Weather not fit for beast or man was the story opening day at Saratoga Race Course July 23. Drenching rain left the main track a sea of slop, necessitated the transfer of five turf races on the 10-race card to the dirt, and kept the attendance on the light side — 18,127 — for an opener. The crowd was significantly lower than the 30,052 who came out last year under perfect weather conditions.
In 2007 across-the-board records fell at the 36-day Saratoga meet, largely in part due to ideal weather. Weather so fine, in fact, that only six turf races were forced to the main track. That number was nearly surpassed on opening day this year.
All-source handle for the 2008 opener was $11,431,845, down from last year’s $15,282,907. Last year’s opener set a record for on-track handle of $3,994,487. This year’s lousy weather kept the number to $2,813,981.
Forty-five horses were scratched on opening day. The majority of the scratches came as a result of the turf races being switched to the main track.
The rain began to fall at around 8 a.m. and was heavy for a few hours until becoming intermittent for the first seven races. The rain came back in earnest before the feature race, the Schuylerville (gr.III). Additional rain was expected to fall overnight and during the day July 24. Because of the dire forecast, NYRA decided to scrap the first steeplechase race of the meet scheduled for July 24 and moved it to July 30. The elimination of the jump race means first post on July 24 is 1:35 p.m., rather than 1 p.m.
Charles Hayward, the CEO and president of the New York Racing Association, said turf racing for July 25 “is questionable.” There are four grass races carded for July 25.
Besides the awful weather, Hayward said there were “a few glitches” opening day.
“We had more than an acceptable number of betting machines in the box area that were not operating,” he said. Those machines would be up to speed for the second day of the meet.
The replay centers were not in operation because the televisions had not arrived. Hayward said he expected that to be rectified by July 24.
During training hours July 23, a Gary Contessa-trained horse, Starforaday, got loose on the main track and made his way back to his barn, located on the Oklahoma training track. Apparently, Starforaday travelled across busy Union Ave unnoticed by anyone. Contessa said the horse was uninjured, but that he alerted NYRA officials because the potential was there for a serious accident if a car struck a horse.