American Turf Magazine
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Sep 04, 2003


By: Joe Girardi

            Saratoga of 2003 has come to an end. The weather didn’t cooperate

as many races had to be taken off the turf throughout the meet. Despite

 that fact the total attendance which was 1,049,309, surpassed the record

of 1,011,669 which was set in 2001. The 2003 attendance was a 5 percent

increase over last year. The daily average of 29,147 was also a record, surpassing

 the average of 28,479 in 1989 when the meet was 24 days.

            On-track handle ($117,368,204) was also up, a gain of 1.7 percent

 over last year’s total of $115,400,498. Total commingled handle was off 1.6

percent from $562,356,929 in 2002 to $553,210,895 this year. The 2003 daily

 average commingled handle on Saratoga races was $15,366,969, a 1.6 percent

drop from last year’s average $15,621,026. NYRA blames it on the legislation

 that enables the state’s off-track betting corporations to take unlimited simulcasting.

            With all the wet weather and the turf cancellations and the fact that

 one race had to be cancelled completely because of the rain, it is remarkable

that attendance and handle were up. Saratoga also set a record on Travers day

 with a crowd of 66,122, that was a Saratoga record for a non-giveaway day.

            The Travers which is the biggest race at the meeting lost the two most

 high profile names when EMPIRE MAKER and FUNNY CIDE were not able

 to make the race. However, TEN MOST WANTED was able to get some

people talking with his easy win over what was still a very solid field. He will be

 pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and try to improve on last year’s Travers

 winner’s performance (MEDAGLIA D’ORO).

            With Saratoga always known as the place to see the next stars in

 racing we saw some very solid performers. BIRDSTONE, who was an impressive

 winner in his debut failed to fire in the Hopeful and lost some of his luster. Another

 impressive two year old that made his first start up there was VALUE PLUS, who

 debuted for Todd Pletcher. This UNBRIDLED’S SONG colt was a very

 easy winner in a time of 1:16 flat for six and a half furlongs. This horse has

 the most potential of all the Pletcher two year olds, especially after

 CHAPEL ROYAL failed in his attempt to stay undefeated with a second

place finish in the Hopeful.

            The leading trainer for the meeting was Todd Pletcher who set

some records also. He won 35 races, including six stakes races. His also set

 a record for number of wins in a 24 day meeting. The leading jockey at the

meeting was John Velazquez, who also set some records of his own. Velazquez

had 61 wins at the meeting, surpassing the previous mark of 55 set by

Jerry Bailey in 2001. Bailey, who finished as the second leading rider in

 wins, completed the meeting as the leading rider in percentage (29.4%) and

 he won nine stakes, including five Grade I’s.    

            Belmont opens it fall meeting on September 5th and runs through

 October 26th. There are many races at this meeting that will have a huge

impact on the Breeders Cup. In the first weekend of the meeting the Woodward

on Saturday September 6th will have something to say about the

Breeders’ Cup Classic. The probable favorite is MINESHAFT, who has been

 dominant since moving to the U. S., should continue his winning ways

and will be one of the choices come Breeders’ Cup day.   

            In addition to the Woodward the Grade I Man O’ War is also carded

 for September 6th. This race which also carries a purse of $500,000 will be

 run on the turf at 1 and 3/8ths miles. The Grade I Gazelle is also going to be run

 on Saturday. The Garden City Breeders Cup which will be run on Sunday

will make four Grade I races on the first weekend. That is just the start to

this meeting that will see 14 Grade I races. Many of these races will have a

huge impact on the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

            There will be a total of 41 stakes races throughout the meeting carrying

 purses worth $10.5 million dollars. There will be many trainers that went to

Saratoga also staying for the Belmont meeting. As strong as the Saratoga meeting

 was, the Belmont meet is just as strong if not stronger. Come out to the track

 to see many of racing’s stars before they ship out west for the Breeders’ Cup.



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