Sizzling opening weekend at the Spa

Associated Press / July 22, 2011

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - One rite of summer meets another as blistering heat is expected to blanket the 143d opening of Saratoga Race Course today.

New York Racing Association officials said they expect a full program of races on opening day despite temperatures in the mid-90s and oppressive humidity. NYRA has only canceled racing once because of heat, in 2006, at the historic track.

The marquee race of the 40-day meeting, the $1 million Travers Stakes, could pit Preakness winner Shackleford against Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is injured and won’t race in the $1 million stakes race Aug. 27.

The race meet at Saratoga is viewed as one of the most prestigious in the nation.

The Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies, the traditional Opening Day feature, headlines the first day of a meeting that extends through Sept. 5. During that span, many of the nation’s leading horses will compete here, including Tizway, ranked as the nation’s leading older male after a powerful victory in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont May 30. The 6-year-old, trained by H. James Bond, will attempt to solidify his position in the Whitney Handicap Aug. 6.

The nation’s two leading females are expected to run at the Spa, but will not meet one another in a reprise of the recent Delaware Handicap, decided at the end of a stirring stretch battle in favor of Blind Luck. Her longstanding rival, Havre de Grace, is pointed toward a test against males in the Woodward Sept. 3.

Blind Luck, meanwhile, has the Personal Ensign Aug. 28 on her schedule. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he is not inclined to race Blind Luck in the Woodward, the race that tipped the scales in favor of the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra two years ago at the end of her Horse of the Year campaign.

For the first time, the NBC Sports Group will broadcast major weekend stakes at the track, launching the “Summer at Saratoga’’ series tomorrow with coverage of the American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, a race that likely will determine the division leader.

Graded stakes winners Buster’s Ready, It’s Tricky, Plum Pretty, Joyful Victory, and Royal Delta are among the anticipated starters, most of which will return for the Alabama Aug. 20.