09/03/2007 11:00PM

Handle rises - ontrack bets a record


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Virtuoso performances by Street Sense, Lawyer Ron, Bill Mott and Mother Nature punctuated a stellar Saratoga meeting that came to an end on Monday.

Buoyed by near-perfect weather all summer - with the exception of Travers Day - Saratoga set an all-time ontrack handle record while enjoying its second-strongest overall handle in the track's 139-year history. Saratoga ran a record 347 races this year, compared with 336 last year when one day was canceled because of extreme heat.

Ontrack handle was a record $123,018,041, up from $113,175,491 in 2006. The daily average ontrack handle rose 5.7 percent to $3,417,167, compared to $3,233,585 in 2006. The previous record ontrack handle was $117,368,204 (a daily average of $3,260,228), set in 2003.

All-sources handle was $582,656,106, up from $548,709,887 last year. The daily average all-sources handle rose 3.2 percent to $16,184,891, compared to $15,677,425 last year. The record all-sources handle is $587,262,528, (a daily average of $16,312,846) set in 2002.

Average daily attendance was 26,627, up 2.6 percent from last year, when the daily average was 25,959. Overall attendance was 958,574, compared to 908,569 last year.

"We're very, very pleased with the numbers," said Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association. "We set an ontrack handle record, and ontrack handle to us is huge - four times better than simulcast or OTB handle. One of the things we did too, is we signed up over 8,000 NYRA Rewards customers; we only had 6,000 coming in."

Hayward said the weather was a "huge factor" because it enabled 163 turf races to be run, compared with 118 a year ago. There were only six races taken off the turf this year, compared with 24 last year. From 2001 to 2006, an average of 23 races were taken off the turf at Saratoga.

"Turf racing generally tends to have larger fields," Hayward said.

Saratoga gave away $4 million, or 14 percent, more in purse money this year than last year.

On the track, Saratoga fans got to see a Kentucky Derby winner perform in person for the first time in 12 years as Street Sense won both the Jim Dandy and Travers to seize control of the 3-year-old division.

Likewise, Lawyer Ron moved to the head of the class of the handicap division with dominating performances in the Whitney, in which he set a track record of 1:46.64 for 1 1/8 miles, and the Woodward, which he won by 8 1/4 lengths.

Owner Ahmed Zayat enjoyed a spectacular meet, winning 18 races, mostly with 2-year-olds such as Maimonides, More Happy, J Z Warrior, Z Humor, J Be K, and Moon De French.

Several of his 2-year-olds are with Bill Mott, who enjoyed his best Saratoga meet ever, winning 27 races to take the trainers' title. It was Mott's ninth title, first since 2001.

Another trainer who enjoyed a spectacular meet was Linda Rice, who won 13 races from 55 starters, including six consecutive victories from Thursday to Sunday. Rice tied for second with Todd Pletcher, Richard Dutrow Jr. and Gary Contessa.

The jockey title came down to the last day, as Cornelio Velasquez won one race to take the title 44-43. Kent Desormeaux went 0 for 10 on the card, losing the last race on the card by a half-length.

Rafael Bejarano was injured Monday when his mount, Marital Asset, reared up in the gate just before the start of the fourth race. Bejarano got squeezed between the horse and the gate, and was taken off the track on a stretcher and transported by ambulance complaining of chest and back pain. Preliminary X-rays were negative.

Prado out at least six weeks

Jockey Edgar Prado is expected to miss a minimum of six weeks after breaking his right ankle during the gallop-out of Saturday's seventh race here.

Prado underwent surgery Saturday night at Albany Medical Center, during which Dr. Rick Alfred inserted four screws to stabilize the ankle. Prado was released from the hospital on Monday, and was to have a cast put on the ankle on Tuesday.

Prado finished second in Saturday's seventh race aboard Admiral Bird and was between horses during the gallop-out when, according to Prado's agent, Bob Frieze, Good Going Darl bolted and hit Admiral Bird. Prado was unseated and landed awkwardly on a very firm turf course.

Frieze said doctors told Prado he would be out at least six weeks, perhaps longer.

"Depends how it heals." said Frieze. "That would be a minimum. If it takes eight or 10 weeks so be it. We're going to sit down and have a talk. You want to take time to get it right. We don't want to come back 90 percent, we want to come back 100 percent."

Prado, who had won the last two Saratoga riding titles, finished with 27 wins at this meet.

Rags to Riches works; next still unsure

Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches worked five furlongs in 1:02.63 Sunday morning over Saratoga's main track, but trainer Todd Pletcher said he would likely wait until Wednesday to decide whether the 3-year-old filly would run in Saturday's Ruffian at Belmont Park or wait for the Gazelle, also at Belmont, on Sept. 15.

Working in company with the 2-year-old maiden winner The Leopard, Rags to Riches began about 1 1/2 lengths behind that horse, crept up alongside him around the turn, then finished a length in front at the finish. Her fractions were 13.13 seconds, 25.53, and 37.79 seconds, meaning she came home in 24.84 seconds. After the work, Rags to Riches galloped out very strongly, taking until the 5 1/2-furlong pole to be pulled up by Angel Cordero Jr.

"Angel said he actually had to reach out and grab her to make her pull up when he did," Pletcher said.

Pletcher said Monday that Rags to Riches came out of the work well and would ship to Belmont on Wednesday. Rags to Riches missed three days of training and one scheduled workout last week when she was came up with a fever of 102 degrees. She has not run since becoming the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes.

Rags to Riches was assigned co-highweight of 120 pounds for the Ruffian, which on the scale of weights translates to 124 pounds for a 3-year-old against older fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles. Ginger Punch and Take D' Tour will also carry 120, while Miss Shop was assigned 118. Teammate (116), Rahys' Appeal (115) and Desert Fight (115) are also possible.

Pletcher did say that if Rags to Riches runs in the Ruffian she will do so as an entry with Chagall, who would serve as a pacesetter, or rabbit, to ensure an honest pace. Chagall, also a 3-year-old, was assigned 109 pounds.