It’s a big racing weekend at Saratoga and at Arlington Park, both tracks with major races that will impact key divisions in thoroughbred racing. The $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes will be the featured race this weekend at the Spa, where nine 3-year-old fillies will look to win the 134th edition of the race named after William Cottrell of Mobile, Alabama. Cottrell was a captain in the Confederacy who bred horses in Mobile.
Arlington Park has a splendid card of turf racing, although the Million only drew seven horses. The Secretariat and Beverly D. are also key races on the Arlington undercard.
Here are some notes and thoughts as we take a spin around the racing world …
• Larry Collmus was announced as the new voice for NYRA, succeeding Tom Durkin who will call his last race at the Spa on Aug. 31, the day before the current meeting ends. Collmus will give up his gig at Churchill Downs at the end of this year’s Fall meet and continue as the caller at Gulfstream Park through the end of March. He will assume duties at NYRA in April, calling the last month of races at Aqueduct. After the Big A spring meet ends he will assume the duties at Belmont and Saratoga through the Belmont fall meeting before heading back to Gulfstream.
• Collmus will retain his duties calling the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup for NBC. John Imbriale will take over duties at Belmont this fall while Collmus wraps up his duties at Churchill and he will also retain calling at the Big A winter meet up through the end of March.
• Last year’s 3-year-old Canadian Horse of the Year Up With the Birds drew post No. 5 in the Million and was given 6-1 odds on the morning line. The morning line favorite is the defending Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Magician (7-5) and the second choice is last year’s Million winner Real Solution (5-2).
• The Grade 1 Secretariat looks to be morning line favorite Adelaide’s for the taking, however a horse that intrigues me in this group is Sheldon, a 3-year-old son of Purim owned by Capital Region-based Ninety North Racing Stable. He was starting to make up ground on the leaders in the Belmont Derby and was stalled at the eighth pole before finishing fifth, just over four lengths behind Mr. Speaker. Adelaide finished second in that race by a neck. Top turf jock Javier Castellano will ride Sheldon for the first time.
• Todd Pletcher, who won his first Alabama last year with Princess of Sylmar, will have the morning line favorite in Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) winner Stopchargingmaria for Repole Stable. She will face challenges from CCAO runner-up Unbridled Forever, the Pletcher-trained Got Lucky and Delaware Oaks (G2) winner Fortune Pearl. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be aboard the favorite.
• Since 1971, 15 winners of the Alabama S. were voted Eclipse winners in the 3-year-old filly division.
• There were 15 horses nominated to the Travers, which will be drawn next Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. Included in the nominations is Prince of Wales and Canadian classic winner Coltimus Prime, who shipped to the Spa earlier this week to test the Saratoga dirt for trainer Justin Nixon.
• The big names nominated for the Mid-Summer Derby include Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong and the aforementioned Belmont Derby winner Mr. Speaker who won that turf race at a mile and a quarter. Fountain of Youth winner Wildcat Red was nominated, but looks like he will head to the 7-furlong King’s Bishop on the undercard where he will be extremely tough to beat. Other notable nominees include Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve and Dwyer winner Kid Cruz.
• Good news for Fort Erie Race Track according to its new owners. It sounds like Paladino and crew will keep things status quo at the track and are eyeing the development possibilities the 200 acres around the track offer.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.