One week after Del Mar began its Polytrack era, horse racing's best summer meet will commence today in upstate New York.
Saratoga, which towers over its California counterpart in terms of quality, kicks off its six-week season with a 10-race program. Clearly, everybody came ready to play because a total of 125 horses were entered, including nine in the day's main event, the $100,000 Schuylerville.
A Grade III for 2-year-old fillies at six furlongs, the Schuylerville is the first of 33 graded stakes that will be run during the meet. Fifteen of those races are Grade I events, topped by the $750,000 Whitney on Saturday and the $1-million Travers on Aug. 25.
The jockey colony is also loaded. Edgar Prado will be trying for his third consecutive title at Saratoga and his competitors include John Velazquez, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux, Kent Desormeaux and Calvin Borel, who will be riding at the track regularly for the first time this year.
Horses who have done well over the Saratoga main track and turf always merit extra attention. With large fields a rule rather than the exception, there will be plenty of opportunities for price shoppers.
Philadelphia's best pitcher, Cole Hamels, will start tonight at home against Washington, so it isn't surprising that the Phillies are the day's biggest favorite (-260) in the National League.
Don't be so quick to dismiss the last-place Nationals, who will start Matt Chico and are +230.
Although they are arguably the worst road team in the league, the Nationals defeated the Phillies and Hamels, 4-2, on April 26 in Philadelphia, touching the left-hander for four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.
It is hard to believe Baltimore could be favored against anybody, but the Orioles, who haven't been a factor in a pennant race in about a decade, are --210 tonight against visiting Tampa Bay.
Erik Bedard is scheduled to start for Baltimore and he has been on a roll. Bedard, 28, has given up only 11 baserunners while winning his last three starts. He's 5-1 in his last six and his earned-run average during that span is under 1.00. Bedard also leads the major leagues in strikeouts with 167.
Andy Sonnanstine, Tampa Bay's starter, is 1-5 with an ERA of more than 5.00 and has given up more hits (67) than he has innings pitched (58 2/3 ).