07/30/2003 11:00PM

Bad weather becomes the norm in New York


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Not that any official confirmation was needed, but I switched on the Weather Channel and wouldn't you know scattered thunderstorms are in the weekend forecast for the Whitney Handicap.

If you're packing a picnic basket, you should know that at Saratoga any mention of thunderstorms prefaced by "scattered" or "isolated" is code for bring a poncho and tie down the lawn chairs because things could get nasty.

Pat Kelly knows. He is the son of the legendary trainer T.J. Kelly, and first began running around his father's Hall of Fame shed row some 50 years ago. The Kellys can handicap the local weather so well, you would think they have Doppler radar hooked up in one of those stalls. That's why Evening Attire's name was dropped in the entry box for the Whitney even though the mud-loving gelding would be running back on nine days' rest in the wake of an allowance win opening day.

Evening Attire travels over mud, especially Saratoga mud, like a big gray jet ski skips over Saratoga Lake, so why not take a run at 750 large?

Of course, Evening Attire's allowance came on a track that had gradually been drying out through the afternoon only to be freshly saturated by a late-afternoon storm. It had to be so, because the weather god vents his wrath on New York's tracks mostly on weekends and holidays - although exceptions are made for occasions like opening day, the day horseplayers wait for the way kids wait for Christmas.

Most any other time in Saratoga Springs it's gorgeous, almost as if you had walked into a picture postcard. Earlier this week the sun shone all day for four straight days.

This latest prediction of more rain on the stakes parade got me rummaging through the charts in an attempt to quantify just what New York bettors have been putting up with since Breeders' Cup Day 2001. (Remember that day at Belmont, when it was 50 degrees with a whipping wind that made it feel like 30? Remember how it never got that cold again all fall, and got that cold for only a handful of days during an exceptionally mild winter?)

An accounting of the past 12 months suggests the New York Racing Association should quadruple its umbrella giveaway days - either that, or float a bond to construct the world's biggest portable dome.


July 24 - Opening day at Saratoga last year. Muddy and off the turf for the opener.

Aug. 17 - Alabama Day. Track muddy to good.

Aug. 24 - Travers Day. The gift shops ran out of sweatshirts and jackets on a day when it rained for hours and the mercury struggled to reach 60 degrees.

Sept. 15 - Two Grade 1 races, the Matron and Futurity. NYRA officials were asking Whywhywhy as the Pat Biancone-trained colt took the Futurity through fog and heavy rain that made him barely visible on TV monitors.

Sept. 28 - Evening Attire's crowning moment, an upset of the Jockey Club Gold Cup on a track that went from muddy to good in late afternoon.

Oct. 13 - Sloppy for the Astarita and the Cowdin, which scratched down to four horses.

Oct. 14 - Columbus Day. Glia takes the off-the-turf Pebbles Handicap over four rivals.

Oct. 26 - Breeders' Cup Day. Sloppy for the Sport Page and First Flight handicaps on the local five-race undercard.

Nov. 28 - Thanksgiving Day. The good news: No rain. The bad news: 34 degrees.


March 16 - Gotham Day. Alysweep wires the race, run on the inner-dirt track because the main track's opening is delayed nine days by the winter that wouldn't leave.

April 12 - Wood Memorial Day. Sloppy to muddy for the first Grade 1 of the season.

April 26 - The Fort Marcy Handicap, the first scheduled grass stakes of the season, is run in the rain over a sloppy main track.

May 24, 26 - Sloppy for the Peter Pan. Sloppy for the Met Mile. The off-the-turf Jaipur Handicap features seven scratches.

June 7 - Belmont Stakes Day. Overcast until the third race, when a day-long rain commences.

June 8 - A sloppy Vagrancy Handicap scratches down to three fillies and mares.

June 14 - Heavy rain an hour before the Brooklyn Handicap - the stakes return of Breeders' Cup winner Volponi.

June 21 - Heavy rain midway through the card rendered Sightseek's Ogden Phipps Handicap a sea of slop.

Oh well, at least the Breeders' Cup is at Santa Anita this year. They say it never rains in Southern California.