08/07/2008 11:00PM

Heavens open and Spa shuts down

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The final eight races of Friday's card at Saratoga were canceled after heavy rains created unsafe track conditions on the main track and left the turf course unusable.

The decision to cancel was made by New York Racing Association management after it was determined there were washouts between the five-sixteenths pole and the quarter pole. It was announced that it would take at least an hour to fix the track problems, and with a chance for more rain later in the day, the decision was made to cancel.

"Even after an hour, there was no guarantee that the track would be up to standard," said NYRA's president, Charles Hayward. "The threat of more storms was real, and we decided to cancel for the safety of the horses, the jockeys, and the fans."

The heaviest of the rain came while the horses were in the paddock before the third race. After a delay to wait out the storm - which included hail, thunder, and lightning - those horses were sent to the track. When the jockeys were galloping their horses to the far turn, a member of the maintenance crew stopped them. The horses were sent back to the paddock.

"From the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole it's like a river going through it," said jockey John Velazquez, who was scheduled to ride the returning Grade 3 winner Ravel in the third. "There are big holes in there from the middle of the track all the way down to the rail - I mean huge."

From opening day to Friday, rain has been a constant. A total of 18 races have been taken off the turf - including Friday's second race. The remaining three turf races on the card were going to be moved to the dirt, including the $80,000 Waya Stakes, which will be rescheduled for Wednesday.

As a result of Friday's cancellation, fans were given a two-part rain check for admission and program. Exchange of reserved seats will be granted for future dates, based on availability.

Racing was canceled at Saratoga on Aug. 2, 2006, because of extreme heat. In 2004, the final race on Travers Day was canceled because of heavy rain.