Saratoga Records Set for Attendance, Handle
by Mike Kane
Date Posted: 9/1/2003 8:23:54 PM
Last Updated: 9/4/2003 2:56:26 PM

Despite a wet start to the season and the absence of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner Funny Cide in the Travers (gr. I), the 135th Saratoga meeting ended Monday with records for attendance and handle.

The 36-day meet at Saratoga Race Course drew a record total on-track attendance of 1,049,309, an increase of 5% from last year. The former record of 1,011,689 was set in 2001. The on-track handle of $117,368,204 was an increase of 1.7% from last year.

Once the rain stopped, on-track attendance was up in 16 of the last 18 days of the meet over last year.

"We're only as good as the weather," said New York Racing Association president Terry Meyocks. "We've been very fortunate. "It's been a remarkable meet considering everything with the weather.

The total handle of $570,7333,096 represented a decline of $10,358,626, or 1.7%, and intrastate handle dropped $13,013,163 (down 9.7%). NYRA officials attributed those decreases to a change in state law that allowed unlimited out-of-state simulcasting at the state's off-track betting corporations.

The daily average crowd of 29,147 surpassed the record average of 28,479 set during the 24-day meeting in 1989.

There was great deal of anticipation for the Saratoga season because of Funny Cide's popularity in the Capital Region and the prospect of a showdown with Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker in the Travers. Both colts were unable to compete in the race due to illness, but the Travers still drew a record on-track crowd of 66,122 and the on-track handle also established a one-day record of $9,390,934. The total commingled pool of $39,489, 786 was also a single-day record.

On the track, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez demolished track records. Pletcher finished with 35 winners, 13 more than Bill Mott in 2001. Velazquez had 61 victories, beating Jerry Bailey's record of 55 in 2001. Pletcher and Velazquez also bettered the win record for the old 24-day Saratoga meetings in the first 24 days of the season.

The rainy weather at the start of the season led to declines in on-track business. A deluge on Sunday, Aug. 10 washed out a portion of the track and forced NYRA officials to cancel one race. During the first 20 days of the season, 25 grass races had to be run on the main track because the turf courses were too wet. A total of 31 turf races were moved to the dirt.

Meyocks noted that interest in Funny Cide owned by the Sackatoga Stable of Saratoga Springs, and the release of the movie "Seabiscuit" provided momentum at the beginning of the meet. The rain quickly slowed business at the track.

"The quality of racing was excellent, considering all of the factors," Meyocks said. "What could go wrong did in the first two or three weeks with the weather, with the power outage, the cancellation, a couple of scratches at the gate that cancelled the trifectas. Those were a lot of things that we can't control. We've done well. The quality of racing stood up."


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