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 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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