Saratoga Diary: Twilight Before the Storm

The pace of the day on Friday took a leisurely turn. Racing revolved around life, instead of the other way around. There was time to fit in 18 holes of golf. And time to have brunch at Mrs. London's. There was even time to run to Target and stock up at Hannaford's before making your way to the track.

NYRA experimented with twilight racing, and instead of a first post at 1 p.m., the races began two hours later. The last race went off twelve minutes before sunset at 7:17 p.m. Leaving the track, it seemed later because of the overcast sky.

The tail end of tropical storm Ernesto was expected to make an uninvited visit to the area on Saturday, and clouds rolled in early, as expected.

In true Saratoga tradition, "Happy Hour" prices went into effect at 5 p.m. There were price reductions on hot dogs and fries and whiskey and beer. But, other than that, it was another day of trying to pick winners – alas, only three more days of that.

"Saratoga doesn't need this," said racing fan Bill Hayden of Enfield, Connecticut, while admitting that the new hours allowed him to arrive at the track at a time that he might ordinarily be leaving it. "If it weren't for the late start, I'd be missing a day of racing," said Suzette Lapelle of Corinth, New York, who got off work early and decided to come out at the last minute.

Hayden and Lapelle were exactly the kind of people that NYRA president Charlie Hayward wanted to accommodate. "Twilight racing worked pretty well when we tried it at Belmont this summer," he said at a public forum when discussing the plan. How nice that something went right for a change, wasn't it?

The truth of the matter is that most everything at the meet has gone on without trauma. Except for a cancellation of racing because of the heat, the fans have been sheltered from the day to day agita that NYRA resolves. Hat's off to Hayward and Bill Nader, NYRA's chief operating officer. Hooray for thousands of hard workers who rarely get props.

Give credit to jockey Edgar Prado for squeezing Fernando Po through on the rail to win the 1 1/16 mile feature on the Mellon Turf Course by a nose. Fernando Po is a two-year-old son of Johannesburg that is owned by Barry Schwartz and trained by Michael Hushion. The field of seven horses that he beat in the $70,000 With Anticipation Stakes seemed a big cut above average.