Month Ahead: September 2012
By Kevin Martin, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
The calendar’s turn from August to September brings with it some sadness for race fans. September means the end of the Saratoga and the Del Mar meetings in New York and California, but some of the sadness is soothed by the prospects of what lies ahead.
September brings the start of a championship season (of sorts) in Thoroughbred racing with the bulk of the major prep races for the Breeders’ Cup in November. Many of the best horses in training, with aspirations for an Eclipse Award at year’s end, will make their final start before the Breeders’ Cup this month.
The closing of Saratoga and Del Mar brings the opening of Belmont Park and Santa Anita. Belmont in New York opens at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month, the site of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita Park, will open for business in California. Two of Kentucky’s lesser known racing venues, Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs, will open for brief meets in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky Downs stands as a one of America’s unique race tracks, a European-style turf course in the shape of a kidney bean that is over 1 Â¼ miles in diameter.
Here’s a rundown of what’s on tap in September…
The final Saturday in Saratoga brings three graded stakes including the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes for older horses, the Grade 1 Forego for sprinters, and the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch for the turf horses. Two of the last three Woodward winners have gone on to win the Horse of the Year. Both, coincidentally, were fillies: Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Havre de Grace (2011).
Del Mar has the first Grade 1 stakes race for 2-year-old fillies in California with the 7-furlong Debutante Stakes.
A day after the Debutante, Saratoga will host the first Grade 1 for 2-year-old fillies in New York with the Spinaway Stakes at 7-furlongs. The Saratoga Sunday card also includes the Grade 2 Saranac Stakes for 3-year-old turf horses.
Del Mar will have a race for 3-year-old fillies on the turf with the Del Mar Derby.
Labor Day is closing day at Saratoga. “Getaway day” has a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the BC Juvenile with the Grade 2 Hopeful Stakes at 7-furlongs. Last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another, finished sixth on a sloppy track in the 2011 Hopeful.
Parx (the former Philadelphia Park) in Bensalem, Pennsylvania has two graded stakes races on its Labor Day card. The Grade 3 Turf Monster Handicap is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race with the winner earning a berth in the BC Turf Sprint. The recently upgraded Smarty Jones Stakes, a Grade 3 prep for the Pennsylvania Derby later in the month at Parx, will be run for the 3-year-olds.
Del Mar will have its closing day on Wednesday. The 7-furlong Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity for 2-year-olds is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the BC Juvenile and will be the feature on the final day of racing where the “surf meets the turf.”
Arlington Park hosts a twin bill of graded 2-year-old stakes for colts and fillies. The Arlington-Washington Futurity and Arlington-Washington Lassie are both Grade 3 races at a distance of one mile over the synthetic surface at the track near Chicago.
The opening day feature at Belmont Park is the Grade 2 Bowling Green for turf horses.
Louisiana Downs in Bossier City has the Grade 2 Super Derby for 3-year-olds, the biggest race of the meet with a purse of a half-million dollars. Hall of Famer and two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow won the Super Derby in 2000.
Belmont Park cards the first Grade 1 of its fall meet with the Garden City, a race for 3-year-old fillies.
The lone graded stakes of the September meeting at Kentucky Downs, the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup, will be contested at 1 Â½ miles over its unique turf course. Also on the card are two listed stakes for 2-year-olds as well as the Ladies Marathon at 1 â… miles for fillies and mares.
Woodbine Racetrack in Canada will host three Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races during a huge weekend of racing that will include five graded stakes. On Saturday is the Natalma Stakes on the turf for 2-year-old fillies with a slot in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf to the winner. Also on the card is the Summer Stakes for 2-year-olds on the turf. The Summer Stakes winner earns a place in the BC Juvenile Turf.
The Sunday card at Woodbine will have two Grade 1 stakes: The Northern Dancer at 1 Â¼ miles on the turf and the Woodbine Mile on the turf. The winner of the Woodbine Mile will earn a spot in the BC Mile. The Grade 2 Ontario Stakes and the Grade 3 Ontario Derby will be on the undercard.
Parx has the biggest day of its long racing year with two $1 million races: the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby for 3-year-olds. It’s the first time in U.S. racing history, except for the Breeders’ Cup, where a track will host two million dollar races on the same day. It will also be the first Grade 1 race ever run in the state of Pennsylvania. The two races are expected to draw the winner of the Alabama Stakes, Questing, and the dead-heat co-winners of the Travers Stakes, Alpha and Golden Ticket.
Friday opens Santa Anita Park in California and the biggest weekend of racing during the month with 14 graded stakes at two tracks in three days. The host track for this year’s Breeders’ Cup will have the first graded stakes of the weekend with the Grade 3 Eddie D Stakes for turf sprinters as the feature on its opening day card.
Belmont Park has six graded stakes in which all of the winners will earn an entry in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. It is the largest number of BC Challenge Races on a single race card in the world. All of the major divisions at this point of the racing season except for the 2-year-olds will have a chance to compete for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup. The five Grade 1s include the Jockey Club Gold Cup for horses 3-years-old and up on the dirt, the Flower Bowl for filly and mare turf runners, the Vosburgh for sprinters, the Beldame for fillies and mares 3 and up on the dirt, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic for turf horses. The Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at one mile on the dirt rounds out one of the biggest days of racing on New York’s calendar.
On the west coast, Santa Anita has a card nearly equal to Belmont with five BC Challenge races on the first Saturday of the meet. All five are Grade 1 races with automatic entry to the BC Classic, Ladies Classic, Turf, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies going to the winners.
Belmont follows its outstanding Saturday card with a twin bill of 2-year-old stakes including the historic Grade 2 Futurity and the Grade 2 Matron for fillies.