SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A pair of stakes races - the Grade 3, $100,000 Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies and the $75,000 James Marvin for older sprinters - grace the opening-day card as the 143rd meet gets underway Friday at Saratoga Race Course. The Schuylerville Stakes will be run as race 9 on the 10-race card, following the James Marvin, which drew an outstanding field of 11, featuring Grade 1 winners Gayego, Here Comes Ben, and Jersey Town. First race post time is 1 p.m.
Nine juvenile fillies were entered for the 93rd edition of the six-furlong Schuylerville Stakes, in which Todd Pletcher will be seeking his fourth victory as he opens defense of his 2010 H. Allen Jerkens Saratoga training title. Representing the Pletcher barn this year will be Georgie's Angel, coming off a 6 1/4 -length maiden win at Churchill Downs on July 4. The dark bay daughter of Bellamy Road covered the 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.23, which earned her an 83 Beyer Speed Figure, third-highest among juvenile fillies this year.
"She's settled in well here and had a nice breeze the other day," said Pletcher of the Sheffer Racing Stables' color-bearer, who worked a half-mile in 49.07 over the Spa's main track on July 16. "It's a graded stakes at Saratoga, and obviously it's a tough race to win. This will be a test of her quality."
John Velazquez, the Spa's leading jockey in 2010, has the mount on the 5-2 morning-line favorite from post position 9.
While the majority of the Schuylerville Stakes starters have but a maiden win on their resumes, the race also drew the first two finishers in the Grade 3 Debutante at Churchill Downs - Flashy Lassie and Five Star Momma. Flashy Lassie, who went for a modest $4,000 at the Fasig-Tipton sales in October, more than earned back her purchase price with a nine-length maiden victory at Churchill on May 13, and followed that with a 17-1 surprise in the Debutante.
"She's on the smallish side, and out of an unraced mare," explained her trainer, Garry Simms, who selected the daughter of Flashy Bull for owner Barry King. "But she's a beautiful filly, and she's been doing great. The Schuylerville is a logical spot for her, and it would be nice to get another Grade 3."
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Kent Desormeaux was named aboard Flashy Lassie, who drew post position 8 at 6-1 on the morning line, while owner-trainer Charles Dickey tabbed Alex Solis to ride Five Star Momma, 8-1 on the morning line, from post 2.
Along with Flashy Lassie and Five Star Momma, the other Schuylerville entrant with stakes experience is Gypsy Robin, who was seventh, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Ascot on June 15. Jeffrey Sanchez has the call on Gypsy Robin, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, from post position 6.
Rounding out the Schuylerville are recent maiden winners Force de La Nature, True Feeling and Vukovar, along with Alydarla, who is making her debut in the Schuylerville, and Dorothy's Aurora, who is 0-1-1 from three starts.
In the James Marvin Stakes, Here Comes Ben returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, 2010's Grade 1 Forego. "He arrived in Saratoga last Friday morning, settled in great and had a really nice work this morning," said trainer Charles LoPresti of Here Comes Ben, who went three furlongs in 36.67. "We thought we'd come up and get an easier race into him before the Forego, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen." Alex Solis has the mount aboard Here Comes Ben from post 6. The winner of the Kelly's Landing at Churchill in his most recent start is 6-1 on the morning line.
Gayego, who won the Grade 1 Ancient Title in 2009, is the leading money-earner among the James Marvin entrants, having collected $1,751,120 in compiling an 8-4-2 mark from 21 lifetime starts. Now 6, the Godolphin color-bearer has had one start this year, finishing ninth in a listed stakes at Meydan on February 11.
"It would be a nice race to win and get him back going again," said Rick Mettee, assistant to Saeed bin Suroor.
Alan Garcia will ride Gayego, 5-1 on the morning line, from post position 5.
Making his 2011 debut in the James Marvin is Jersey Town, who closed out 2010 with a victory in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct Race Track. Trained by Barclay Tagg for Charles Fipke, Jersey Town has been worse than third just once in 12 career starts.
Cornelio Velasquez rides Jersey Town, 5-1 on the morning line, from the outside.
"He's a neat horse," said Tagg. "We really like him. I can't get [assistant] Robin [Smullen] off him. She rides him every day. He's the gamest race horse. He's doing good. We're excited about him."
Pletcher will be well-represented in the seven-furlong James Marvin Stakes with multiple graded-stakes winner Aikenite, the second choice on the morning line at 4-1, and 7-2 morning-line favorite Caixa Eletronica, the Grade 3 Westchester winner who was third in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on Memorial Day.
"This is supposed to be a step down in class for Aikenite, but the race isn't shaping up that way," said Pletcher of the Dogwood Stable color-bearer, most recently fourth in the Met Mile. "Still, seven-eighths is his preferred distance. Caixa Eletronica has been a very consistent horse who always runs well. He's more of a one-turn mile horse, so we'll see how he fares in here."
John Velazquez will ride Aikenite from post position 2, while Javier Castellano is aboard Repole Stable's Caixa Eletronica from post 9.
Completing the field, from the rail out, are Escrow Kid, Jackson Bend, Ravalo, D' Funnybone, Hamazing Destiny, and Congressional Page.