Saratoga Opening Week Highlights

July 22nd, 2021

Saratoga’s opening week delivered graded stakes thrills with an emotional win in honor of Marylou Whitney, a gritty victory from a horse purchased for $5,000, and déjà vu in the Diana S. (G1). Here are highlights from the first few days of the meet.

Golden Pal answers the Call

Irad Ortiz Jr. signaled he was ready to defend his 2020 title, which he won by a single race over beating his brother, Jose, by capturing the first race of the meet. Later in the card, Irad came back to win the first graded stakes, the Quick Call (G3). Piloting Golden Pal for Wesley Ward, the son of Uncle Mo dominated his first race since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), scoring by three lengths.

Golden Pal has three consecutive wins with Irad in the irons, and he gave trainer Wesley Ward his first graded stakes at the Spa. Ward said the long term goal for Golden Pal is the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) on November 6 at Del Mar.

Pretty Birdie provides emotional opening day

Pretty Birdie wins the Schuylerville Stakes (Photo by Coglianese Photos)

In a fitting tribute to her late owner, Marylou Whitney Stables’ Pretty Birdie wired the Schuylerville S. (G3) for juvenile fillies by two lengths. Known as “The Queen of Saratoga,” Whitney carried on the legacy of the stable after her husband, C.V. "Sonny" Whitney, died. Marylou started programs for backstretch workers, was a patron of the arts, and received the Eclipse Award of Merit in 2011. She passed away in July 2019, and John Hendrickson, her husband of 22 years, continues the stable in her honor.

The Schuylerville gave trainer Norm Casse, son of Hall of Fame conditioner Mark Casse, his second graded stakes win and first at Saratoga. 

"Everyone assumes I love horse racing because of who my family is and who my father is, but Smarty Jones (who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2004) is the reason I fell in love with horse racing," Casse said. "I think we all know the story on how that one ends with Marylou beating him (in the Belmont S. [G1] with Birdstone, who shares bloodlines with Pretty Birdie), and now I train for her. It's just surreal.”

Casse said Pretty Birdie will target the seven-furlong Spinaway S. (G1) at Saratoga on September 5.

$5,000 purchase Rinaldi takes the Forbidden Apple

In the Forbidden Apple (G3), Rinaldi, trainer H. James Bond, and jockey Luis Saez edged out a trio of Chad Brown starters, who placed second through fourth. Bond purchased Rinaldi for $5,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s 2016 Saratoga Fall Sale, and the front-running victory was Rinaldi’s fourth win in five starts at Saratoga.

Déjà vu in the Diana

In the first of 20 Grade 1s at Saratoga this summer, Charlie Appleby-trained fillies Althiqa and Summer Romance reproduced the exacta from their North American debut in the Just a Game S. (G1) at Belmont Park.

The Diana was a furlong longer than their previous race, and Manny Franco picked up the mount on Althiqa, but she again won by three-quarters of a length.

“We’ve been in America since the first of May; it’s the 17th of July and we had two big targets in Grade 1s and we just couldn’t do better,” Appleby’s assistant Sophie Chretien said.

Both Althiqa and Summer Romance are slated to return to England.

Upcoming Saratoga Stakes

The second week of racing features female horses and at least one stakes each day, including Friday’s Lake George S. (G3); the Caress S. (G3) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) on Saturday; and the Shuvee (G3) wrapping up graded stakes action on Sunday.

Lake George S. (G3)

The weekend stakes action begins on Friday with the Lake George S., at one mile on turf for three-year-old fillies. Jouster, who has a Grade 2 win on her resume, looks to bounce back after finishing just off the board in Wonder Again S. (G3) at Belmont. Two undefeated challengers -- Demodog and Runaway Rumour -- will see if they are ready for the jump up in class. Chad Brown has won four editions of the Lake George, and he sends out four starters, including Minaun, who has won twice and placed twice in four career starts, including the first two in Ireland.

Caress (G3)

Saturday’s Caress, 5 1/2 furlongs on turf for fillies and mares four-years-old and older, drew a field of 6. The Ortiz brothers ride talented fillies testing stakes company for the first time.

Caravel enters the race with six wins and two third-place finishes from her eight career starts. Irad is aboard, and Bobby Flay is the majority owner.

Jose will pilot Robin Sparkles, who finished first six times in her last eight races and placed second in the other two.

Coaching Club American Oaks (G1)

Malathaat, winner of this year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1), seeks to remain unbeaten from six starts in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). She is trained by Hall of Fame inductee Todd Pletcher, who has seven wins in the race. The CCA Oaks has been won by Kentucky Oaks winners 14 times.

Malathaat’s presence could explain the smaller field size: she faces three rivals in her first start since the Oaks. Two -- Maracuja and Clairiere -- were well-beaten competitors on the last Friday in April, and Rockpaperscissors comes off wins in a Churchill Downs maiden win and an off-the-turf allowance at Indiana Grand.