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Saratoga opens Friday -- and racing doesn't get any better than this

An exercise rider rides a horse during morning

An exercise rider rides a horse during morning workouts at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday, July 17, 2014, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

Will you be going up there?

As they do every July, racing fans have been asking each other that question. "There," of course, is Saratoga Race Course, and its 147th season begins Friday at 1 p.m. Topping the 10-race card is the usual opening-day feature, the 97th running of the Grade III Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, plus the Grade II Lake George for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

Whether you're an owner, trainer, jockey, hard-core horseplayer or casual racegoer, there's nowhere you would rather be in late July, August or early September, especially for the Saturday programs, exceeded only on Breeders' Cup weekend and Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes days.

The world's best extended race meeting will run six days a week (dark Tuesdays) through Labor Day, Sept. 7, featuring most of the top trainers, riders and thoroughbreds in North America. There will be 69 stakes worth a track-record $18.7 million for males and females in every age group, on dirt and grass, and a handful of steeplechases. The 5-furlong races will showcase future stars, so you might see next year's Derby winner debut in the second race on a rainy Monday. You never can tell.

Even the worldwide leader in sports will make the scene. on Saturday, ESPN's "SportsCenter on the Road" will originate at the track from 9 a.m.-noon, with anchors Sara Walsh, Jeannine Edwards and Kenny Mayne.

Since the long-gone days of Diamond Jim Brady and "Bet a Million" Gates, Saratoga has been where the elite meet and the rich get richer. That endless tradition is sure to continue. Expect perennial champion Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown to saddle the most winners and for Javier Castellano to be the leading rider, challenged by John Velazquez and the Ortiz brothers, Irad Jr. and Jose. It's a safe bet that owner Ken Ramsey will visit the winner's circle frequently, probably with offspring of his breeding ATM, Kitten's Joy.

There's also a chance that the Spa will lure Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, especially if he wins easily, as expected, Aug. 2 in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Owner Ahmed Zayat said if all goes well at the Jersey Shore, he could go in the $1.25-million Travers Stakes on Aug. 29. If Pharoah does show up for the "Midsummer Derby," the old wooden grandstand will rock even louder than it did six years ago, when superstar filly Rachel Alexandra beat males in the Woodward.

Larry Collmus has succeeded Tom Durkin as the Spa's track announcer. "To me, Saratoga, with the whole atmosphere, is the mecca of racing," Collmus said. "Knowing I'm going to be the guy calling the races is just amazing, and I can't wait for that."

Pharoah breezing quickly.American Pharoah breezed 6 furlongs for jockey Martin Garcia in a snappy 1:11 Thursday morning at Del Mar, five days after he went the same distance there in 1:11.40.

"I think he's getting faster," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's giving me goose bumps."

Baffert said the colt will work "an easy half-mile" at Del Mar on Tuesday, the day before he will be flown to New Jersey for the Haskell.

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