Horse racing’s summer season kicks off in a big way this weekend at two of the sport’s most treasured racetracks, Del Mar and Saratoga.
And what a daily double it should be – Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome taking on six rivals in Saturday’s $200,000 San Diego Handicap and undefeated filly Songbird starring in Sunday’s $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.
While the Del Mar meet began last week, Saratoga opens its 148th season on Friday and runs through Sept. 5.
Stakes races on opening day at the Spa are the Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies and the Lake George for 3-year-old turf fillies. On Saturday, it’s the Sanford for 2-year-olds.
California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, comes into the 1 1/16-mile San Diego with a 3-0 record this year. The 5-year-old Chrome won the $10 million World Cup in March in his last start.
The field also includes 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund, Hard Aces, Soi Phet, Crittenden, Follow Me Crev and Win the Space.
Chrome leaves from the No. 6 gate, and will have regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard. The race is a prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20.
“Outside is good for me,” Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman said. “(Espinoza) will be able to break and see what’s happening to his inside and go from there.”
Songbird arrived at Saratoga from California on Wednesday. A comfortable winner in all eight of her races, the 3-year-old filly will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith in her New York debut. The filly owned by Rick Porter went for jog around the track Thursday morning.
“She ate up (Thursday) morning and she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” Porter said. “She went with the pony and jogged for a mile and an eighth. She wasn’t too happy to go back to the barn, she probably wanted to do a little more. She’s doing fantastic considering all the travel she’s had.”
In her last start, Songbird won the Summertime Oaks by 6 1/2 lengths.
Taking on the 2-year-old champion filly trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer is Carina Mia, Weep No More, Flora Dora and Mo d’Amour.
A week later, 3-year-olds are center stage after a Triple Crown break when Derby winner Nyquist returns for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 31 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. A day earlier, it’s Preakness winner Exaggerator and Belmont Stakes winner Creator hooking up in the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
Others in the Haskell include Gun Runner (third in Derby), Blue Grass winner Brody’s Cause (seventh in Derby, sixth in Belmont) and Iowa Derby winner American Freedom, trained by eight-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert.
Last year, more than 60,000 fans showed up at Monmouth to watch Triple Crown champion American Pharoah blow away the field in his first race since sweeping the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.