Saratoga Notebook: Spa Attendance Up, Handle Down; Harlan's Holiday Uncertain for Whitney; Frankel Update

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
On-track attendance was up and on-track and total handle down after the first first week of the Saratoga meeting.

The on-track handle of $16.5 million was 7.6 percent below the 2002 figure, while the total handle of $83 million was down 9.1 percent. The on-track attendance was up 13.6 percent to 189,727.

Rainy weather during the first three days of the meet, a spate of refunds and increased competition from out-of-state simulcast are all factors that may have affected the Saratoga handle. According to New York Racing Association senior vice president Bill Nader, approximately $2 million in wagers were refunded after gate scratches and two horses being listed as non-starters.

"We've had our share of bad luck, but it's only one week," Nader said. "So it's not going to make or break the meet, and I think we're moving in the right direction. We're in good shape."

After six days of the 36-day meet, the total on-track handle was $16,546,816, a drop of 7.6 percent. The total handle, money bet at Saratoga Race Course and all off-track locations, was $83 million, a decline of 9.1 percent.

Earlier this year, the New York State Legislature removed limits on simulcasting limits that protected the Saratoga signal.

An additional promotional giveaway on the second day of the season helped boost attendance by 13.6 percent to 177,030.

Nader said NYRA officials expect business to grow this week with two of the marquee races of the season, the Whitney Handicap and the Jim Dandy, on the schedule.

We've already seen some big-time performances and we're looking forward to what should be an awesome Week 2," Nader said. "To have Volponi and Medaglia d'Oro in the Whitney with a pretty good supporting cast and Sunday should just be an exceptional day with Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy, the simulcast of Funny Cide's Haskell and a Native Dancer t-shirt giveaway all grouped in one day. That's going to be a blockbuster day."

Frankel Update
Trainer Bobby Frankel said Sightseek was in terrific shape Monday, the day after her decisive victory in the Go for Wand (gr. I).

"She's fine. It was like a workout for her, Frankel said.

The 4-year-old Juddmonte Farm filly romped by 11 1/2 lengths in an easy 1:50 4/5 for the nine furlongs.

"I don't want to degrade any of the horses she ran with, but she had them over a barrel. They went real slow and she was just cantering along. She came home in :12, like you'd want a horse to work, although not that far, necessarily."

Monday was a year to the day that Sightseek broke her maiden in her first try, also at Saratoga.

Frankel said he was searching for a race for Milwaukee Brew to use as a prep for the Pacific Classic (gr. I). An allowance race written for Wednesday did not fill.

Harlan's Holiday's Whitney Status Uncertain
By Monday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher said he had still not made a decision on whether to run Harlan's Holiday in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) on Saturday.

The 4-year-old Harlan colt breezed four furlongs in 51 seconds Sunday on the main track, two weeks after finishing a solid second to Congaree in the grade I Hollywood Gold Cup in California

"I was happy enough with the way he worked and the way he came out of it," Pletcher said Monday. "Basically, I'm just trying to figure out where our best chance of winning a race is."

Should he opt to bypass the Whitney, Pletcher said Harlan's Holiday would go next in the grade II Saratoga Cup Aug. 16.

"I'm happy with how the horse is doing, but sometimes they can fool you a little bit," he said. "It would be back in 20 days after the ship from California. It appears as though he came out of it fantastic, he's training great and his energy level is good.

"But, showing that in the morning and then going over and running a mile and an eighth against Medaglia d'Oro, one of the best horses in the country, sometimes you find out more."

Velazquez to Ride Saarland
Jockey John Velazquez, who has first call on Pletcher's horses, will be back aboard Saarland in the Whitney, trainer Shug McGaughey said Monday.

"As of this morning he was," McGaughey said.

Edgar Prado had replaced Velazquez on Saarland in the Brooklyn (gr. II) on June 14, finishing third. Velazquez rode Harlan's Holiday instead to a fifth-place finish. In the Brooklyn, run on a sloppy track, Saarland finished 5 1/2 lengths behind long shot winner Iron Deputy. Three weeks earlier, he was second by a neck to Aledbaran in the Met Mile (gr. I).