Welcome to another edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track.
Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing news that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
As for this week, our story involves how racing fans beat the rest of the country to the punch when to comes to celebrating.
While our nation waited until July 4 to celebrate Independence Day, racing fans had a cause for letting out some cheers a few days earlier.
As soon as the calendar turned to July, racing fans should have set off fireworks and started to dance around the house.
It’s not that something great in and of itself happened on July 1 – though there was some pretty darn good racing that day, as you’ll see in the also-eligible section of this story.
What mattered more was how we have finally reached a month filled with so much excitement and anticipation. Over the course of 31 days in July there will be a bevy of major moments for us to savor, including two that fans have been eagerly awaiting since last summer, and that’s surely worthy of a round of applause, at the very least.
For instance, the arrival of July means we are about three weeks away from the return of the world’s best racehorse, the mighty Arrogate, who is scheduled to run in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 22.
While the Grade 2 San Diego figures to be little more than a paid workout for the Juddmonte Farms colt, it will be a must-see event because the clock is ticking on the career of the fabulous 4-year-old. At most, trainer Bob Baffert will enter Arrogate in three races after the San Diego (TVG Pacific Classic, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pegasus World Cup), so every chance to watch and marvel at the brilliance of a very special horse should not be treated lightly.
July is also expected to bring us the next appearance of the great Songbird, who is targeting the Delaware Handicap on July 15 at Delaware Park. With a nose loss in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff the lone blemish on her record after 13 starts, she, too, is a rare treat to watch, and the date of her next race should be circled on your calendar.
Some of the other stars with July dates on their schedule are Lady Eli, who may headline the Diana Stakes on July 22 at Saratoga, and Santa Anita Handicap winner Shaman Ghost, who is likely to run in Saturday’s Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.
Speaking of Saturday at Belmont Park, the Suburban is one of five graded stakes on a Stars & Stripes Racing Festival card that will also include a pair of million-dollar turf races for 3-year-olds, the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks.
July also signals the resumption of the chase for the 3-year-old championship among this year’s evenly-matched Triple Crown class of colts and geldings.
If trainer Todd Pletcher opts to run Always Dreaming in the Jim Dandy, it would figure that he will send Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Tapwrit to the Haskell where there could be a rematch with the runner-up in the “Test of the Champion,” Irish War Cry.
Two-year-old champion male Classic Empire is also expected to be on hand at the Haskell, as will the undefeated Timeline, who was impressive in winning the Betfair.com Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth last month.
Chad Brown trains Cloud Computing and Timeline and he has yet another 3-year-old to watch in Practical Joke, who should run in Saturday’s Dwyer Stakes at Belmont in his first start since a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
And let’s not close out talk about 3-year-olds without a mention of Mr. Baffert, whose touch has been 14K gold of late. He won stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard with West Coast and American Anthem, and don’t be surprised if the Hall of Famer, who just so happens to have eight Haskell wins to his credit, turns the 3-year-old division upside again in the second half of the year, as he did a year ago with Arrogate.
Oh, and there’s also the not so small matter of the two glorious racetracks where most of those horses will be running.
Yes, we’re less than three weeks away from the long-awaited opening days at Del Mar and Saratoga.
The curtain goes up first at Del Mar with its July 19 opener of a 36-day meet at the place where “The Turf meets the Surf.”
California chic and great racing can once again be counted on to blend and create as vibrant a setting for racing as you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Then on July 21 the curtain will go up on Saratoga’s 40-day meet in a timeless, Victorian wonderland where famed races such as the Travers, Whitney and Alabama will add another exciting chapter to their proud histories.
If you have yet to visit one or both of them, there’s no time like the present to treat yourself to a day at a place where the very best in summer racing is offered.
Arrogate. Songbird. Del Mar. Saratoga.
And those are just some of the reasons to celebrate the arrival of a new month.
Happy July, racing fans.
THE ALSO-ELIGIBLE LIST
Here’s some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: