Get set for Saratoga’s ‘sweet’ meet

July 17, 2001 7:18 AM
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   SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY ”” I am in upstate New York for the premier race meet in the world ”” SARATOGA. The charm, the tradition and the location make this place “the summer place to be.”

   Considering the records that tumbled last year, the show could be better than ever in 2001. During its upcoming 36-day meet ”” there is no racing on Tuesdays ”” Saratoga will play host to 35 stakes races worth $8.95 million. Of these, 32 are graded stakes and 14 of those are Grade 1.

   Naturally, the 132nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Travers is the premier race of the meet on Saturday, August 25th. The “Mid-Summer Derby” attracts racing’s top three-year-olds, who will go a mile and a quarter in one of racing’s oldest and most prestigious races.

   “This is a big year for New York racing in general, and we are very excited about the upcoming Saratoga meet in particular,” said Mike Lakow, NYRA Racing Secretary/Handicapper. “Our goal every year is to improve upon the quality of racing, and we have accomplished that goal. The upgrades of important races and the boost in purses will lure the different division stars to Saratoga. This meet should also give fans a chance to see some of racing’s top players who will compete in the Fall at the Breeders’ Cup Championship at Belmont Park (October27th). ”

   Two Saratoga races have been upgraded to Grade 1 status. One of these is the Jim Dandy, the traditional nine-furlong prep for the Travers. In addition to its Grade 1 status, the Jim Dandy has received a purse boost from $400,000 to $600,000.

   The Jim Dandy will be run on Saturday, August 4th, and its importance is not lost on racing’s faithful. Travers winners Quadrangle (second, 1964); Arts and Letters (won, 1969); Loud (second, 1970); Willow Hour (won, 1981); Carr de Naskra (won, 1984); Thunder Rumble (won, 1992); Sea Hero (fourth, 1993); Will’s Way (second, 1996); and Lemon Drop Kid (second, 1999) all prepped in the Jim Dandy.

   Last year, Graeme Hall won the Jim Dandy, with Unshaded fourth and Albert The Great last. Unshaded and Albert The Great would come back to put on one of the more dramatic runnings of the Travers, with Unshaded getting up to win by a head. Commendable, the Belmont Stakes winner, was third.

   Albert The Great has since gone to be one of the top handicap horses this year. On June 10th, he easily won Belmont Park’s Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap and trainer Nick Zito says the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap on Saturday, July 28th is his main goal this summer.

   Also upgraded to Grade 1 status is the $250,000 Forego Handicap at six and a half furlongs on Saturday, September 1st.

   Always a crowd-pleaser, the Grade 1 Alabama, the Travers counterpart for three-year-old fillies will be run on Saturday, August 18th. The Alabama carries a purse of $750,000. Its traditional prep, the Grade 1, $250,000 Test at seven furlongs, will be held on Saturday, July 28th.

   The nine-furlong Whitney Handicap is one of several Grade 1 Saratoga staples, which also includes the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at a mile and a half on the turf on Saturday, August 11th; the $250,000 Go for Wand for fillies and mares at nine furlongs on Sunday, July 29th; the $400,000 Personal Ensign for fillies and mares at a mile and a quarter on Friday, August 24th; the $200,000 King’s Bishop for three-year-olds at seven furlongs on Travers Day; the $250,00 Ballerina for fillies and mares at seven furlongs on Sunday, August 26th; and the $200,000 Spinaway for two-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Friday, August 31st.

   Completing Saratoga’s Grade 1 slate is the $100,000-added New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase (over hurdles) on Thursday, August 30th. Next week, I will offer insight in beating this meet. I will continue each Tuesday with a synopsis of the past week’s racing action and a preview of the upcoming week. In addition, I will be offering my daily selections in an online column that can be accessed at www.gamingtoday.com.