Saratoga Notebook: Six Weeks of the Best Racing in America

by Dick Powell
(Editor's Note: Content for this weekly handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet).

Saratoga 2004 is in the books after six weeks of the best racing in America. The 2004 meet saw many highs and a few lows, but overall it was another great meet at the Spa.

John Velazquez broke last year's record of 61 wins with 65 this year. He won a race on each of the first 35 days of the meet and then failed to win on Monday when he only rode races 1 and 2 before flying down to Philly Park to ride POLLARD'S VISION (Carson City) in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2). Velazquez, who won with 29 percent of his mounts during the meet, captured nine stakes races and his mounts earned $3,563,489.

Edgar Prado was the runner-up to Velazquez with 39 wins. He had the most memorable day of the meet when winning five races on Travers Day and wound up with an amazing six Grade 1 victories. His mounts earned more money than Velazquez, $3,839,977, despite winning only 16 percent of his starts.

Jerry Bailey wound up with only 29 wins and missed the end of the meet when he flew to his Florida home to help prepare for Hurricane Frances and fell off a ladder, breaking his wrist.

Ramon Dominguez won 13 races and found the winner's circle at a healthy 26 percent clip. He won the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1) and will eventually move his tack to New York.

Jockeys who do not receive the fame of others but continue to represent good pari-mutuel value are Cornelio Velasquez, Javier Castellano, Richard Migliore and Jose Lezcano.

Todd Pletcher was shut out on closing day and wound up tying his record from last year of 35 training wins. Pletcher had a great meet but left with a sour taste in his mouth when PURGE (Unbridled's Song) lost the Travers (G1), ASHADO (Saint Ballado) went down in the Alabama (G1) and STRONG HOPE (Grand Slam) finished fourth in the Forego (G1). There's no reason to think that Pletcher can't win at least 30 races each year up here since he debuts or points so many of his juveniles to Saratoga. In fact, 17 of Pletcher's 35 wins were with juveniles, including nine first-time starters.

Bobby Frankel finished the last week of the meeting strong with four wins, including Forego winner MIDAS EYES (Touch Gold) with Prado aboard. Frankel wound up with 14 wins and won with 34 percent of his starters. Nick Zito and Mark Shuman tied for third with 10 wins each. For Shuman, it was a big meet since his owner, Michael Gill, has been banned from stall space at NYRA and all his starters had to be shipped in from other race tracks or their training center in Pennsylvania.

The average field size at the meet was a healthy 8.56. There were 95 turf races, 10 more than last year, and 21 races were taken off the turf compared to 31 last year.

Business was down the last week of the season. With Labor Day on September 6, many out-of-state fans stayed away with schools starting. But if you ever have an opportunity to visit Saratoga, the last week is one of the best. The weather is usually more comfortable and the track is easy to navigate. You can watch horses saddle in the paddock, observe them warming up and have plenty of time to get your bets in. With the exception of the last Sunday when NYRA has a second T-shirt giveaway, the track is very enjoyable and if you have your choice of which week to attend, make it the last week.

One negative of this year's meet was an extraordinarily high 39 percent rate for favorites. Too many races had heavy favorites that you either had to beat or they beat you. Hopefully things will get back to normal when the racing resumes at Belmont.


Wednesday (9/1)
2ND -- FOREST RHYTHM (Forestry) dueled for the lead before surrendering in a game effort in good time in his first start in 10 weeks.

3RD -- SMOKIEISABANDIT (Smoke Glacken) lost all chance when he stumbled badly at the start and then rushed up into contention before tiring.

5TH -- CALYPSO BAND (Dixieland Band) had a rough trip finishing third behind a monster Pletcher winner and should improve back at Belmont when going longer for Mark Hennig.

8TH - RAFFIE'S DREAM (Raffie's Majesty) lost all chance when she broke behind the field and wound up chasing the pace while wide on both turns.

Thursday (8/2)
6TH -- ERUDITE (Honor Grades) was an even third going 11 furlongs behind a very slow pace in his third start of the year.

7TH - PRISCILLA'S FLAG (Personal Flag) was a wide fourth here going nine furlongs and should be tougher back at Belmont against New York-bred NW1X.

Friday (8/3)
1ST -- THECONFIDENCEMAN (Incurable Optimist) lost all chance when he stumbled badly at the start and rallied from far back to get third.

2ND -- SIR PYY (Pentelicus) lost all chance when he stumbled at the start and was forced to chase the pace on the outside in his second career start.

4TH -- THESCHEMEOFTHINGS (Grand Slam) has yet to break well from the gate in two starts but should do well going longer back at Belmont.

9TH -- CABO DE NOCHE (Cape Town) rallied from far back to get third when stuck behind a very slow pace.

Saturday (8/4)
4TH -- TADREEB (Theatrical [Ire]) has run evenly in both main track start and should be fit and ready to go when he finally tries turf.

8TH -- GYGISTAR (Prospector's Music) raced evenly while wide around the far turn in his second start off a layoff.

10TH -- ONE EYED JOKER (Polish Numbers) had a nightmare trip in traffic down on the inside but rallied strong when finally clear in the stretch.

Sunday (9/5)
2ND -- THUNDERPRINCE (Indian Charlie) was highly touted for his career debut but lost all chance with a terrible start and a six-wide trip around the turn.

4TH -- MARNIE'S HEIRLOOM (Sandpit) was used hard from post 11 to take an early lead and came up empty in the stretch.

6TH -- MORE MOONLIGHT (More Than Ready ) was wiped out at the start in her second career start and merits another try.

Monday (9/6)
2ND -- THUNDEROUS SUMMER (Thunder Gulch) was an eventful fourth in his career debut for Peter Vestal, who never has them cranked up first time out anyway.