Strike Silver (bay) edges Nitrous (gray) in a maiden race at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Strike Silver (dark bay) edges Nitrous (gray) in a maiden race at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

Saratoga… they call it the “Graveyard of Favorites,” but it could also be considered the “Birthplace of Champions.”

After all, with its terrific program of races for two-year-olds—seven graded stakes races supported by literally dozens of maiden races—Saratoga has been a major step on the road to success for many of racing’s biggest stars. Over the last five years, the Triple Crown race winners Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, Orb, Oxbow, Palace Malice, and Union Rags all ran at Saratoga during their juvenile seasons, clearly demonstrating that if you’re looking for 2019 Kentucky Derby contenders, Saratoga is a great place to start.

The meet kicks off on July 20th, and already we’ve seen some promising two-year-olds that could be poised for success at Saratoga. Leading the charge is Tales of Chaucer, who won his debut by an easy 3 ½ lengths on June 1st at Belmont Park. Conditioned by the up-and-coming young trainer Norm Casse, former assistant to Mark Casse, Tales of Chaucer had been under consideration for a run in the July 14th Rockville Centre Stakes at Belmont, but wasn’t entered and is now among the nominees for July 21st Sanford Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga.

The Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen seems well-armed with talented two-year-olds this year and has nominated five colts to the Sanford, including the Churchill Downs maiden winners Fluminese and Bano Solo, the Belmont maiden winner Whiskey Echo, and also Nitrous, runner-up in a maiden race at Churchill despite racing greenly. The colt who defeated Nitrous—Mark Casse’s Strike Silver—is also nominated to the Sanford.

Todd Pletcher has been Saratoga’s leading trainer on numerous occasions thanks in large part to the powerful group of juveniles that he annually runs at the meet. Among Pletcher’s most promising candidates for 2018 is Lexitonian, a son of Speightstown who defeated a quality field in a five-furlong maiden race on June 27th at Belmont. He’s one of four horses that Pletcher has nominated to the Sanford, with the eye-catching Gulfstream Park maiden winner Spinoff and the decisive New York-bred debut victor La Fuerza among the others. Not nominated to the Sanford, but still worth watching, is Meade, who easily broke his maiden going six furlongs at Belmont on July 7th.

Our Braintrust is based in Maryland with trainer Cathal Lynch, but the son of Freud shipped to Belmont last month and upset the Tremont Stakes, with the future graded stakes winner Sir Truebadour checking in fourth. It would come as no surprise to see Our Braintrust make a return trip to New York for a stakes race at Saratoga.

Turf horses to keep an eye on include Swamp Rat, late-running winner of a six-furlong maiden race on the grass at Belmont last month. The son of Hat Trick scored by 2 ¾ lengths for trainer Philip Gleaves, while the runner-up—Joyful Heart, a son of Kitten’s Joy trained by Brian Lynch—came right back to win a similar race at Belmont in the quick time of 1:08.84.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to look forward to at Saratoga this summer!