07/25/2007 11:00PM

First day thrills and spills

Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Subtle Aly (middle) and Edgar Prado kick off the Saratoga meet Wednesday by winning the Schuylerville Stakes in a three-horse photo over I Promise (right) and Blitzing.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - All's well that didn't start too well.

Though the 139th Saratoga meet got underway inauspiciously Wednesday when favored Massoud suffered a fatal injury in the stretch of the first race, the rest of opening day went fairly smoothly.

Under glorious conditions, a crowd of 30,052 ushered in the meeting. They wagered an on-track opening-day record $3,825,564, besting last year's ontrack total of $3,789,795 when the attendance was 27,346. Total handle on the 10-race card was $15,282,907, just short of last year's total of $15,533,027.

The handle was such despite two gate scratches - an ongoing problem at New York Racing Association tracks - that resulted in refunds of $154,168. The first scratch came in the fourth race when After Dark got tangled underneath the gate and was ordered a scratch by Dr. Anthony Verderosa. The next scratch came in the fifth race when the Bill Mott-trained Task Force also was scratched by Verderosa after he warmed up unsatisfactorily.

"I thought overall it was a great day," said Charles Hayward, the New York Racing Association president and chief operating officer. "It was disheartening to have the fall in the first race. We were thrilled the jocks were okay, and sorry we had to euthanize" Massoud.

The day wasn't a total success for Hayward, as According to Plan, the 2-year-old filly he owns a piece of with NYRA chairman Steve Duncker and others, finished fourth as the favorite to Subtle Aly in the featured $111,000 Schuylervlle Stakes for juvenile fillies.

For the second straight opening day, Edgar Prado was the riding star, winning three races, including the Schuylerville aboard Subtle Aly, who took a nose decision over a game I Promise.

"Hopefully we continue," Prado said. "There's only 35 days to go."

Hopefully, the other 35 start off better than opening day did.

With temperatures in the low 80s and sparkling sunshine soaking a boisterous crowd, the stage was set for a rocking start to the meet. As has become a custom, track announcer Tom Durkin implored the crowd to join in with the opening race call and the fans responded with a hearty "And they're off at Saratoga" as the field of 12 left the gate for the first race.

Entering the stretch, Massoud struck the front and the fans that pounded him to 6-5 favoritism were getting giddy. But inside the three-sixteenths pole, Massoud broke down in his right foreleg and unseated John Velazquez who tumbled to the ground. Raul Rojas, aboard 36-1 shot Lieutenant Danz, was forced into the rail and he too was unseated.

Velazquez was lucky not be struck by a trailing horse and he was soon seen sitting up. The ambulance was extremely slow to respond to Velazquez and he eventually walked off the course and back to the jockeys' room under his own power.

According to track officials, there was a lack of communication between the outriders and the ambulance driver in part because there weren't enough walkie-talkies.

"That is more than unacceptable,'' said Bruce Johnstone, NYRA's manager of racing operations.

Though he was not injured, Velazquez was upset that he was not properly attended to.

"I hope we fix it," Velazquez said. "Hopefully, it doesn't happen again. Hopefully, they get their act together. It was addressed with the stewards and everything, so hopefully they get it together."

Velazquez rode the remainder of the card, though he finished the day 0 for 8.

His main client, five-time leading trainer Todd Pletcher, went winless with his five runners on the card.

Richard Dutrow Jr., who finished second to Pletcher in last year's Saratoga standings, won the Schuylerville with Subtle Aly, a filly he never laid eyes on until he got to the paddock. A Dutrow client, the International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc., purchased majority interest in the filly - an impressive debut winner at Churchill - on July 17.

Despite stumbling at the start, Subtle Aly fell into a nice trip, sitting in fourth position while along the inside. Prado tipped her out to the two path turning for home and she set sail after I Promise, who set the pace, running fractions of 22.04 seconds and 45.44.

It looked as if Subtle Aly was going to open up in the stretch, but I Promise dug in along the rail and made it close at the finish. Subtle Aly, a daughter of French Envoy, covered the six furlongs in 1:11.06. Blitzing finished a neck behind I Promise in third.

"She was looking at something," Prado said. "It looked like she was going to open up. She took the lead, and saw something at the wire."

Said Dutrow: "Asmussen got her ready for us. He gave me all the clues about her. He couldn't have helped me out more, and we just got lucky to win this race today. Considering how bad she broke, she showed up as a racehorse."