The start of the Saratoga Race Course racing season is just days away, and steeplechase racing again will be featured on every Thursday of the 40-day meet in upstate New York. Saratoga is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and steeplechasing has been an important part of the Saratoga experience almost from the very beginning.
Saratoga opens its 2013 season on July 19, and the stable of steeplechase horses poised to run at America’s premier race meet is both large and strong.
“Going in, we’re in a strong position to provide large, competitive fields for Saratoga’s bettors and NYRA’s full-card simulcasting network,” said Bill Gallo Jr., the National Steeplechase Association’s director of racing. “We have roughly 80 winners eligible and planning to run.”
With nine rich races over the six Thursdays, more and more steeplechase owners are pointing their accomplished runners toward Saratoga’s contests. Last year’s fields averaged more than nine starters per race.
Steeplechase Thursdays kick off on July 25 with the $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, one of two Saratoga races for steeplechasing’s rising-star division. The second is the Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes on Aug. 15. One emerging star pointing toward the novice stakes is Clorevia Farm’s Dr. Skip, who has won his two career starts over fences by daylight. He most recently won a Parx Racing optional allowance by seven lengths on June 25.
Dr. Skip’s class certainly will be tested in the novice races. Also in that division are Bill Pape’s Martini Brother, winner of a Radnor Hunt Races allowance hurdle in May, and Pape’s Powerofone, a two-time winner this past spring.
The second Steeplechase Thursday on Aug. 1 will bring out steeplechasing’s championship division for the $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). The top horses also will be featured in the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) three weeks later.
Among more than a dozen horses pointing toward those races is Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative, the 2012 New York Turf Writers winner who won the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) at Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase on May 11. Also aiming for the Smithwick is Pape’s Divine Fortune, who finished a valiant second in the three-mile Calvin Houghland Iroquois.
Ready to pull another Saratoga upset is Randleston Farm’s Spy in the Sky, who took last year’s A. P. Smithwick and was third in the New York Turf Writers. Also in that division are Irv Naylor’s veteran Decoy Daddy, winner of Radnor’s $50,000 National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3); Meritage Racing’s Inti, upset winner of Colonial Downs’ $50,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 3) on June 8; and Gil Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff, who graduated from the novice ranks with a victory in Iroquois’ $75,000 Marcellus Frost Stakes.
Fillies and mares, a growing division of American Steeplechasing, will be in the spotlight for the $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes on Aug. 8 and the $75,000 Mrs. Walter Jeffords Stakes on Aug. 29, the final Steeplechase Thursday of the 2013 meet. Set to return for another bout are owner-trainer Kate Dalton’s Cat Feathers, last year’s Mrs. Phipps winner, and owner-trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s Cubist, who bested Cat Feathers in the Mrs. Jeffords.
The 2013 Saratoga season will offer steeplechase doubleheaders on Aug. 1, Aug. 15, and Aug. 29. Those programs will highlight $65,000 optional allowance races in addition to the featured stakes races. Nearly 40 horses are pointing toward those races, which allow jumpers that have not won two races to run under allowance conditions, while more accomplished competitors run for a $30,000 claiming price.