SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) - The possibility of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah running in the Travers Stakes has raised the level of excitement heading into Friday's opening of the 147th summer of Thoroughbred racing at historic Saratoga Race Course.
Owner Ahmed Zayat and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert have not ruled American Pharoah out of the Grade 1, $1.25 million event, Saratoga's summer centerpiece and one of the oldest races for 3-year-olds. The 146th running of the Travers will be Aug. 29.
The first start for the 3-year-old colt since sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes is set for Aug. 2 in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
In the meantime, Saratoga will have plenty to offer horsemen and fans alike during its 40-day meet, which runs six days a week, excluding Tuesdays, through Labor Day, Sept. 7.
The annual summer spectacle opens with a 10-race card Friday, highlighted by the Grade 2, $200,000 Lake George for 3-year-old turf females and the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies on dirt.
The Saratoga schedule offers 69 stakes, 36 of them graded, worth a record $18.7 million in purses. There will be 17 Grade 1 stakes, beginning with Saturday's $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares on the grass.
"Having been here the last three weeks watching horses train, things start to pick up and you see all the big outfits start to come in and you know it's getting ready to be tough," 11-time Saratoga training champion Todd Pletcher said. "There's a lot of good trainers, a lot of good horses. That's what makes it Saratoga. It's a collection of the best."
In keeping with its recent big-event philosophy, the New York Racing Association will host three stakes-filled Saturdays during the meet. Travers Day will offer seven graded stakes worth $4.6 million and six Grade 1 stakes, including the Sword Dancer for older turf horses, which had its purse boosted to $1 million.
The Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney will anchor an Aug. 8 card that includes five stakes worth $2.15 million. On Aug. 28, New York-bred horses will take center stage with six stakes worth $1.15 million.
The Pletcher-trained Grade 3 winner Feathered is the 123-pound high weight for the 1 1/16-mile Lake George. Pletcher also will have a top contender in the 6-furlong Schuylerville in Positively Royal.
Trainer Wesley Ward has two in the Schuylerville, including unbeaten Moment Is Right, already a stakes winner.
"This is the pinnacle of racing in the U.S.," Ward said. "It's a very special place. Everybody wants to win here."