Saratoga Enjoys Another Successful Summer Run

By Phil Janack
In spite of lousy weather on key days, and for that matter, much of the rest of the meeting, and a virus that infected dozens of horses, the New York Racing Association was able to call the 134th summer at Saratoga a success.

"I guess we're very fortunate, to say the least," NYRA president and chief operating officer Terry Meyocks said.

"After the first 10 days, everyone had us dead and buried. It was all doom and gloom. Considering everything that happened, it's been really an outstanding meet."

A crowd of 22,287 showed up Monday for the last of 36 days of racing, pushing on-track attendance to 999,388, a 1.2 percent drop from last year's record of 1,011,689.

On-track handle on Saratoga races reached $115,400,499, a dip of less than 1 percent, while total on-track wagering including simulcasting was up less than 1 percent to $125,108,665.

Commingled handle on Saratoga races jumped 4.75 percent to $562,356,923. The average commingled handle on Saratoga races reached $15,621,026, and the all-sources
average handle climbed to $16,312,846, both increases from the records set last year.

"We finally broke through the $16 million barrier in average daily handle, which is phenomenal," NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said. "I'd be hard pressed to tell you any other race meet in America that handles even $12 million a day.

"When you measure all the factors that go into a race meet, I think this is probably the most successful meet in recent history. I've been here eight years now, and this is the best meet we've ever had."

The numbers were particularly impressive considering rain pounded Saratoga on Travers Day, Aug. 24, the centerpiece of the entire season, as well as the Aug. 17 Alabama (gr.I).

A total of 31 grass races were lost due to the weather, a marked increase from the eight of last summer, but on par with the 32 of 2000, when the total attendance was 978,321.

"It wasn't as much the amount of rain as when it rained and how it impacted our business on key days," Nader said. "There was also the heat and humidity, but that's always going to be part of the summer place to be.

"We also had a lot of sick horses. When you get past all that, the quality of our whole presentation with respect to day-to-day racing was very solid."

Edgard Prado, with 54 victories, unseated perennial riding champion Jerry Bailey. The trainig title went to Todd Pletcher, who lost handicap star Left Bank as well as promising newcomers Freedom's Daughter and Warners to illness.

The reduced takeout rate on wagering, which began with the opening of the 2001 Saratoga meet, continued to show dividends, officials said. After Monday's 11-race card, $44.3 million had been returned to bettors, according to Nader.

"When you look at any race meet in North America, Saratoga is sort of an icon in racing, and everything else is pretty far below that," he said. "Belmont, both the spring-summer and fall meets are very good, but it's not Saratoga.

"Churchill Downs, once you get past Derby weekend, you don't even come close to Saratoga. Even Del Mar. There really isn't anything that measures up to Saratoga."