07/22/2003 11:00PM

Four for Prado, big one for Pletcher

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - With rain falling throughout the day, jockey Edgar Prado winning four races, and trainer Todd Pletcher winning the feature, the first day of the 2003 Saratoga meet felt like many of the 36 days of the 2002 meet.

Despite torrential rain that fell early and often, an opening-day crowd of 28,220 ushered in the 2003 Saratoga season. While short of last year's record opening-day crowd of 32,913, the figure is the third highest since Saratoga went to a six-week schedule in 1997.

Despite 37 scratches, ontrack and simulcast fans bet their money on the 10-race card. The ontrack handle was $3,180,149, while the total handle was $13,327,645. Last year's ontrack handle was $3,723,441, while total handle was $14,941,864.

Heavy rain began to fall around 11 a.m., and the track was rated "sloppy" for the first two races. Then the sun came out, and conditions were tolerable for midafternoon. The track was upgraded to "muddy" by race 3 and "good" by race 7, but another heavy downpour came around 4:30 p.m., and the track was downgraded to "sloppy" before the Schuylerville Stakes.

"This weather was not what we had in mind," said Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association. "It's just a continuation of what we've had on our big days. Despite having four races off the turf, we still had great numbers. Our ontrack handle was close to $3.2 million and our overall was $13.3 [million]. Those numbers aren't bad considering the way the day turned out. Those numbers are okay; we can overcome that."

As he did last year, Pletcher overcame a slow start to opening day by winning the Grade 2, $150,000 Schuylerville, this time with Ashado. Pletcher lost with his first four starters on the card - including three favorites sent off at 6-5 - before taking the feature. Last year, Pletcher lost with his first four runners before winning the Schuylerville with Freedom's Daughter.

"Like last year, we shot some blanks early in the day, and the Saint Ballado filly won the Schuylerville," said Pletcher, noting that both Ashado and Freedom's Daughter are offspring of the sire Saint Ballado.

Prado won the 2002 Saratoga title with 54 wins, and he had four four-win days in a five-day period late in the meet. Wednesday, Prado won the third aboard Carrier ($10), fourth aboard El Prado Rob ($24.20), eighth on Evening Attire ($3.90), and then the Schuylerville on Ashado ($7.10).

"It's only the beginning. There are still 35 more days to go - we'll see what happens," Prado said.

At the top of the stretch of the Schuylerville, it looked like Pletcher might run one-two with Ashado and Hermione's Magic. But Hermione's Magic, who set a quick pace, tired to third, while Ashado - who had won her maiden over an off track - drew off to win by three lengths over Maple Syrple.

"I think this track probably favored [Ashado]; having a race over a sloppy track was good for her," said Pletcher, who trains Ashado for Jack Wolf's Starlight Stable, Paul Saylor, and John Martin. "I thought my other filly ran very well; she set some solid fractions."

Breaking from post 6 in the seven-horse field, Ashado was wide and in the clear during the early stages of the race. She made a move into second around the turn, collared Hermione's Magic at the quarter pole, and steadily drew clear. Ashado, who was the favorite, covered six furlongs in 1:12.12.

Pletcher said he would probably point Ashado to the Grade 1 Spinaway on Aug. 29.

Evening Attire wins allowance

In the race before the Schuylerville, Prado rode Evening Attire to a 6 3/4-length victory in an allowance race. The win was the first of the year for Evening Attire, last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, who struggled in both the Brooklyn and Suburban handicaps this summer at Belmont.

"He's never been too good at Belmont," said trainer Pat Kelly, noting that there were special circumstances when Evening Attire won the Jockey Club Gold Cup there. "Basically, we got very lucky last fall, a muddy track, mile-and-a-quarter race. Other than that, his Belmont races are so-so. He loves it wet, he loves snow, he loves sleet, he loves mud. He doesn't like dry."

Kelly said Evening Attire would be pointed to the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap here on Aug. 16. In that race, he will most likely meet Blue Boat, who won Wednesday's second race, a second-level allowance, in front-running fashion over Seattle Fitz. It was the third victory in as many starts for Blue Boat since coming to trainer Bobby Frankel's barn.