08/13/2007 12:02AM

Atlas Shrugged


I was really hoping that Sunday's folding-chair giveaway would be a bust. Alas, it drew long lines at the gates beginning two hours before post time, and a reported attendance of 72,745, surely a fake record of some sort.

The reason I was rooting that the chairs wouldn't draw flies was that I am hoping against hope that some day, some Saratoga marketing weasel will take leave of his senses and offer an even worse giveaway than the one we came up with when I was working at NYRA back in 1995 -- the shameful, shameful episode of the Saratoga Road Atlas.

Like New Coke, the Betamax and Friends of New York Racing, it really did sound like a good idea at the time. People take car trips in the summer and generally do a lot of driving in the vast expanses of upstate New York, right? So who wouldn't want a free road atlas with a big fat Saratoga logo on the front? How many t-shirts and umbrellas can the good citizens of Saratoga Springs accumulate year after year? We did a deal with a map company, got them for pennies, and braced for a pre-dawn assault on the Saratoga gates by the eager hordes of map-deprived Adirondackers.

The gates were still clear at high noon. Somewhere in the lower intestines of Saratoga, there must still be boxes and boxes of road atlasses, which did not exactly inspire gratitude from the masses. It was the giveaway you couldn't give away. We would have done better offering free scoops of liver-flavored ice cream. People would have gone through the turnstiles twice not to get an Official Saratoga Road Atlas. It was the worst giveaway day ever, and I fear its status at the very bottom of the leaderboard is secure for many years to come.

There are already 77 listings on eBay for "Saratoga folding chair," with bids as high as $15. Alas, "Saratoga road atlas" returns 0 listings.

--As for the racing that surrounded the chair giveaway, the best of it came early in the card in the form of stunning back-to-back victories by Digger and Posted which each earned Beyers of 100.

*Race 3: Digger is the horse that eccentric owner Larry Roman (of Lawrence the Roman fame) was threatening to enter in the Belmont Stakes as some sort of protest against Street Sense's absence. Roman promised the colt would go 44 and change in the Test of the Champion, which would have made for an interesting sight in a race where the first six furlongs were run in 1:15.32. Turns out Roman was right if two months late, as Digger, dismissed at 10-1 in this $100k claimer for 3yos, was three in front after a half in 44.33, eight in front at the stretch call, and 6 3/4 lengths clear at the wire after 6 1/2 furlongs in a scorching 1:15.17.

*Race 4: Posted, the 4-year-old statebred gelding who posted a staggering 111 Beyer winning a maiden race July 14, came back to score by 7 1/2 lengths in 1:21.74 for seven furlongs here in a statebred N1x. The graph-paper set will say he bounced or regressed off his last race but what also happened is that he was restrained through very moderate early fractions -- 23.25 and 46.22, as opposed to Digger's 21.87 and 44.33 -- and then ran green as grass through the stretch, looking straight into the grandstand with his head cocked through much of a fine final three-eighths in 35.52. Posted has obviously had his problems, having made only three career starts more than halfway through his 4-year-old year, but clearly has the raw talent to turn into an important sprinter this fall.

Race 9: Classic Pack ($29.60) stormed to victory in the West Point Handicap, killing all but three pick-six tickets, all of them alive only to favorite New York Dixie in the finale, on a day when $577k was bet chasing a $101k carryover.

Race 10: Optimistic Jordan looked home free to pull a 35-1 upset and prompt a $426k double-carry into Monday, but Garrett Gomez got New York Dixie to make a final surge and got the bob at the wire to win what might have been the meeting's closest photo. So instead of a million-dollar Monday, we had three winners at $142,005 apiece.

--Restaurant Foray #5: With no double-carry to study up on at the end of an ugly week, it seemed time for the first real blowout meal of the meeting, so it was dinner for 4 at Sargo's, which has become my favorite fancy-meal-out place in Saratoga over the last few years, and which did not disappoint on tonight's maiden outing of the meet.

Sargo's gets its name from the Saratoga National Golf Course that surrounds it, just east of the thruway a few minutes from the track. This is a Four Diamond joint where you can eat in the main dining room in a polo shirt while being fussed over by a crisp wait staff, and while your eyes might pop at the $58 pricetag for the 2 1/2-pound lobster out of its shell, it's delicious. Cheaper eats are available in the bar area, but this gracious, high-ceilinged clubhouse is exactly where you want to go when you hit one of those $142k pick-sixes -- or just live like you did.