Up the Backstretch: Summer racing at Saratoga around the corner

06/26/2014 2:43 PM

06/26/2014 2:49 PM

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - I promise not to use "Triple Crown" in this column.

How did everybody's Triple Crown picks do? I guess I broke my promise.

The summer thoroughbred racing season is about to arrive as the calendar changes to July. Del Mar and Saratoga are about to open for live racing, offering the best races in the country.

"Saratoga is the gem of New York racing and American racing," said Martin Panza, NYRA's Senior Vice President of Racing Operations. "The rich stakes schedule, abundance of turf racing and the 2-year-old races all combine to make Saratoga an unparalleled afternoon for both the experienced handicapper and the casual fan. Each racing day at Saratoga we work on getting people out to the track by enhancing our product and taking care of our guests by making it a good experience."

With very little opposition, Saratoga is considered the best thoroughbred race meeting in North America. It offers a stakes a day during the 40-day meet as horses begin the push toward the Breeders' Cup at the end of October and Nov. 1.

What better example of Saratoga's place at the head of the class than having reigning two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan stabled at the upstate New York facility.

Coming back from surgery in the spring, Wise Dan right now is at Keeneland and will be headed shortly to Saratoga where he will defend his Fourstardave Handicap crown that he's had for the last two years.

The two wealthiest stakes are the $1.5 million Whitney for older colts and geldings and the $1.25 million "Mid-Summer Derby" Travers for 3-year-olds.

This year's 1 1/8-mile Whitney on Aug. 2 may prove to be the best in recent history with the likes of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man returning from some time off and likely to face Classic runner-up and champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge. Probable to join those two are recent Met Mile champ Palace Malice, Stephen Foster winner Moonshine Mullin as well as former Travers co-winners Alpha and Golden Ticket.

The 1 1/4-mile Travers for 3-year-olds on Saturday, Aug. 23 will offer the opportunity for the best in the division to reunite and help decide this year's champion.

While Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome is not likely to travel to Saratoga, Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve along with Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, Preakness runner-up Ride on Curlin and General a Rod are probable competitors.

The best females will come together in the $500,000 Personal Ensign on Friday, Aug. 22. Ogden Phipps winner Close Hatches and runner-up Princess of Sylmar lead their division and are establishing a great rivalry.

Leading 3-year-old filly Untapable will start in this Saturday's Mother Goose at Belmont Park and then show up in Saratoga for the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 20 or the $600,000 Alabama on August 16.

Del Mar, "Where the Turf meets the Surf," got great news earlier this week when it was announced that the track will host the Breeders' Cup for the first time in 2017.

The big event every year at Del Mar is the $1 million Pacific Classic for the handicap division. Defending champ Game On Dude is still the best older male on the West Coast and can prove it again in the 1 1/4-mile race. Set for Sunday, Aug. 24, the Pacific Classic will be conducted for the last time on a synthetic track this year as Del Mar will install a dirt surface for 2015.

Summer racing really gets the blood up.

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