Opening day at Saratoga has finally arrived! The weekend's graded stakes action kicks off at the Spa on Friday afternoon with the G3 Schuylerville, a six-furlong sprint for 2-year-old fillies on the main track. Steve Asmussen's Made Me Shiver was a first-out winner at Churchill and has drawn the morning-line favoritism here, with second choice going to Rick Violette's Olive Branch, who broke her maiden at Belmont Park in her first start.
In Friday's G2 Lake George Stakes at Saratoga, 3-year-old fillies will go 1 1/16 miles on the turf course. The field has scratched down to eight, with morning-line favoritism drawn by Chad Brown's New York-bred Ancient Secret, undefeated in three starts including a listed stakes race at Belmont Park. Another Brown trainee, Elysea's World, broke her maiden at Chantilly in France, then won an allowance at Belmont Park. She finished sixth in a listed stakes last out, beaten 5 1/4 lengths by Time And Motion.
Saturday's action begins with the G3 Sanford at Saratoga, in which 2-year-olds will contest six furlongs on the main track. Favoritism is tight between Rick Violette's Random Walk, winner by 5 3/4 lengths at Belmont, and Eddie Kenneally's Bitumen, winner by 6 3/4 lengths at Churchill Downs.
Over to Monmouth Park, the G3 Jersey Shore features sophomores sprinting six furlongs on the dirt. Eddie Plesa, Jr.'s Full Salute leads a well-matched six-horse field, and has won his two most recent starts leading up to this race including a listed stakes over the surface.
At Woodbine, the G3 Bold Venture Stakes will feature a field of six older males contesting the sprint distance of 6 1/2 furlongs over the Tapeta. Michael De Paulo's Noholdingbackbear is the heavy favorite, and approaches the race with three consecutive victories on his resume.
Saratoga's featured race on Saturday is the Grade 1 Diana Stakes, for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles over the turf course. A deep 10-horse field is led by Graham Motion's Miss Temple City, who defeated males in the Maker's 46 Mile and most recently finished fourth at Royal Ascot overseas. Her toughest competition will likely come from Chad Brown's Weekela and Dacita, both of whom are entering this race off strong efforts on opposite coasts. Another contender will be James Toner's Recepta, second last out in the G1 Just A Game to Celestine.
Over at Del Mar, the action kicks off with 3-year-old fillies in the G2 San Clemente Handicap, covering a flat mile on the turf. Jerry Hollendorfer's Stays in Vegas has picked up the chalk off a strong G3 win and G2 placing at Santa Anita, but she will face tough competition from the dual graded stakes-placed Be Mine trained by Phil D'Amato.
Saturday's marquee race, however, will come in Del Mar's G2 San Diego Handicap. It features the match-up of Horse of the Year and Dubai World Cup victor California Chrome with the come-backing Dortmund. California Chrome hasn't run since March in Dubai, where he trounced an international field by open lengths. Dortmund will be running for the first time since November, but the Bob Baffert trainee finished third in the 2015 Kentucky Derby behind American Pharoah, and won his two starts last fall impressively. Other entries in the field are Win the Space, Follow Me Crev, and Crittenden.
On Sunday, Monmouth Park kick's off the early action with the G3 Boiling Springs Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/8 miles on the turf. A daughter of Galileo, the Chad Brown-trained Galileo's Song has drawn the morning-line favoritism and enters the stake off an allowance win at Belmont Park. Graham Motion's Tin Type Gal, a daughter of Tapit, is the second-choice after her G3 win last fall, but in her 2016 debut she was fifth in a listed stake at Belmont.
Up at Woodbine, the G2 Nijinsky II Stakes features older males over 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Kaigun will be cutting back significantly in distance for trainer Mark Casse, but still garners 9-5 favoritism on the morning line in this five-horse field. His toughest competition figures to be one of the two Sovereign Award-winning horses in the field, Up With the Birds or Dynamic Sky, both of whom need to step up from recent efforts to do well here.
Sunday's big race features the undefeated sophomore filly Songbird. Saratoga's purse-increased G1 Coaching Club American Oaks will be her first race on the eastern half of the country since the Breeders' Cup, and a field of only four others were brave enough to enter the starting gate beside the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee. The best of those is Carina Mia, who posted an impressive last-to-first win in the G1 Acorn last out. The 1 1/8 mile distance shouldn't be a problem for the Bill Mott trainee, but a lack of legitimate early speed to challenge the favorite may be Carina Mia's downfall.
Finally, back at Del Mar, the G3 Cougar II Handicap features Hoppertunity and Hard Aces over the marathon 1 1/2-mile distance on the main track. The Bob Baffert-trained Hoppertunity most recently finished fourth in the G1 Santa Anita Gold Cup, a race in which Hard Aces was third.
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