Skies open up for Saratoga opener

Updated: July 24, 2008, 11:42 AM ET
By David Grening | Daily Racing Form

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Mother Nature played the role of party pooper Wednesday as daylong rains dampened the mood on the 140th opening day at Saratoga.

The miserable conditions kept the crowd down to 18,127, compared with 30,052 who attended last year's opening day, run under pristine conditions. Wednesday, Saratoga's main track was labeled sloppy for all 10 races, and all five turf races were transferred to the main track. Last year, the main track was never labeled sloppy and only six races all meet long were moved from the turf to the dirt.

A total of 45 horses were scratched from Wednesday's card.

"Obviously disappointed," New York Racing Association president Charles Hayward said. "I'd rather take my beating on a Wednesday than have this rain on Saturday, but what I care about doesn't really matter. Last year was so exceptional, and that's why we're going to be hard-pressed to beat the numbers from last year."

Last year, Saratoga set a record for ontrack handle with $123 million and had the second-best all-sources handle. Wednesday, ontrack handle was $2,813,981 (down from $3,994,487 last year) while total handle was $11,431,845 (down from $15,282,907).

With more rain forecast on Thursday, NYRA already canceled the first steeplechase race of the meet, and the three races scheduled for the turf were moved to the dirt.

"Friday's a little questionable," Hayward said of the four turf races scheduled for that twilight card, adding that it depends how much more rain falls.

The wet conditions were not miserable for everyone. Trainer Steve Asmussen won three races on the opening-day card, including the Grade 3, $112,900 Schuylerville with Jardin, a 12-1 shot who relished the slop and cruised to a four-length score over Cameron Crazies, who nosed out Girlfrienontheside for second.

"We're going to hope for rain until it changes," said a drenched Asmussen, who also won the second with the juvenile colt Cognito and the sixth with the 3-year-old Jazz Nation. "It's the beginning of Saratoga - very important - and we're blessed with some very nice horses, and they're who won."

There were some mixed emotions for Asmussen, however, as Ocean Colors, the 6-5 favorite in the Schuylerville, finished last. She was found to be tying up, or having a muscle spasm.

"The other filly looks like she's going to be fine; she's just tying up a bit," Asmussen said. "We just want to make sure she gets back okay."

Jardin, a daughter of Montbrook owned by Padua Stables, covered the six furlongs in 1:12.79 and returned $26.40.

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. didn't mind the wet conditions, either. He won two of the five off-the-turf races, including the 5 1/2-furlong $86,650 High Rock Spring Stakes with Stormin Normandy, who rolled to an 8 1/4-length victory. Stormin Normandy covered the distance on the main track in 1:03.95.

Cornelio Velasquez, last year's leading rider at Saratoga, was aboard Stormin Normandy, one of two winners on the card for him. Alan Garcia also won two races.

Kent Desormeaux broke an 0-for-30 streak when he guided Jazz Nation to victory for Asmussen. It was also the 4,999th victory of Desormeaux's Hall of Fame career.

"I was more worried about getting the monkey off my back at Saratoga," said Desormeaux, who missed the riding title by one last year. "Now I can ride."

Chad Brown, a former assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, won with his very first starter at Saratoga, taking the opener with Star Player ($12.20).

"Tell Bobby I'm leading trainer for half an hour," said the 29-year-old Brown, who grew up just 10 minutes from Saratoga in Mechanicville. "I hope to have a few more at the meet."

The weather wasn't the only glitch on the day. Hayward said that "more than an acceptable number of betting machines did not operate" in the box seat area. Hayward said that the televisions for the race replay center were not delivered, meaning they weren't available for fans to use.

Also, Hayward said a horse trained by Gary Contessa got loose during training hours at the main track Wednesday morning, but somehow made it across Union Avenue and back to his barn. The only problem was no security officials saw the horse cross the road.

"They found the horse back at the barn and had no idea how he got there," Hayward said.

That horse, according to Contessa, was Starforaday, winner of the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap, who dumped his rider while jogging on the main track. Contessa said he was back at the barn when he got a call from his assistant, Marcelo Arenas, telling him the horse was loose. Contessa came out of his office to see the horse at the barn.

"He made it across Union Avenue unscathed," Contessa said. "I asked the security guards about it and they said they didn't see it."