By Gene Kershner
The calendar has flipped to August and the dog days of summer are upon us which means great racing around the country. Saratoga and Del Mar are in full swing, Monmouth's big day is already behind us and we are three weeks away from the Travers and Pacific Classic.
It was impressive to see the large turnout at Fort Erie on Tuesday afternoon, track officials estimated between 8,500 and 9,500 fans showed up for the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown won by Coltimus Prime.
The track was hopping like it was in its glory days and fans were betting with both fists as handle was up 34% versus last year's Prince of Wales day, also run on a Tuesday. With no major competition around North America, the border oval was being keyed in on at simulcast facilities as the go-to track. Where else on a Tuesday night can you find a $500,000 race?
The infield at the Fort is one of the more beautiful ones around and is a testament to the grounds crew there with the limited funding that the track has available. The walking ring is also one of the more unique paddocks around with old trees and a close proximity to the fans who can see every horse up close and personal.
Saratoga has a monster card on Saturday which includes three Grade 1 races on tap at the historic race track. The card is highlighted by the purse-enhanced $1.5 million Whitney Invitational that has attracted nine horses, including seven that have earned over $1 million in career earnings. The winner will earn a spot in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic under the "Win and You're In" program.
It will mark the 87th running of the Whitney, a 1 1/8-mile race that will be nationally televised by NBC (Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.) tomorrow afternoon along with the Grade 1 $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies.
Palace Malice (Even) is attempting to become the 13th horse to complete the Met Mile-Whitney double, but will have some tough competition in last year's 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge (4-1) who defeated him in last year's Travers Stakes.
In the Grade 1 Test, run at 7-furlongs, Sweet Reason (3-1) is the morning line favorite coming off a big win in the Acorn on Belmont Stakes day for trainer Leah Gyarmati. Her main competition will come from Southern Honey (4-1), who has won against older fillies and mares and second-place Acorn finisher Sweet Whiskey (6-1) who will have Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez in the irons for Todd Pletcher.
The other Grade 1 on the card is the 6-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt which is headed by the 5-2 morning line favorite Palace, who has established himself as one of New York's top sprinters. He comes out of the Belmont Sprint Championship on Stars & Stripes day where he finished second behind the talented Clearly Now in that Grade 3 contest.
One horse in the field of eight that should be familiar from the Triple Crown trail is Vyjack (15-1) who will cut back to the shorter distance and will try against older males for the first time.
The late Pick-4 will start with the Vanderbilt in Race 8 and will include all three Grade 1 races and culminates in the $100K Lure S. on the inner turf. Former Travers winner Alpha (2-1) is entered as a Main Track Only (MTO). If the race comes off the turf it would be his first race since a Grade 2 effort at Gulfstream in February.