gives horsemen a chance to compete for a large purse without the risk of losing their horse in a claiming race.
Sure, there are some things you can count on. Trainer Chad Brown will win a bunch of stakes races, especially with his fillies and mares. He is loaded in the older filly and mare turf division with Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Sistercharlie, Homerique, and Rushing Fall among others. Three-year-old fillies like undefeated Acorn winner Guarana, and Dunbar Road will represent the stable well on dirt, too.
Brown will unveil several expensive, well meant juveniles at Saratoga. Don’t expect to get rich at the windows, however, as his youngsters are sure to be bet heavily throughout the meet.
Jockeys Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Javier Castellano, Luis Saez, and Jorge Velasquez ride for the top stables and figure to ride most of the stakes winners.
The $1 million Travers Stakes will be run on August 24 and will immediately give the winner a chance for championship honors given the wide open nature of the three-year-old division.
First post time on Thursday is 10 a.m. PT. I think the changes overall will be well received.
Los Al cancels
The southern California horse population is still trying to recover from all of the problems at Santa Anita this past winter, and the new five-man evaluation panels have depleted the pool of available runners even more.
This past Saturday was entry day for the Los Alamitos card scheduled for Thursday. When it was obvious that carding even seven races was going to be a challenge, Los Alamitos decided to cancel racing for that day. The card for Friday has already been drawn, and officials at the track are optimistic the cards for closing weekend will fill adequately.
Who is Patterson?
The record for most consecutive winners by a trainer was broken last Saturday night when Flashy Dragon Gal won an Allowance race at Charles Town.
The win made it 15 straight for trainer Kevin Patterson, who races at Charles Town and Mountaineer Park. Patterson broke the record of 14 held by Frank Passero set at Gulfstream Park some 23 years ago.
Interesting side note: The owner of the record breaking filly — Robert Cole Jr. — is best known as the owner of Rapid Redux, who won 22 straight races from 2010 to 2012 and is now a permanent resident at the Old Friends Retirement Farm in Kentucky.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Los Alamitos, Friday, Race 6 — All Tea All Shade (No. 1). Filly improved to rally for 2nd behind multiple winner Portal Creek June 15 when taking off the blinkers. Her style fits the long stretch and the class drop can only help.
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