Saratoga and Del Mar both open this week, and taking place on different sides of the country is not the only thing that separates them. Whereas Saratoga offers a backyard summer picnic vibe, Del Mar is pure Southern California beach.
But despite their differences, the two tracks also have a lot in common.
For instance, both are high-class meets that top outfits and small operations alike point their runners toward. Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) rivals from the spring usually show up to settle scores at the venues.
And both tracks have a number of two-year-old stakes which offer racing fans an early look at next year’s Derby and Oaks prospects.
Saratoga actually kicks off its 2018 meet with a rematch of this year’s Oaks and a look ahead at next year’s Derby.
On July 22, the first Sunday of the meet, Kentucky Oaks winner MONOMOY GIRL and third-place finisher MIDNIGHT BISOU are expected to face off in the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). Also nominated to the 1 1/8-mile contest is ESKIMO KISSES, who finished fourth in the May 4 Kentucky Oaks, and MY MISS LILLY, 11th in the Oaks but third most recently behind Midnight Bisou in the Mother Goose Stakes (G2).
One day before, on Saturday, July 21, juveniles will take to the track in the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (G3) going six furlongs. A total of 22 colts and fillies have been nominated to the race, including first-out Churchill Downs maiden winners BANO SOLO, DREAM MAKER and STRIKE SILVER, as well as Belmont Park maiden debuters LEXITONIAN and WHISKEY ECHO, and SOMBEYAY, who broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park and was last seen running second in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont.
The two-year-old action continues at Saratoga August 12 with the $200,000 Saratoga Special Stakes (G2), sending juveniles 6 1/2 furlongs, and wraps up with the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) on closing day, September 3.
FIRENZE FIRE, winner of last year’s Sanford and fourth in the Hopeful, finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 but returned last out to dominate Belmont Park’s Dwyer Stakes (G3) by nine lengths. AFLEET ALEX, who captured the 2004 runnings of both the Sanford and Hopeful, would go on to finish third in the 2005 Kentucky Derby before romping in the final two legs of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1).
But perhaps the best known winners of Saratoga’s juvenile stakes were Triple Crown heroes SECRETARIAT and AFFIRMED, who each captured the Hopeful and Sanford. It should also be noted that the great filly REGRET captured all three – the Sanford, Saratoga Special and Hopeful – before going on to become the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby in 1915.
While the fillies may run in these races, they have their own special contests – the $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes (G3) on opening day, July 20, at six furlongs; the $200,000 Adirondack Stakes (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs on August 11; and the $350,000 Spinaway Stakes (G1) on September 1 sending runners seven furlongs.
Dual champion ASHADO, winner of the 2004 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), captured both the Schuylerville and Spinaway as a juvenile.
Switching to the West Coast, Del Mar’s first major stakes for two-year-olds takes place on August 5 when juvenile fillies speed six furlongs in the $200,000 Sorrento Stakes (G2). The boys get their turn in the $200,000 Best Pal Stakes (G2) at the same distance on August 11.
Like Saratoga, the main events for juveniles at Del Mar comes at the end of the meet in the $300,000 Del Mar Debutante (G1) on September 1 and $300,000 Del Mar Futurity (G1) two days later. Both contests take place at seven furlongs.
Trainer Bob Baffert has found plenty of success at Del Mar with his runners, but perhaps his best known charge, AMERICAN PHAROAH, ended the decades-old Triple Crown drought after breaking his maiden in the 2014 Del Mar Futurity. SILVER CHARM, another Baffert trainee, was unable to sweep all three Triple Crown events in 1997 but did take the Derby and Preakness eight months following a head score in the Del Mar Futurity.
NYQUIST followed the California path to Kentucky Derby glory in 2016. A year earlier he romped in both the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and was honored with an Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old male. I’LL HAVE ANOTHER, hero of the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, ran second in the Best Pal.
Returning to Baffert, he saddled 1999 Kentucky Oaks heroine SILVERBULLETDAY to score in the previous year’s Sorrento and suffer her first loss when fourth in the Del Mar Debutante.
A number of top fillies have placed in the Del Mar Debutante as juveniles but two of the more recent were four-time champion BEHOLDER, who just missed by a nose in that contest and by only a half-length a year later in the 2013 Oaks, and 2010 Kentucky Oaks victress BLIND LUCK, who finished second in the Debutante eight months earlier.
There’s no disputing that Saratoga and Del Mar are unique, but they parallel each other in producing top-class competitors.