This season, the sobriquet "Graveyard of Favorites" is appropriate for Saratoga in more ways than one. Monday brought the fifth day of daily on-track attendance decline and featured an upset of enormous proportions in the Amsterdam (gr. II).
Of the two developments, Court Folly's stunning defeat at the expense of the heavily-favored Songster, who many in the crowd had acclaimed as the country's swiftest sprinter, was by far the less predictable.
Attendance at the Spa course has been shaky for years and, with the New York Racing Association busy protecting its interests, there are fewer people around who believe in the product. So, it was less surprising that only 12,054 showed up, in comparison to last year's 14,398.
In part, New York State has itself to blame for dragging the sport down. Its diligent pursuit of reform gave politicians and prosecutors a popular platform to run on, and run they did – to the nearest newspaper. There haven't been many kind words about racing in the headlines in three years now.
Ironically, on Tuesday – an off day for racing -- some people in the sport will gather in the air-conditioning of the Gideon-Putnam Hotel to get out of the heat and cause a little more in the media. The Albany Law School is holding its annual forum on racing and gaming and, for many, a ticket to this fracas is hotter than a table in the clubhouse. Yet, it shouldn't be.
Winners paid $68.50, $27.80, $88.00, $22.00, and $18.40 at the track Monday. Nevertheless, whenever a 10-1 shot beats a 1-10 horse in a four-horse graded sprint, the other long shots on the card look insignificant. Moreover, when the trainer to do it is a mate from Down Under who has never saddled a Saratoga winner before, that's some sort of sweet story line.
"We'll probably come back in the King's Bishop (gr. I)," said Court Folly's trainer Ian Wilkes, an Aussie who is based on the Kentucky circuit. "I expected him to run well, but, well...you know...it was Songster," he shrugged, while attending a fund-raiser for Gilda's Club at the Canfield Casino.
Wilkes, who worked as an assistant to Carl Nafzger for 13 years, came up to New York for the Saratoga meet with a string of six horses. He has sent out three. He finished third with the first one, second with the second, and then won.
"The next is Burletta on Wednesday," Wilkes tipped. "I hope we win again with that one."
Burletta will run in the fifth, a $45,000 maiden claimer on the turf course. In the morning line, she's 5-1.To view a special collection of photographs from Saratoga, please visit the Blood-Horse Photo Store. Updated daily!