Peter Fornatale at Saratoga

American racing expert Peter Thomas Fornatale looks forward to the first of Saratoga's mid-summer fixtures, as the top US track gets ready for its annual festival.

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I got off the bus on Broadway with a rucksack and a Daily Racing Form and walked a mile to my friend’s summer rental. That was my first Saratoga arrival back in 1996. I haven’t missed a summer in the 23 years since, and haven’t missed a weekend in the last 15.

There have been a few missed Saturdays. I tell my friends but they don’t listen, “You can get married and die – just don’t do so during Saratoga.”

The ride up Tuesday night was one of the most memorable. Cruising along the Hudson River on a train at sunset, Mugs the Form Studying Labrador at my feet, Form open, American whiskey in the flask.

Outside the window I watched the sky turn from blue to orange to pink to purple. The whole meet in front of us. I described the experience and a friend commented, “You’re the John Steinbeck of horse racing.”

This Saratoga is a little different than years’ past. We’re starting a week early, but still running the same number of days as the past several years – 40. The hope is that this will improve the overall quality of racing, boost the total amount bet, and help both local businesses and horseplayers with an additional off day.

As you might imagine, six days can be quite a grind, now we can breathe a little. Instead of running every day but Tuesday, we’re now on a Wednesday through Sunday scheduled.

Personally, I think they should have ditched the Wednesdays and kept the Mondays, which were always a great vibe, but it is what it is. We still have Labor Day Monday, the meet’s traditional closing day.

Opening day saw a lot of rainfall and a lot more reunions. Opening Day is always great for USA horseplayers because we get to see so many of our brethren (and sisteren) who we haven’t seen since last Labor Day.

It was especially fun for me this year. I lost three stone between last September and March and thought the nice comments from people were over – I’d seen most everyone I knew in the ensuing several months. But not my Saratoga pals, and so it was I got a fresh round of compliments. It was a nice ego boost to begin the meet.

The ego, however, will only be sustained with winners. My first stateside phoner with Darrell Williams on Sky Sports Racing Stateside went well enough – Comical went in in the Schuylerville and Elektronic managed a place at double-figure odds.

But you’re only as good as your next selection so let’s see if we can keep the momentum going.

Saturday’s card is highlighted by the Grade 1 Diana Stakes (R9, 10:46) and it’s a race dominated by Chad Brown runners – he sends out four of the six in here.

The one I am going to be is #2 RUSHING FALL. She will be in front of the other top Brown contenders Sistercharlie and Homerique. She doesn’t need the lead to win so it may be that stablemate Thais is out front with Mitchell Road while this one assumes a stalking position.

Rushing Fall may be better suited to this test than her two other fancied stablemates. But for a tough setup in the Edgewood last year, she’d be a perfect nine for nine. Nothing against the other two – they’re likely to run 1-2-3 – but I could see Sistercharlie and Homerique finding the nine furlongs a little sharp.

In the race after the Diana, a first-level allowance (R10, 11:21) I see a lot of reasons why #8 HERSH will improve. The comebacker was not visually impressive but that was his first race off a 306-day layoff.

He didn’t have the cleanest of getaways after brushing the gate and was stuck behind a slow pace. I think he should be primed to go second-off-the-layoff for an up-and-coming trainer (Dermot Magner worked for Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown before going out on his own).

Hersh showed he liked Saratoga with his impressive maiden score here last year. It’s a tough field so you’d want at least 7-2 if the other favs stay in (especially Payne, who has beaten him twice), but Hersh is a bet at that number.

I’m very interested to watch Race 6 (9:01), the first two-turn turf race for two-year-olds in New York this year. #3 FIELD PASS may have a few important edges in this one. He’s drawn inside, and has a race under his belt. That effort was pretty strong all things considered as he was running an inadequate 5.5 furlongs and gets 8.5 today.

He did his best work there and should improve. Mike Maker’s meet has started well, adding to this one’s appeal.

I’ll be back early next week with a recap of the weekend and some horses to watch for the meet going forward.

For more from me, check out inthemoneypodcast.com and be sure to watch all the action from Saratoga live on Sky Sports Racing Stateside.

Peter Fornatale at Saratoga
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