08/02/2006 12:00AM

Heat knocks out cards in Northeast


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The extreme heat that has gripped the Northeast this week forced the cancellation of racing Wednesday at four racetracks, including Saratoga. Since the advent of mutuels in 1940, no entire Saratoga card had been canceled because of weather, according to the New York Racing Association.

Racing was also canceled Wednesday at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts, and, for the second straight day, Delaware Park.

Local forecasts called for the temperature in Saratoga to be 94 at post time Wednesday, but combined with the high humidity it felt like 104 degrees, according to the Weather Channel. The forecast called for heat indices in the 110 range. At 3:40 p.m, which would have been post time for the sixth race, a strong thunderstorm blew through Saratoga, cooling things off considerably from earlier in the day.

NYRA officials held a meeting at 8 a.m. Wednesday that was attended by trainers Pat Kelly and Rick Violette, jockeys Javier Castellano and Garrett Gomez, as well as chief examining veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa. Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president, said within 10 minutes all parties were in agreement to pull the plug on the card for the safety of the horses.

Nader said the primary concern was horses suffering from heat prostration. Verderosa said that under Wednesday's conditions, it would take horses longer than usual to recover from heat prostration.

"We've run a lot of days when it's been hot and humid, we understand that, but today it was just too extreme, and we thought for the safety and welfare of all participants it was the right decision," Nader said. "The horses that ran today, there was some question in my mind and a few other people's mind whether those horses would be able to run again the rest of the meet."

Nader said the cancellation would likely cost Saratoga $10 million to $12 million in handle.

Nader said "it would have been a tough call" had this been a Saturday card.

The $70,000 Ashado Stakes scheduled for Wednesday was redrawn and brought back for Friday, which was to be expanded from nine races to a 10-race card. Wednesday's $150,000 Cab Calloway Stakes, for 3-year-old male progeny of New York stallions, will be brought back on Sunday.

Nader said it was likely that additional races would be carded on other days throughout the meet.

Opinions split on NYRA call

The decision to cancel was met with mixed reaction.

"I don't think horses should run when it's this hot," said trainer Christophe Clement, who had one horse entered on the card.

John Velazquez, a member of the Jockeys' Guild board of directors, also thought NYRA made the right decision to cancel.

"I think it's the right thing to do," Velazquez said. "If something happens heat-related, it'll be a disaster for us."

There were several people on the backstretch who disagreed with the decision.

Richard Migliore, who has ridden in New York for more than 20 years, called Wednesday's decision to cancel "absurd" and "stupid."

Migliore said that more horses are at risk of suffering heat prostration when moving from a cool climate to a hot climate. He said many of the horses stabled at Saratoga "have gone through the heat at Belmont. . . . I think it was a big mistake," he said.

Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer, was also befuddled by the decision to cancel.

"I don't get it," Mott said. "What's the difference today than any other day when it's hot? I have no idea what they're talking about. It's summertime."

Gary Contessa had five horses entered on Wednesday and was prepared to run them all.

"In 30 years I've run in 100-degree weather at Monmouth Park and here," Contessa said. "Yesterday we put four or five packs of [fluids] in every horse so they'd be properly hydrated and ready to run. I understand why they canceled, but I was not in favor of canceling."

In Oceanport, N.J., where Monmouth Park is located, an excessive heat warning was in effect through Thursday, with the temperature skirting the 100-degree mark on Wednesday and predicted to reach the middle to upper 90's on Thursday. Officials were hopeful racing would resume Thursday.

Wednesday's cancellation was the fourth time the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority had to cancel a Thoroughbred card this year. Two Monmouth cards in July were canceled because of a government shutdown, and one all-turf card at the Meadowlands in June was canceled because of rain.

Though Suffolk Downs got through Tuesday's card unscathed, the decision was made that afternoon to cancel Wednesday's program, according to Joe Fatalo, the track's assistant general manager.

Fatalo said that management met with the riders and veterinarians on Tuesday and that all felt "that was the outer limits as far as safety." Jockeys agreed to start the card and "with their cooperation we got the day in," Fatalo said.

Though the temperature reached 92 degrees on Tuesday in Boston, forecasts were for hotter weather on Wednesday.

"There wasn't a weather prognosticator who had any different opinion that today was going to be the most oppressive days in years," Fatalo said.

The temperature hit 97 degrees at Delaware Park on Wednesday, prompting that track's second straight cancellation. Delaware is dark on Thursday and Friday, and racing was expected to resume Saturday.