07/18/2002 11:00PM

Once upon a time in Saratoga

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NEW YORK - The crystal ball says that Saratoga will get off to a running start this year. Here's what to expect:

Wednesday, July 24: A record opening-day crowd of 31,255 starts the 36-day Saratoga meeting and contributes $3.6 million to a record $14.6 million nationwide handle. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association credits its national marketing efforts for the increased business. The always-tough opening-day 2-year-old maiden race, won by Mayakovsky in 2001 and Macho Uno in 2000, goes to a $3 million Coolmore/ Godolphin-owned Storm Cat colt who will be pointed for the Hopeful.

Thursday, July 25: After hearing about Saratoga's opening-day numbers, Frank Stronach dispatches a team of top Magna Entertainment consultants to study the Saratoga phenomenon and bring back ideas that can be implemented at Magna tracks. Churchill Downs covert intelligence operatives get wind of the Magna plan and CDI secretly deploys its own research team to Saratoga.

Friday, July 26: A bare quorum of Albany legislators votes at 3:30 a.m. to pass a resolution commending motherhood and the American flag. Few of the sleepy politicos notice they also are approving a fine-print amendment to the bill extending the New York Racing Association's franchise to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga until the year 2062.

Sunday, July 28: An all-time Saratoga record crowd of 73,001 turns out to see the Go for Wand Handicap. In an unrelated development, the track's supply of exactly 73,000 Jerry Bailey bobblehead dolls runs out at 1:31 p.m. Several hours later, racegoers departing the track are baffled by the absence of any actual traffic but notice many new roadside stands selling Bailey bobbleheads for $20.

Monday, July 29: Bill Mott, who always wins at least one race on his birthday (Boastful in 2001, Dream Supreme in 2000) wins two this year. Mott announces that he will be sending a small division to Mountaineer next July because his 50th birthday falls on a dark Tuesday at Saratoga.

Saturday, Aug. 3: Cablevision customers downstate in Long Island and the Bronx are outraged when their in-home racing goes blank for an hour due to the YES Network's broadcast of the Whitney Handicap. Cablevision, which has been unable to reach an agreement with YES to show Yankees games to these same viewers, announces that the usual monthly refund of $1.54 to customers unable to see the Yankees will be increased to $1.5401 for August to compensate for the blackout of the Whitney.

Sunday, Aug. 4: A new Saratoga record crowd of 78,001 turns out to see the Jim Dandy Stakes despite the absence of War Emblem, Sarava, Proud Citizen, Perfect Drift, Came Home, Harlan's Holiday, and Gygistar. The track's supply of promotional items lasts until 1:32 p.m. because an extra 5,000 T-shirts were ordered. Departing racegoers have another surprisingly easy drive home, and report roadside stands are now selling T-shirts for $20 and bobbleheads for $3.99.

Tuesday, Aug. 7: Magna consultants report to Stronach that Saratoga clearly reinforces his "entertainment centers" vision because the track has a lively backyard with a country-fair atmosphere. Stronach orders all Magna tracks to begin offering corn on the cob and performances by Adirondack clog dancers. A dissenting consultant, who attributes Saratoga's success to quality racing and lower takeout, is fired.

Wednesday, Aug. 8: CDI reviews secret videotape of Magna consultants' meetings, then listens to its own researchers' report on Saratoga. Analysts say they are at a complete loss to explain how Saratoga attracted the two biggest crowds in its history on Sundays with only moderate stakes races, but recommend that money currently slated for giveaways be redirected to study the situation further.

Thursday, Aug. 9: As the Dow Jones average reaches another new low, yearling buyers drive Fasig-Tipton sales averages through the roof at the Saratoga sales. Officials attribute the increases to jittery financiers looking for relatively stable investments such as $1 million baby racehorses. Coolmore/Godolphin announce at the sales that their opening-day 2-year-old winner has been retired to stud perfectly sound. Breeders nod with approval and reach for their checkbooks as the owners explain that the colt will be syndicated, had proved all that could possibly be asked of him, and that time was running out to get him ready for the new Dubai triple crown series for 3-year-olds early next spring.

And that's just the first 15 days.