Lesson number one: It's not the quality of the horses; it's the quality of the experience.
As much as horse racing lovers want to believe that races such as the Woodward (gr. I) and Forego (gr. I) are the main attractions, this Labor Day weekend – a wet one – proved otherwise.
On Saturday, only 13,111 people braved the rain and the cold to go racing. On Sunday, with identical drizzle and uninviting skies, the track was a veritable sell-out.
Saratoga pulled out the old "give 'em a fleece blanket" promotion, and 66,311 people turned out – or, at least, they paid $3 to go through the turnstiles. The funny part is that many of the souvenir buyers stayed, and how lucky they were as a result. The seventh, eighth, and ninth races were something to witness.
In the seventh, Darley Stable unleashed another pricey filly in a six and one-half furlong maiden special weight sprint. Imperial Reign, purchased in March for $1 million, was making her second Saratoga start and the fans made her 4-5 in the wagering.
Garrett Gomez rode the Eoin Harty-trained filly by Indian Charlie
with confidence, and she rewarded him handsomely for his handling. Imperial Reign scooted home by a comfortable length and three-quarters over Autobahn Girl. She won in 1:17.70, a pretty good time for a two-year-old.
In the eighth - the co-feature Saranac (gr. III) - trainer Michael Dickinson, at work for the Flatbird Stable, prepared the Jersey Derby winner Rock Lobster for the winner's circle.
The race was noteworthy in many ways, but for fans that hadn't seen the sun in 48 hours, the start was especially exciting. Just before the doors sprung open on the gate, a ray of daylight brightened the proceedings, causing a cheer to go up in the stands as if the start of the Saranac was Kentucky Derby (gr. I) post time.
Lastly, another carpetbagger got rich in the $250,000 Spinaway (gr. I). Texan Bill Heiligbrodt owns Appealing Zophie, the winner. Sean Bridgmahon picked up the mount from Scott Blasi, and the tandem won as it pleased.
Horseplayers were fully expecting Todd Pletcher to capture another Spinaway, and they made his Cotton Blossom the favorite. Appealing Zophie, a January foal, broke her maiden by more than ten lengths in April, a sure sign that a blanket finish wouldn't be an issue.