Life Is Good, winning the John A. Nerud by five lengths at Belmont Park (Janet Garaguso/NYRA photo)
The highlight of this weekend’s graded stakes action is undeniably the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic that has drawn a contentious field of six runners. Breeders’ Cup and Pegasus World Cup winner Life Is Good will be challenged by the undefeated Olympiad along with three other Grade 1 winners: Hot Rod Charlie, Happy Saver, and Americanrevolution.
New York’s Turf Triple Series continues on both Saturday and Sunday, with 3-year-old males in the G1 Saratoga Derby on Saturday and the fillies on Sunday in the G3 Saratoga Oaks.
On the West Coast, Saturday’s action is headed by the G1 Clement Hirsch, another “Win and You’re In,” in which Shedaresthedevil will attempt to defend her title.
Mountaineer Park in West Virginia will host its premier racing day on Saturday as well: the G3 West Virginia Derby highlights a nine-race card with seven stakes races.
The harness racing industry will also have a big day on Saturday at the Meadowlands, topped by the $1 million Hambletonian for sophomores trotting one-mile in Race 15 [6:28 p.m.]. The Lucas Wallin-trained Rebuff is undefeated in three starts this season and has been installed as the 9-5 morning line favourite. The son of Muscle Hill was last seen taking one of two eliminations on July 30 at Meadowlands by 1 1/4 lengths. He will face the Yonkers Trot Champion Joviality S, one of two fillies in the field; and Jiggy Jog S, the other filly in the field who won the second elimination on the July 30 card.
Also worth noting that Saturday’s racing includes the G1 Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh, which features six of Europe’s top juveniles.
Here’s a quick look at some of this weekend’s graded stakes:
5:07 pm – Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga
Matareya has answered every question asked of her with aplomb this year, finding her best stride around one turn and posting a perfect 4-for-4 record that she will put on the line against six rivals in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Test.
Matareya has flourished this year under the care of conditioner Brad Cox after going 1-for-4 in her juvenile campaign. The bay daughter of the late Pioneer of the Nile has won her four outings this season by a combined 22 1/4 lengths, most recently scoring her first Grade 1 victory in the $500,000 Acorn on June 11 at Belmont Park.
5:43 pm – Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga
Life Is Good and Olympiad are set to battle for sovereignty amongst the older horse division in Saturday’s 95th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
One of three entrants for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, a three-time Whitney winning conditioner, CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s Life Is Good was a five-length winner over Grade 1 winner Speaker’s Corner in the seven-furlong Nerud, which came after a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March – his only off-the-board placing in nine career starts.
Olympiad has enjoyed an unbeaten 4-year-old year and seeks his first Grade 1 victory for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. The son of Speightstown had never run two turns prior to this year, but has shown an affinity for route races in all five of his 2022 starts. Following a decisive 7 1/4-length victory in a January 15 Gulfstream Park allowance optional claimer, Olympiad won Fair Grounds Race Course’s Grade 3 Mineshaft and Grade 2 New Orleans Classic in the spring en route to successful engagements in the Grade 2 Alysheba and Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
6:20 pm – Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational at Saratoga
Classic Causeway will take on 10 rivals as he looks to capture Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile Mellon turf test for sophomores. Trained by Kenny McPeek, the multiple graded-stakes winning Classic Causeway made his turf debut a winning one in the first leg of the Caesars Turf Triple series with a gate-to-wire score last out on July 9 in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational .
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will have three chances to play spoiler with graded-stakes winner Emmanuel [post 3, Flavien Prat]Annapolis [post 6, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] and Grand Sonata [post 2, Tyler Gaffalione].
Nations Pride, who returns in this spot after four local works, was away slowly from post 10 under Frankie Dettori in the Belmont Derby, closing from ninth to finish just three-quarters of a length back of Classic Causeway.
Internationally-acclaimed trainer Aidan O’Brien will be represented by Stone Age, a Galileo colt who exited the outermost post 12 in the Belmont Derby under Ryan Moore, closing six wide in the upper stretch to complete the trifecta.
Saratoga Derby Entries
9:04 pm – Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar
A sparkling field of seven fillies and mares – topped by the multi-millionaire and defending champ in the headliner, Shedaresthedevil – will compete for a $400,000 prize and Breeders’ Cup berth in the Hirsch. Shedaresthedevil has won 10 of her 20 starts, including nine graded stakes, among them last year’s Hirsch in which she scored smartly by more than three lengths.
Chief threat to the top one appears to be the double-quick filly Private Mission, who can be expected to set the pace in the Hirsch. Owned by the Baoma Corporation and trained by Bob Baffert, Private Mission currently shows $397,300 in earnings and comes into the race off a good tally in the Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita on June 18.