Saratoga Race Course, born 1863, and home of the nation’s top thoroughbred meet, will have a look and sound it has never seen or heard before as the starting gate opens on the 2020 edition Thursday afternoon.
The “Graveyard of Favorites” will sound more like an empty graveyard as COVID-19 prevents race fans from attending their summer playground, obstructing horse players from joining newly appointed track announcer John Imbriale as he rings in the season with his rendition of “They’re off at Saratoga!” Crowded winner’s circle photos of happy faces will be reduced to a couple of surgical masks.
Curb your enthusiasm? Sure. But this meet, unlike any other, will surely provide resounding moments amid the sounds of silence.
The 40-day meet runs through Labor Day, Sept. 7. Live racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesday-Sunday, after opening week. There are 71 stakes on tap, worth $14.45 million in purse money.
Notable race days on the calendar include: The Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday, The Vanderbilt on July 25, The Whitney on Aug. 1, The Alabama on Aug. 15, The Forego and Sword Dancer on Aug. 29, The Jim Dandy is Sept. 5 and the Hopeful on closing day.
The Travers was moved up to Aug. 8 — the Midsummer Derby becoming a major prep for the Kentucky Derby, which was pushed back to Sept. 5. Among the stars expected to perform at the Spa this summer are distaff champ Midnight Bisou, Met Mile winner Vekoma and Tiz the Law. The Belmont Stakes winner is penciled in to go in the Travers before heading to Churchill Downs.
Trainer Chad Brown and jockey Jose Ortiz will look to defend their 2019 titles.
No question Brown will dominate once again. But Irad Ortiz Jr., fresh off a Belmont meet win, may turn the tables on his brother, whom he finished second to last year. With Luis Saez testing positive this week for coronavirus, look for Manny Franco to finish third best.
With a rash of big-name riders joining Saez on the sidelines — Victor Espinoza, Flavien Prat and Florent Geroux among them — after contracting the coronavirus, NYRA has taken steps to stop the spread. President David O’Rourke said, “Any jockey who rides at a racetrack outside of Saratoga beginning July 16 will be considered an out-of-town jockey and will not be permitted at Saratoga.” So if you leave, well, don’t come back.
You can still vacation at the Springs for the cooler temperatures and mineral water, but you can’t watch your horse run. Full coverage of every race can be seen on FS1 or FS2 as well as MSG2. “America’s Day at the Races” is hosted by Greg Wolf. Handicappers Andy Serling, Acacia Courtney, Maggie Wolfendale, Michelle Yu and Jonathon Kinchen will attempt to steer you in the right direction before you bet your exactas. Former jockeys Richard Migliore and Gary Stevens will offer their inside expertise.
How do you bet? Your best bet is to go to NYRA.com and open an account with NYRA Bets. Good luck.