By Gene Kershner
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It's opening day at Saratoga and we'll be at the Spa all weekend to post updates here at the Sports, Ink blog on the stakes races today and tomorrow. Saturday's feature is the first Grade 1 of the meet, the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
Some odds and ends as we approach the Spa opener this afternoon…
- Javier Castellano heads into the Saratoga meeting off a high, winning the Belmont spring meeting jockey title with 72 victories. He will be seeking his first ever Spa racing title with formidable foes in Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez and Joel Rosario.
- Bill Mott has won 14 races on his birthday. Mark July 29 on your calendar to see if he keeps up the tradition. Since 2006, $2 win bets on each of Mott's horses have generated a profit in excess of $42.
- In some sad news, 2012 Queen's Plate winner Strait of Dover was euthanized earlier in the week due to a twisted colon. The Plate champion set a polytrack record last June at Woodbine in Canada's most famous race. Jockey Justin Stein who rode him to the Plate victory told Woodbine media staff of his fondness for Strait of Dover. "I'm shocked and heartbroken that he's gone," said Stein. "He had a true racehorse heart. He knew how to win. He was getting better and better with every start."
- Trainer Todd Pletcher who had an astounding 23 juvenile winners during the 2012 Spa meet starts off where he left off with the top two on the morning line for the Grade 3 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies today. The two impressive maiden winners, Yes Liz and Elena Strikes, both of Stonestreet Farms, were listed as 5-2 morning line favorites. The race is the feature of opening day and attracted seven fillies.
- The New York Racing Association, Inc. and the Saratoga 150 Committee unveiled a new attraction designed to pay homage to the most accomplished thoroughbreds to compete at Saratoga Race Course during its 150-year history. The new addition features an inaugural class of 30 horses. Each thoroughbred is honored on a granite plaque alongside the names of its sire, dam, owner, trainer, and jockey. The plaques also feature the horse’s year of birth and signature wins at Saratoga Race Course. It's located just outside the clubhouse gates to the venerable racetrack.
- Titletown Five, owned by a group including former Green Bay Packers Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, who last ran in the Preakness, is in the 7th today at Saratoga, an $82K allowance race. The speedy son of Tiznow out of a Forest Wildcat mare, should fare much better at the 7-furlong distance.
- Woodbine regular rider Emma-Jane Wilson finds herself on four mounts for trainer Gary Contessa on opening day. She won the 2007 Queen's Plate aboard Mike Fox, the first female jockey to win the Plate.
- Saturday's new Grade 3 $200,000 84 Lumber Shuvee Handicap for fillies and mares will highlight Zenyatta's younger half-sister, Eblouissante. The 4-year-old daughter of Bernardini is undefeated in two career starts and will take on six others.
- Not only does Pletcher have the two top 2-year-olds on the morning line in the Schuylerville on Friday, but he has the top two 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks. The Kentucky Oaks champion Princess of Sylmar (9-5) is the morning line favorite and Unlimited Budget (2-1) returns after taking on the boys in the Belmont Stakes.
- The second leg of the Big Apple Triple, the $150,000 New York Derby will be run at Finger Lakes Race Track on Saturday, the biggest race on the schedule at the Canandaigua oval. Amberjack, a son of Indygo Shiner owned by John Fort’s Peachtree Stable and trained by Mike Hushion will try and add the second leg to his win in the Mike Lee Stakes. The final leg will be run at Saratoga, the Albany Stakes in mid August.
- Bona Venture Stables will send the third place finisher in the Mike Lee, Smooth Bert, to the gate and will have quite the contingent on hand. The Stable's managing director Dan Collins told The News earlier in the week that one of the ownership groups of Smooth Bert is a group of about 15 young adults, mainly 20-somethings, most who are St. Bonaventure University graduates. They banded together to purchase a single 10% share and eventually expanded into a 20% ownership. The group is looking to have a fan base of nearly 150 at the track to root on
Bert on Saturday afternoon.