SARATOGA SPRINGS,N.Y. — Saratoga's opening day on Friday could not have been better if the Chamber of Commerce ordered the weather. And for Kentucky owner John C. Oxley, it could not have been better at all.
Oxley and trainer Mark Casse sent out Catherinethegreat to face nine five rivals in the $150,000, Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and she never gave the owner or trainer a minute's doubt when she shot right to the front in the 100th running of the historic race and never looked back.
A half hour later, owners Jim and Susan Hill, trainer George Weaver and rider Manny Franco had a tussle on their hands before the Pennsylvania-bred Daddy Is a Legend took the lead at the sixteenth pole and got up to win the $150,000, Grade 3 Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies running on the turf.
With Jose Ortiz in the saddle looking for his third Spa riding title, the Florida-bred Catherinethegreat, a daughter of Uncaptured from the Carson City mare Classy City Lady, set a blistering pace getting the first quarter in 21.78 seconds and the entire six furlongs in 1:09.98 over a fast main track.
If there was to be a challenger for Catherinethegreat, it could have been the racing surface — or St. Elias Stable's Nonna Madeline.
Catherinethegreat's last two starts, and first career win, came over sloppy tracks at Gulfstream Park. The question going into the Schuylerville was 'Could she handle a fast surface?' That was answered when she galloped home a 4-1/4-length winner as the 3 to 1 second choice in the wagering.
The betting public made Nonna Madeline the 2 to 1 favorite on the basis of her debut at Monmouth Park when she romped home a 3-1/4-length winner in just over 59 seconds for five furlongs a month earlier.
Those who backed the favorite saw their hopes for a trip to the cashiers' windows dashed when Nonna Madeline missed the break under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez and spotted the field several lengths.
The veteran rider took his best shot at rectifying the situation by sending the Todd Pletcher trainee through two holes in the traffic in front of him and securing second place passing the half mile pole.
But, by that time, the damage was done. At the wire, it was Catherinethegreat the winner by 4-1/4 over Nonna Madeline with Charles Biggs' 14 to 1 shot Congrats Gal another 4-1/2 lengths back in third.
The win for Catherinethegreat moved her record up to two wins from three starts with purse earnings of $136,300.
After the race, Jose Ortiz did not seem surprised by his filly's trip. “We went pretty fast,” he said, “But she was doing it on her own. I didn't push her to do it.”
On the other hand, jockey Manny Franco and Daddy Is a Legend, a daughter of the famed sire Scat Daddy from the Benchmark mare Randie's Legend, had to fight their way through traffic before drawing away an eighth of a mile from home to get the win in the 23rd running of the Lake George at 1-1/16 miles on the Mellon Turf Course.
The dark bay or brown filly, who was bred by in the Keystone State by technology entrepreneur Hank Nothaft's HnR Nothaft organization, went into the race against seven rivals as the 8 to 5 favorite on the strength of two wins from seven starts, one of those being the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante Stakes at Del Mar last November. The bettors thought that win and her record made her worthy of being the 8 to 5 favorite.
After Daddy Is a Legend bounced off the wall of her starting gate stall to come out in fifth place, Franco put the pressure on her approaching the quarter pole. As they cut the corner entering the stretch, Punked and Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, the one-time pace setters, were forced to check or face clipping heels with Daddy Is a Legend.
As Daddy Is a Legend advanced, she next made contact with Altea and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. who ended up second. From there on, it was Daddy Is a Legend's race that resulted in a two length win in 1:40.42 on a firm turf course.
The French-bred Altea, racing with blinkers for the first time, took second money beating Goodthingstaketime by 2-1/2 lengths.
Daddy Is a Legend, a $160,000 purchase at the September 2016 Keeneland Sale, now sports a record of three for eight with two seconds, a third and a fourth. She has now earned $229,410.
Weaver's post race comments lauded both his filly and her rivals. “It's a really, really tough division and she's one of the better ones in it,” he said. “We're hoping she can move forward and continue to do well the rest of the year.”
$20 Million + Handle
For the second consecutive year, Saratoga's Opening Day all-source wagering handle exceeded the $20 million mark. The exact number was $20,247,319.
33,714 paying patrons wagered $5.4 million on track for a per capita total of $160.28.
The Pick-Six on races 5 through 10 was worth $40,311 for a $2 bet.
Trainer Chad Brown scored a double to lead the trainer standings. Jockeys Jose Ortiz, Ricardo Santana, Jr. and Jose Lezcano each had a riding double to head that list.
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