09/03/2006 11:00PM

Business rebounds from several rough spots

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Despite a poor first week, the cancellation of an entire card, and the refunding of more than $3 million because of late scratches, Saratoga enjoyed a successful meet in terms of handle and attendance.

Ontrack attendance averaged 25,959 for this year's 35-day meet, up 0.18 of a percent from last year's daily average of 25,914 for 36 days. This year's meet lost a day when the nine-race Aug. 2 card was canceled because of extreme heat.

All-sources handle on Saratoga races increased 4.92 percent, from $14,946,720 daily in 2005 to $15,682,252 this year. There were 336 races run this year, compared with 343 last year.

For the seventh consecutive year, daily average ontrack handle on Saratoga's races topped $3.2 million. This year's figure of $3,227,488 was down 0.69 percent from last year's daily average of $3,250,009.

After the first week, attendance was down 14 percent, ontrack handle was down 10 percent, and overall handle was down 3 percent.

"I think it's a big success,'' said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, which operates the track. "We were concerned about the economy coming in. . . . We really finished up very strongly. The realignment of the twilight Friday was a big success."

Saratoga held a twilight racing card last Friday with a first post at 3 p.m. Hayward said that next year twilight cards may be held on the first and last Friday of the meet, with a 2:45 p.m. post.

Todd Pletcher won his fifth consecutive Saratoga trainers title with 24 wins from 116 starters. He put an exclamation point on his meet by winning Monday's Hopeful Stakes with Circular Quay, Pletcher's ninth graded stakes victory of the meet and his fourth Grade 1 victory.

Pletcher, however, had his low moments as well, with Bluegrass Cat suffering a career-ending injury while running second in the Travers and Flower Alley running poorly in both the Whitney and Woodward Stakes.

"Any time you can win some stakes at Saratoga it's great. I'm pleased with that," Pletcher said. "We had some 2-year-olds run well that look like they could have bright futures. Obviously had some disappointments with Bluegrass Cat getting hurt and Flower Alley not firing like we thought he would, but overall it's been very good."

Edgar Prado outlasted Garrett Gomez to win his second straight jockey title with 46 wins, including three on Monday. Gomez, riding his first Saratoga meet, ended up in second with 42. He won two on Monday, including the Hopeful.

"It's been a really tough colony, a constellation of stars in the jockeys' room," Prado said. "Everybody was working hard and trying the best they can. I take my hat off to everybody in the jockeys' room. It's really special to win here at Saratoga."

Gomez, who won four graded stakes for Pletcher, said, "It's been phenomenal, it's been a blast. All the people that supported me and gave me the opportunity - it's been wonderful."