Despite what the calendar suggests, the official start of summer in Thoroughbred racing happens when the first entries are taken for Del Mar's gem of a meet and the historic annual exercise that is Saratoga.
As usual, there is little lag between the respective opening-day cards this week and their first top-shelf displays of equine talent with both venues hosting the first Grade I races of their meetings Saturday.
This weekend's racing sets the tone for the quality competition that is expected to be the coast-to-coast norm for the better part of the next month.
One day after Saratoga kicked off its 150th anniversary meet Friday, Todd Pletcher-trainee Princess of Sylmar is scheduled to make her first start since winning the Kentucky Oaks in May when she faces four challengers in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
Del Mar's Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes on the turf features a field of 10 Saturday while champion Royal Delta puts Delaware Park in the spotlight mix with her presence in the Grade I Delaware Handicap.
From a popularity standpoint, Princess of Sylmar is going to be in deep Saturday as Eblouissante, a 4-year-old half-sister to 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, will compete on the undercard in the Grade III Shuvee Handicap against a group that includes La Troienne winner Authenticity.
Princess of Sylmar didn't have a lot of eyes focused on her either when she was sent off at odds of 38-1 in the Kentucky Oaks, that is until she crossed the wire a half-length in front of champion Beholder.
Freshened since that effort, the chestnut daughter of Majestic Warrior will be tangling again with stablemate Unlimited Budget — third in the Oaks and sixth in the Belmont Stakes — in the 11⁄8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks as she attempts to secure her sixth win in what will be her eighth career start.
"She kind of came into the Oaks under the radar a little bit because she spent the winter in New York and then was second in the prep for the Kentucky Oaks, but, you know, we weren't surprised that she was able to pull off the win," Pletcher said of Princess of Sylmar. "I think at the time everyone considered it to be one of the strongest Kentucky Oaks we've seen in a long time, and I think with another strong performance, she'd certainly validate herself as a lead-material filly."
The reputation of two-time Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Royal Delta is a steadfast one, but the 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker has some redeeming to do after finishing second, beaten 5 lengths by Funny Proposition in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 15.
The Fleur de Lis was Royal Delta's first start since running 10th against males in the Dubai World Cup and marked just the second time in her 18-race career she has lost two in a row. Royal Delta won the 11/4-mile Delaware Handicap by a neck last year and is seeking to become the sixth two-time winner of the race.
"We could not ask for her to be doing any better," trainer Bill Mott said. "When she runs a good one, she is awesome. She never really runs poorly and I think it gets to the point where we expect her to win, so when she does not, but still runs well, we get a little dumbfounded."
With reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan at Saratoga, the 11⁄8-mile Bing Crosby at Del Mar represents opportunity for the likes of morning-line favorite Jeranimo, Middie and Slim Shadey — all of whom futilely chased the champion gelding in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 4.
Jeranimo, a 7-year-old son of Congaree. was runner-up in the 2011 edition of the Eddie Read and most recently ran fourth behind Obviously in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park on June 29.
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.