Unidentified horse and rider just after dawn on Travers Stakes Day at Saratoga.

Unidentified horse and rider just after dawn on Travers Stakes Day at Saratoga.

Skip Dickstein

Saratoga Notebook: Classic Winners Missing, but Not Fans; Volponi Course Charted; Green Fee Out; No Marker for 'Dave

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Funny Cide and Empire Maker may not have made it to the Travers (gr. I) Saturday, but the fans did. Several records were set at Saratoga Race Course in the process.

The on-track crowd of 66,122 was the largest for a non-giveaway day and third largest in the history of the track. The previous Travers record of 60,486 was set in 2001.

The on-track handle of $9,390,934 for the 12-race program was a track record. The total commingled handle of $39,489,786 surpassed by nearly $5 million the record set two years ago. The total handle, including non-commingled sources was a record $40,907,482.

The Pick 4 was a North America-record handle of $1,488.479. The previous record was established last year at Saratoga on Travers Day at $1,369,444.

"This was a great day for the Travers and Saratoga Race Course, and it was a great day for racing," said NYRA president Terry Meyocks. "Today's crowd was a great example of the unwavering respect for the history and tradition of the Travers Stakes from our loyal fans and their appreciation of Saratoga Race Course."

Volponi Slated for 2 Starts Before Classic
Last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr.I) winner Volponi will make two more starts before the 2004 Classic on Oct, 25, trainer Phil Johnson said Saturday.

One will be the Meadowlands Cup (gr.II) on Oct. 3, the race he used as a prep for the last year's Classic upset. Johnson said he might put Volponi back on the grass in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr.IIT), a race he ran in last year. He has also nominated the horse to the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) on the dirt on Sept. 28.

One thing Johnson is sure of – he won't run Volponi on soft turf.

"What I want to do is I want to get to the Breeders' Cup Classic the best way I can," he said. "He's high now. I've eased up a little bit on him since that race. We had a cool morning and he's bouncing around, so he's fine."

Volponi has run second in each of his five starts this year, including two races at Saratoga, the Whitney Handicap (gr.I) and the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr.II). Johnson said it would be wrong to assume that Volponi has regressed from last year.

"He's a better horse," Johnson said. "Although, with Mineshaft, I think the competition will be better than it was last year. But I still think he is a better horse than he was last year. If I'm going to hook Mineshaft, I would want to do it for $4 million, and not a minute before that."

Green Fee Sidelined
Trainer Dan Peitz said Saturday that Kelso Handicap (gr.IIT) winner Green Fee will miss the rest of the season with a stained suspensory ligament in his left front leg.

The 7-year-old horse suffered the injury in training this summer.

"We're probably just going to send him home and give him some time and see if we can get him back next year," Peitz said.

Peitz acknowledged that he was disappointed that Green Fee was unable to put together the kind of season he had last year. In what was his final start of 2003, Green Fee was seventh in the Poker (gr.IIT) on July 5 at Belmont Park.

"We didn't have much luck with him this spring, getting him in because of the weather," Peitz said. "Then when we finally did get to run him in the Poker, the pace was so slow. He's out the back and they just crawled the first part and then they sprinted home. He really didn't have much shot.

"We were going to try and run him in the Fourstardave and go back to Belmont and run in the Kelso again. Now it will have to be next year's Kelso.

Fourstardave's Grave Remains Unmarked
In his first visit to the burial site of his best-known horse, owner Richard Bomze was surprised to see the grave of Fourstardave still unmarked 10 months after his death.

Bomze, who winters in Florida but spends the summer in Saratoga, was at the track Saturday to present the winning trophy in the Fourstardave (gr. IIT), named after the horse nicknamed "The Sultan of Saratoga" for his amazing eight-year win streak here from 1987-94.

Trained by Leo O'Brien, Fourstardave died Oct. 15 of a heart attack following a jog at Belmont Park. He was buried two days later in the infield of Clare Court, the small gallop track behind the seven-furlong chute at the track operated by the New York Racing Association.

"I couldn't believe there wasn't a stone," Bomze said between races Saturday, "but they're short money, and they've got more important things to worry about. I'll get together with them and we'll do something. Either they'll pay or I'll pay. Maybe we'll split it."

At the time of the burial, Dennis Brida, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., said there were several groups that were willing to put up money for a stone. He also said Fourstardave's memory would be honored during the Saratoga meet, but Bomze said he was never contacted about any formal or informal ceremony.

"Not a word. I wish they would," he said. "It would be great. I'd be very, very happy to cooperate with anything they wanted to do, but it's up to the track. All I can do is help them if they wanted to do something. We all would."

Bomze said he and Brida together visited the grave of Fourstardave, who is buried between A Phenomenon and Mourjane, both of whom have headstones. Go for Wand, buried near the finish line in the infield of the main track, also has her site marked.

"I thought they would have a marker, but I never broached it with them. It was just something we never talked about," Bomze said. "When we went over there, I had to ask Dennis, `Which way is he facing?' "