New names, faces dot Spa

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Saratoga Race Course’s exceptional atmosphere and high-class racing places it on a pedestal, reserved only for the finest racetracks in the country. That reputation draws not only several of the most superlative horses from across the nation, but numerous top trainers and jockeys. As the 2015 racing season springs opens there are plenty of familiar names among the trainer and jockey rosters along with a handful of new ones.

Here’s a sampling of who are new and in some cases, new again as returners after a bit of an absence.

Joe Sharp, known by many as the husband of former jockey Rosie Napravnik, is no stranger to the Saratoga scene. This season marks his fourth year at Saratoga, but only the first with his own string. Sharp worked as assistant to trainer Mike Maker before going solo to begin his own training operation last year.

With a barn at the Oklahoma Training Track and a handful of stalls at the harness track to fill with ship-ins, Sharp expects to be caring for a string of around 30.

“We have some nice 2-year-olds up and coming,” Sharp said. “Aztec Brave’s doing well, and we brought some of what we feel are our better horses to be competitive up here. And you know, we don’t have any real heavy hitters at this point, but we have some 2-year-olds that could be anything, and we’re looking forward to making it back our first year up here.”

Aztec Brave is a 4-year-old French-bred gelding who comes off a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park. Sharp entered Shore Runner, a 5-year-old More Than Ready gelding he claimed at Belmont Park, in Monday’s Lucky Coin Stakes.

Like many, Sharp worked his way up the ranks before playing with the likes of Saratoga.

The North Dakota Horse Park, a small track in Fargo, served as one of Sharp’s steppingstones to the top. In 2004, he finished third in the jockey standings there while riding as a bug boy, only narrowly edged out for top honors by jockeys Scott Schindler and Ann Von Rosen.

“Had a lot of fun, won a lot of races up there,” Sharp said, as he pulled up one of his winner’s circle photos on his phone. He pointed to a figure standing next to the horse.

“Dan Kjorsvik, I still train for him.”

The difference now is that he’s training at Saratoga.

Read the rest of New Names, Familiar Faces, and all the Opening Day coverage in Friday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland.