Counting Crowds


Track officials knew that the first day of the new Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing would be a big day when the NYRA parking lots were full by the second race.  Gauging attendance is possible by looking at how populated the last two sections of the grandstand are or by walking through the picnic grounds and seeing how many times you have to alter course to get from one point to another.  But when cars flood the area next to the Oklahoma training track, that's when the signs of a sellout are assured.


Good weather prompted the huge turnout.  Nearly 40,000 fans paid their way through the turnstiles.  Over $5.2 million was wagered on-track.  The crowd was given three stakes at Saratoga to bet on.  Of the three, the $750,000 grade I Whitney Handicap had the most hallowed reputation.  Of the other two, the $300,000 grade I Test had the longer history.


Tracy Farmer's Commentator, an 8-year-old New York-bred gelding that won the Whitney twice before, went to the post as this year's Whitney favorite.  His quick turn of foot served him well, as he scampered ahead of the pack easily.  Then he started to fade at the top of the stretch, relinquishing the lead to the 19-1 winner Bullsbay.  West Point Thoroughbreds' Macho Again made a threatening move, although couldn't close fast enough.


As for the Test, it too was won by a horse that slipped the analytic grasp of many astute gamblers.  Flashing, owned by Godolphin Stable, paid $11.60 to win. Saratoga's sole air-conditioned suite with an unobstructed view of the track was prepared to host Sheikh Mohammed.  But the ruler of Dubai, like the seven other fillies his Flashing faced, was a no-show.  It's too bad because NYRA went out and rented furniture to spruce up his spot regally.


Ordinary fans were treated like kings in other ways.  For many in the crowd, three televised grade I races from Arlington Park were part of the fun.  Gio Ponti proved again he's the best older turf horse by taking the Arlington Million.  Dynaforce won the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes.  Take the Points won the $400,000 Secretariat.


Take the Point's victory was especially satisfying because one of his owners is Donnie Lucarelli, a Schenectady, New York native. Lucarelli is a partner with Jack and Laurie Wolf in Starlight Racing. Wolf regrets that Starlight's horse isn't eligible for a Breeders' Cup race.  The way the gray son of Even the Score out-gamed Black Bear Island proves indeed that he's qualified.


Despite such a glorious day of racing, what might have made Fasig-Tipton's festival sponsorship significant was a seminar called "From the Farm to the Finish Line."  It drew 400 fans.  That's about one-third the number of folks that gathered in the backyard of Siro's once the racing was over.  The Siro's crowd included Bennie L. "Chip" Woolley, Jr. and Jack Knowlton.  You remember them from last Saratoga Diary, don't you?

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