SARATOGA SPRINGS – Friday’s opening day at Saratoga features the traditional Grade 3 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies. The eighth race on the 10-race card kicks off the graded stakes schedule of the 40-day meeting. The 6-furlong race has attracted 10 fillies that will run for the $150,000 purse and goes to post at 5:02 p.m. in Race No. 8.
Trainer Mark Casse will send a trio of fillies to the post, including the 5-2 morning line favorite Catherinethegreat who broker her maiden impressively last month at Gulfstream winning by 10 lengths.
Trainers Todd Pletcher will be seeking a record seventh career Schuylerville victory with Nonna Madeline (7-2), he is currently tied with D. Wayne Lukas with six wins in the opening day stake. Of the 10 starters, eight are coming off maiden victories. The two others are coming out of the highly regarded non-graded Astoria at Belmont Park won by Athens Queen.
The other graded stake on the card is the $150,000 Grade 3 Lake George, to be run on the outer turf course at 1 1/6-miles. The Lake George will be run as Race 9 at 5:40 p.m. immediately following the Schuylerville.
Let’s take a look at the contenders of the G3 Schuylerville (post position, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Catherinethegreat (Casse, Ortiz, 5-2) This Uncaptured filly drilled the field at Gulfstream by open lengths and gets Eclipse-winning jockey Jose Ortiz aboard. Both career races were on the slop, so it could be interesting to see how she handles the dirt. Works indicate she is fit and ready to roll and the rail post can’t hurt. Dangerous.
2 – Nonna Madeline (Pletcher, Velazquez, 7-2) Pletcher/Velazquez at Saratoga. Not much more needs to be written. This Candy Ride filly broke her maiden at Monmouth Park by over three lengths. This is the type of race Pletcher excels at and it could be his seventh on the opening day feature.
3 – Congrats Girl (Lynch, Acosta, 12-1) Low key connections ship in from Laurel after a commanding win in suburban Baltimore. Steady works say she’s fit, but this is a major class test for her against the best of the best. Waiting to see.
4 – Fightress (N Casse, Leparoux, 12-1) Norman Casse makes his Saratoga debut as a trainer and will try and beat his father’s three fillies with this 12-1 shot. Won impressively on a muddy track at Churchill Downs and sports a bullet work in Louisville coming into this race. At the price vying against lightly raced fillies, I’m willing to take a shot with Norman.
5 – Lonely Road (Clement, Franco, 15-1) Quality Road filly bounced out of a rough start in her debut to win by four at Belmont Park last month. Manny Franco is red hot winning at a 29 percent clip in his last 34 races. Clement is a sneaky good trainer with sprinters and not just a maven on the turf. Exotics player.
6 – Tapping Pearl (Casse, Geroux, 15-1) Daughter of Tapit broke her maiden in late June at Churchill Downs and comes in off of three weeks rest for Stonestreet. Solid work at Saratoga on July 13 and was well bet in her debut beneath the Twin Spires. Leaning elsewhere.
7 – Serengeti Express (Castellano, Amoss, 6-1) Ships in from Louisiana Downs for Tom Amoss and adds Hall of Famer Javier Castellano in the irons. Deep waters here for the daughter of Alternation, but Amoss isn’t afraid to run his against the best. Wouldn’t be surprised if she ran well, but waiting this one out.
8 – Eyeinthesky (Casse, Gaffalione, 6-1) Third-place finisher in last month’s Astoria Stakes for Casse and owner Gary Barber (owner of Wonder Gadot). The Sky Mesa filly was only beaten three-quarters of a length in the non-graded stake and shouldn’t be discounted. If you like Lady Apple, you have to like Eyeinthesky.
9 – Lady Apple (Asmussen, Ortiz, Jr., 8-1) Second-place finisher in the aforementioned Astoria beaten a neck by Athens Queen. Irad rides again for Phoenix Thoroughbreds (owner of Gronkowski) and Asmussen, who has had recent success in this race. He has won the race three times in the last 10 years. Contender.
10 – Blame The Frog (Colebrook, Saez, 12-1) Daughter of the highly-regarded Blame draws the outside post for her fourth career race. Ships in from Kentucky for Ben Colebrook and will likely be the early speed in the race. Sharp workout last weekend at Keeneland says she’s up to the task. Siding with others.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Fightress; 2 – Nonna Madeline; 3 – Lady Apple; and 4 – Lonely Road
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.