Star-studded fields assembling for Saratoga stakes - NBC Sports

Star-studded fields assembling for Saratoga stakes
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August 16, 2014, 2:00 pm

Saratoga will host five graded stakes on the flat next week, beginning with the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares, on Friday. The Personal Ensign is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win & You're In" race in the Distaff division.

Multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Princess of Sylmar looks for her third straight Grade 1 score at the Spa in the Personal Ensign, having won last year's Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the four-year-old Majestic Warrior filly has been second in each of her Grade 1 tries this year in the Ogden Phipps and Delaware Handicap.

Close Hatches edged Princess of Sylmar by a head in the Ogden Phipps to run her win streak to three races, all in graded stakes, including the Apple Blossom in April. Belle Gallantey has picked up half of her eight career wins this year, most recently going gate-to-wire to beat Princess of Sylmar by 2 3/4 lengths in the Del 'Cap. Also expected for the Personal Ensign are Grade 2 heroines Fiftyshadesofhay and Majestic River as well as Grade 3 divas Antipathy and Stanwyck.

The field is taking shape for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers, to be run for the 145th time on August 23. Sharing the card with the 1 1/4-mile Mid-Summer Derby for three-year-olds will be the Grade 1, $500,000 King's Bishop for sophomore sprinters at seven furlongs; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina for sprinting distaffers, also at seven-eighths; and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa for fillies and mare, three-year-olds and up, going 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist returns from a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in the Travers, where he will renew his rivalry with Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong, who won the Wood Memorial and dead-heated with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome for fourth in the Belmont.

Bayern is coming into the Travers off romping victories in the Haskell Invitational and Woody Stephens, while Mr Speaker won the Belmont Derby Invitational on grass at the Travers' 1 1/4-mile distance in his most recent start. Canadian classic winner Coltimus Prime will be making his third start stateside after taking the second leg of his country's Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales, on July 29 at Fort Erie.

Also eyeing the Travers are Dwyer winner Kid Cruz, third in the Jim Dandy; V.E. Day, Charge Now and Viva Majorca, the respective first, second and fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga on July 25; Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve; and Ulanbator, second in the Matt Winn and third in the Dwyer. Maiden winner C J's Awesome is possible.

Coup de Grace and C. Zee, the top-two finishers from the Spa's July 26 Amsterdam, are expected to meet again in the King's Bishop. Their competition likely will include lightly raced but promising colts Fast Anna and The Big Beast, as well as Jerome victor Noble Moon, Grade 2 scorer Wildcat Red, Grade 3-placed Myositis Dan and stakes runner-up Noble Cornerstone. Indexical, third in the Triple Bend and fourth in the Bing Crosby in his past two, is possible.

The Ballerina is expected to attract many of the top female sprinters on the East Coast. The seven-furlong contest is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win & You're In" race in the Filly & Mare Sprint division. The probables comprise multiple Grade 1 queens Better Lucky and My Miss Aurelia; Grade 2 scorers Grace Hall, Heart Stealer, La Verdad and My Wandy's Girl; Grade 3 vixen Hot Stones; multiple stakes heroines Geeky Gorgeous and Willet; and Voodoo Tales. Grade 1 winner Artemis Agrotera is possible. Better Lucky, Grace Hall and champion My Miss Aurelia were first, second, and third, respectively, in the restricted Shine Again Stakes, which was contested July 21 over the Ballerina's course and distance.

Grade 1 diva Centre Court is expected to go after her second graded victory at Saratoga in the Ballston Spa. The five-year-old Smart Strike mare, trained by Rusty Arnold, captured the Lake George and was second in the Lake Placid in 2012, won the Jenny Wiley in 2013 and captured back-to-back Honey Fox editions in 2013 and 2014. Also looking at the Ballston Spa are Grade 3 winner Assateague, who is two-for-four lifetime at Saratoga; Grade 3 victress Strathnaver; Filimbi, triumphant in the Spa's De La Rose on August 2; and dual stakes heroine Ready Signal.

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