John Oxley's Catherinethegreat will look to build on an impressive maiden-breaking win last out when she steps up to stakes competition in the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for juvenile fillies on Friday, opening day, at Saratoga Race Course.
The 100th running of the Schuylerville will be the first of 69 stakes worth a record $18.85 million in the premier 40-day summer meet that runs through Labor Day, Sept. 3. Carded as Race 8 with an approximate post time of 5:02 p.m., NYRA's flagship TV show Saratoga Live presented by Claiborne Farm will have live coverage of both that race and the Grade 3, $150,000 Lake George in Race 9. The show will air nationally through FS2 and regionally on MSG+ from 4-6:30 p.m. ET.
Catherinethegreat broke her maiden at second asking, besting an eight-horse field by 10 ¼ lengths on June 23 at Gulfstream Park. The Mark Casse trainee, who was second in her debut on May 26 at Gulfstream, drew the rail with jockey Jose Ortiz as she readies for jump in class in the six-furlong sprint.
“She's training well and we're happy with her. I would have liked a post a little further out, but we'll take it,” Casse said. “A lot of times our horses tend to improve from the first start. I just think she broke slow the first time and it was very sloppy that day. The next time, she broke a little better and had clear sailing and off she went.”
Casse said the Uncaptured filly, who was purchased for $170,000 as a yearling, has displayed good early speed but has also shown her versatility.
“I would have liked to have seen her set a little off the pace, but we have one of the best riders in the world on her, so we'll let him figure that one out.”
One of three Mark Casse entries, Catherinethegreat will be joined in the 10-horse field by stablemates Tapping Pearl and Eyeinthesky.
Tapping Pearl won her first start on June 29 at Churchill Downs and drew post 6 with Florent Geroux set to ride.
Eyeinthesky, who ran third Astoria on June 7 at Belmont Park, will look to parlay that stakes experience into success at the Spa in breaking from post 8 with Tyler Gaffalione.
Catherinethegreat, the 5-2 morning-line favorite and Tapping Pearl, 10-1, will face a formidable field that includes Fightress, who is trained by Norm Casse, Mark's son.
A former assistant to his father, Norm Casse started on his own earlier this year and enters the Saratoga meet with six wins, four second-place finishes and a pair of third-place efforts in his first 24 starts. Fightress will be his first stakes starter.
“She's trained really well since she's broke her maiden,” Norm Casse said. “The thing that's encouraging me the most is the fact you can noticeably tell she's a better horse. It's obviously a tough race being a stake in Saratoga, we're proud to be a part of it. I think she'll run really respectable.
“She wasn't really high on my list before, but about 10 days before she ran, she really started to flourish. Something just clicked for her. She hasn't had a bad day since.”
Fightress won her debut on June 22 at Churchill, registering a 4 ¾-length score over 5 ½ furlongs. The Tapizar filly drew post 4 at 12-1 odds.
“It's a little surreal,” Casse said. “Everyone gets caught up that I'm running against my dad in a stakes, but I don't see it that way. I have a 2-year-old running in a stakes at Saratoga against Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, and my dad is in there. So I'm here with people I looked up to my whole life, so I'm very proud of that.”
Added Mark Casse: “It's a dream come true and hopefully when the dust clears, there's a Casse who wins it, whether it's me or him.”
Pletcher, who won the 2017 H. Allen Jerkens Saratoga training title, will saddle Nonna Madeline, a Candy Ride filly who won her first start on June 23 at Monmouth Park. The 7-2 choice will break from post 2 in tandem with Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen trains Lady Apple, who has stakes experience after running second to Athens Queen in the Astoria. Lady Apple will depart post 9 with Irad Ortiz, Jr., the Belmont spring/summer meet leading rider, at odds of 8-1.
Rounding out the field is Congrats Gal for trainer Cal Lynch from post 3; Lonely Road, trained by Christophe Clement, from post 5; Serengeti Empress, a Tom Amoss trainee, from post 7 and Blame the Frog, trained by Ben Colebrook, from the outside post 10.
Trainer Chad Brown was expected to have 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Rushing Fall compete in the Lake George for 3-year-old fillies before she developed a temperature. Brown instead will saddle the French-bred Altea and the Irish-bred Punked in the 1 1/16 mile race on the main track.
Altea, the 3-1 second choice, will be making her fourth consecutive graded stakes start, looking to bounce back from consecutive fifth-place finishes in the Grade 3 Edgewood on May 4 at Churchill and in the Grade 3 Wonder Again on June 7 at Belmont. The daughter of Siyouni will see Ortiz, Jr. will ride from post 7.
As a juvenile, Altea twice finished second in stakes in her native France before arriving in North American to start her 3-year-old campaign, which commenced with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks on March 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Punked, a 5-1 choice, drew the rail in tandem with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano. In her first stakes appearance last out, she was second to Got Stormy in the Wild Applause on June 23 at Belmont.
The George Weaver-trained Daddy Is a Legend has a graded stakes win on her ledger, capping her 2-year-old season with a one-length victory in the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante on November 25 at Del Mar.
The Scat Daddy filly was fourth in the Wonder Again after running third in the Grade 3 Edgewood on May 4 at Churchill and enters Friday as the 9-5 favorite from post 3. Manny Franco will have the call.
Heavenly Love will be cutting back in distance after her third-place finish in the Grade 3 Regret at 1 1/8 miles om June 16 at Churchill. Since winning the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades in October at Keeneland, Heavenly Love has struggled at times, finishing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and out of the money in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra on February 17 at Fairgrounds and the Grade 2 Appalachian on April 8 at Keeneland before rallying to finish third in the Regret, earning a personal-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
“We kind of feel like she's come around, her last race was very good,” Casse said. “She got bothered a little early on. We intended on being a little closer. But she ran extremely well and with a little better start and a little better attacking position, she should be tough.”
Velazquez will ride from the outside post in the eight-horse field.
Andina Del Sur, who won the Florida Oaks before running fourth in the Grade 1 Ashland on April 7 at Keeneland and sixth in the Wonder Again, will break from post 6 with Julien Leparoux.
Rounding out the field is Going Out for trainer Michael Matz and Goodthingstaketime, trained by Jorge Abreu. Nootka Sound is entered for the main track only.
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