Nothing ruins a day at the races more than rain, and at Saratoga, where people huddle under the trees in the backyard to picnic, the effect can be worse than ants in the potato salad.
Nevertheless, a happy crowd of 18,127 people ventured into the dreary weather to welcome the Thoroughbreds back. Umbrella-toting fans wagered $2.8 million, and most of them slid dry money out of their wallets.
Give credit to the New York Racing Association for letting the dayhops from the back lot pitch their folding chairs under the grandstand and allowing them to bring their coolers in under cover. Salute the wisdom of the bettors for understanding that drip happens.
By the way, those fans who stuck around witnessed a “Graveyard of Favorites” moment. At 12-1, Jardin, trained by Steve Asmussen, won the opening day’s $100,000 Schuylerville (gr.1). Owned by Padua Stables, the daughter of Montbrook joined with 17-1 Cameron Crazies for an exacta worth $375.Asmussen had three wins on the card.
Despite the upset, handicapping wasn’t really the challenge. It was keeping track of which horse was in and which was out that drove you bananas. The operator in the infield, who was assigned to hoisting signs on the vintage scratch board, was overwhelmed to the point of quitting on his assignment. Wondering why? Well, there were 44 scratches and 72 starters on the 10-race card.
Rick Dutrow Jr., another guy for whom not everything’s gone right lately, had things go superbly. Two horses he listed for the “main track only” got into races and won.
Stormin Normandy benefited from seven scratches in the eighth race, the $80,000 High Rock Stakes for state-breds. Building New Era, previously tried in open company, drew into the seventh, another restricted contest, and crushed his rivals.
A steady downpour continued unabated throughout the afternoon and evening. Here, just south of the bad weather-prone Adirondacks, systems blow in unexpectedly and stay like company that won’t leave until you turn the lights out. Prepare for rain again on Thursday.
Oh, one more thing - Saratoga’s biggest rainmaker is not Mother Nature. It’s former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, and he, too, was at the track for the opener.
For the last couple of years, Bruno, who was no friend to NYRA, seemed to be at the center of the state’s tiring debate about which group should run New York racing. Now that Bruno has left public office and is leading a life in the private sector, how long do you think he can hold on to his clubhouse box?
The huge amounts of money Bruno raised for the area will be missed, but not forgotten. You can say the same for the agita he caused.