SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — As I browsed the Saratoga entries for Saturday, July 25, seeking both good betting races and possible story ideas, I did a quick search for maiden special weights, hoping that some promising juvenile(s).
One raced turned up, that for New York-bred fillies and mares, 3 years old and up.
I thought I must have screwed up the search, or maybe was misreading the entries.
Nope. On the second Saturday of Saratoga, there was no open juvenile MSW, the type of race that is practically a byword of this meet.
(When I say “open,” I am including races restricted to fillies, which I know are not strictly “open.” I am excluding races for New York-breds, for horses older than 2, and for horses that met certain conditions when they were sold at auction.)
And thanks to Equibase, Jessica Chapel, and Ed DeRosa, it was pretty easy to compare the first nine days of this year’s meet to the same period in 2018 and 2019. (Jessica’s spreadsheets that track juvenile races at Saratoga are of inestimable value. Here they are for 2018 and 2019.)
By this point in the 2018 meet, the New York Racing Association had run eight open MSWs for two-year-olds. Last year, it had run nine. This year, it’s run five.
In both of those years, the second Saturday of the meet had two of those races (last year, they weren’t run that day because the whole card was scrapped because of the heat).
In a year in which pretty nothing has gone as planned and expecting any sense of normalcy is an exercise in frustration and disappointment, it is perhaps not surprising that the racing we’re seeing at Saratoga is not what we’re used to. Is it all because of COVID-19? Maybe, but probably not, and while it’s definitely too early to start drawing conclusions, we can look at some of the factors that might contribute to the absence of these juvenile races.
1) Condition Books
So far, three races in the condition book have failed to fill: two sprints on July 25, one on turf, one on dirt; and a turf route for fillies on July 17. Remaining in the first book of the meet are four juvenile races, two on Aug. 1 and two on Aug. 2.
COVID-19 hit the 2-year-old sales hard. The March OBS sale was held on Mar. 15, just as COVID fears and infections were hitting most of the nation. The April sale was held in early June. The Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale at Gulfstream Park was canceled entirely; it and the early May Fasig-Tipton sale at Timonium were combined in a sale that took place in late June. And as one pinhooker pointed out to me, many horses coming out of 2-year-old sales need a break before heading to the races, which puts a lot of juveniles six to eight weeks behind where they’d be in other years.
Beginning this year, a condition of 2-year-old races in New York is that runners compete without Lasix. Are trainers reluctant to enter under that restriction?
COVID restrictions mean that fewer trainers and fewer horses are coming to Saratoga from elsewhere in the country. In addition to the overall decline in the foal crop, there may well be fewer horses running here this summer.
The Sanford (G3) for 2-year-olds was not run this summer, while the Saratoga Special (G2) made the stakes cut and will be run on Aug. 7, a month before the Hopeful (G1). For fillies, all three graded juvenile stakes–the Schuylerville (G3), the Adirondack (G2), and the Spinaway (G1) were retained.
How will those races be affected by the decrease in juvenile races so far?
Will we see effects beyond Saratoga to next year’s 3-year-old races?
Saratoga is known as the place for turf, 2-year-olds, and the Travers (G1). Let’s hope that by the end of the 2020 meet, that’s still true.