And so it ends…again.
The 40-day Saratoga meet came to a close on Labor Day after a record-setting summer during which NYRA smashed the previous record for all-sources handle.
A total of $676,709,490 was wagered over the 6 1/2-week meet besting the 2015 record by 4.4 percent and more than 15 percent above the third-best season of 2012.
If memory serves me, it is worth noting that 2015 was near-perfect from a weather standpoint when it seemed to rain once a week, but only on Tuesdays, the traditional dark day at the track.
In addition to the all-sources record, the on-track handle was a whopping $157,014,965. That incorporates downstate betting at Belmont and Aqueduct and wagering on the NYRA Bets platform. Even if a bit inflated, NYRA does keep a higher percentage of the handle from those “off-Saratoga” locations which is good for the bottom line.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had a fairly big lead in wins over rival Chad Brown entering the final 10 days of the meet and after Brown closed gap, Pletcher chugged along to total 40 wins — one ahead of Brown. That total tied Brown’s record of 40 training wins last year.
To get a sense of just how far ahead of their coutnerparts these two super trainers are, the third-highest win total belonged to Linda Rice with 16. Rice may have put in the best performance for a trianer not named Todd or Chad as she trained New York’s Finest to 3 wins at the meet and her turf colt Voodoo Song to an incredible 4 wins.
Voodoo song won a claiming race on the first Saturday of the meet and then climbed the ladder with a win against n1x rivals followed by a score against optional claimers on Aug. 23. Rice then wheeled Voodoo Song right back just 10 days later and he took the Grade-III Saranac on closing weekend.
One other trainer worth noting is Jason Servis who wound up 8th in the standings with 11 wins, but did it with only 33 starters for a win percentage of, well, 33.
In the same way the trainer race has been Todd and Chad for a few years, the jockey race has come down the Jose and Irad — the Ortiz brothers. Jose took his second crown in a row with 57 wins to brother Irad’s 52. They even endured an inquiry and objection on closing day against each other.
The hands-down best performance for a horse was put in by Gun Runner in the Woodward last Saturday when chased a solid pace while 2- to 3-wide and pulled away for a 10-length win. Steve Asmussen has trained this 4-year-old colt beautifully and with Arrogate faltering, Gun Runner looks like a favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
On a personal note, I only got to Saratoga for three racing days, contributing very little to the record handle. I did attend my 27th-consecutive Travers and that is always special.
And a recent tradition has been a family trip on closing day which includes ‘breakfast’ at the track consisiting of an egg mcmuffin and donuts while watching the horses workout from the clubhouse box seats and just a few races before heading home to get the kids ready for a return to school.
And now it is on to Belmont Park and the 38-day Fall Championship meet. A couple 3-day, long weekends coming up until the meet begins in earnest on Wednesday Sept. 20.
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