Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course crowdSaratoga certainly knows how to open with a bang!

For racing fans and bettors, one of the main highlights of Saratoga is the numerous races for two-year-olds held throughout the summer, so it was delightful to see a large number of these races contested during the first few days of the meet.

In terms of class, the $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) on Friday and the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (gr. III) on Saturday were the best juvenile races on opening week, and fittingly, the filly Catherinethegreat stamped herself as perhaps the most impressive winner by posting a gate-to-wire win in the Schuylerville, throwing down fast fractions of :21.78 and :44.64 before pulling away to win by 4 ¼ lengths while stopping the clock in 1:09.98 for six furlongs, earning an 84 Beyer. Trained by Mark Casse, the daughter of Uncaptured appears to have a bright future and looms as one of the early favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

The following day, trainer Todd Pletcher sent out two starters in the Sanford and came away with victory as Sombeyay—the only horse in the field with previous stakes experience—rallied from just off the pace to edge Mark Casse’s promising Churchill Downs maiden winner Strike Silver by a neck on the wire. It was an exciting finish, though the modest final time of 1:10.35 translated to just a 70 Beyer.

In that regard, Sombeyay and Strike Silver were arguably overshadowed by Nitrous, who was much the best in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight earlier on the card. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Tapit was very green when finishing second by a neck against Strike Silver at Churchill Downs, but ran much more professionally at Saratoga, rocketing out of the gate and posting fractions of :22.00 and :45.66 before pulling away with complete authority to win by 3 ¼ lengths, earning a 75 Beyer. He looks bound for stakes company in the very near future.

Asmussen was also in the winner’s circle on Friday with Lyrical Lady, who won a maiden race for fillies in much the same manner as Nitrous, going gate-to-wire to win by daylight with a 75 Beyer. Teletype, a first-time starter from the barn of Bill Mott, finished fourth but was beaten only a head and a nose for second place in a solid debut. Considering that she’s bred for turf, I’ll be curious to see if she switches surfaces next time out.

Speaking of turf, Seanow (a colt from the barn of Todd Pletcher) and Chocolate Kisses (a filly representing Mark Casse) were the winners of 8.5-furlong maiden races on turf over the weekend. Both flashed speed in slow-paced races and kicked on nicely in the homestretch, though the way the races unfolded from a pace perspective surely helped their chances. With that in mind, keep an eye out for Chad Brown’s Digital Footprint, who rallied from off the pace to finish less than a length behind Seanow despite the less-than-favorable pace setup.

Looking ahead, most attention this week will undoubtedly be focused on Saturday’s fifth race, a six-furlong open maiden special weight that has attracted a full field of ten plus one also-eligible. The probable favorite is #10 Coast, a well-bred son of Malibu Moon out of the 2012 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) winner Mamma Kimbo. Trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by a partnership consisting of Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Coast was purchased for $500,000 earlier this year and has posted a lengthy string of workouts in preparation for his debut; given Pletcher’s strong record of success training debut winners at Saratoga, Coast figures to receive plenty of wagering support.

Meanwhile, Mark Casse will send out #8 Wild Medagliad’oro, a Live Oak Plantation homebred by Medaglia d’Oro out of the graded stakes-winning mare Unbridled Humor. Considering that Unbridled Humor achieved her success going long on turf, Wild Medagliad’oro might benefit from stretching out in distance down the road, in which case Saturday’s race could be viewed as more of a starting point.

The same might be said of Chad Brown’s #3 Aurelius Maximum, a beautifully-bred son of Pioneerof the Nile out of an A.P. Indy mare. With that kind of an eye-catching pedigree, it’s not hard to envision Aurelius Maximum having a very bright future, especially once he stretches out around two turns. For good measure, he’ll have the Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz in the saddle on Saturday.

The Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will be in action as well with Calumet Farm’s optimistically-named #2 Derby Date (a future Kentucky Derby contender?), a son of Lukas’ champion Will Take Charge out of Smart and Fancy, an 11-time stakes winner. Lukas doesn’t usually have his young runners prepped to win first time out, so if Derby Date flashes even a hint of talent on Saturday, he’ll be one to watch next time.

Also on the Saturday card is a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight on the Mellon turf course, scheduled as the first race of the day. Lukas and Calumet Farm could have a live chance here with #4 Bucktail Spinner, who flashed serious speed in his debut at Churchill Downs before fading late to finish fourth. But to win, he’ll have to hold off the first-time starters #5 Halladay, #6 Party With Friends, and #8 Rock On Kitten, representing Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, and Mike Maker, respectively. Rock On Kitten, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred sired by Kitten’s Joy, is especially interesting given his turf-oriented pedigree.

Lastly, the fourth race on Saratoga’s Sunday card is a six-furlong main-track maiden race for fillies. This event will mark the debut of Pletcher’s #6 Always Shopping, a daughter of Awesome Again out of Pletcher’s Grade 1-placed Stopshoppingmaria, who broke her maiden at Saratoga back in 2011. I’m expecting a sharp debut from this well-bred filly.

Enjoy the races!