07/27/2004 11:00PM

Opener has a familiar ring

Mike Luzzi is thrown by Honey Fritters, who bolted in Wednesday's first race. Luzzi broke his right leg.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Opening day of the 2004 Saratoga meet was a prime example of the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Yes, security is tighter, so tight in fact that Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney had a difficult time getting on the backstretch to see her horses, which include Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone. Yes, there were 1,300 slot machines in operation at the harness track across the street.

But when the racing started, opening day 2004 resembled many that had come before it. For the third straight year, racing was conducted under wet conditions, and for the second straight year turf racing had to be canceled. There were 35 scratches from the 120 horses originally carded, but the sun did come out by the middle of the card, and business was up.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas won the opening-day feature, the Schuylerville Stakes, for the sixth time in 19 years. Classic Elegance rallied from far back to run down the pacesetting Angel Trumpet to win the Grade 2, $150,000 race by a length. It was 1 3/4 lengths back to Wild Chick in third.

A crowd of 25,306 ignored the damp conditions and tighter security policies to usher in the 2004 season. That total was down, though, from last year's crowd of 28,220. Two years ago, the crowd was a record 32,913.

Surprisingly, however, ontrack handle was up, as $3,637,002, was wagered compared with $3,180,149 last year. Total handle was $13,900,340, up from $13,327,645 a year ago.

"Considering the rain that we had [Tuesday], it's a pretty good save. Fortunately we didn't get additional rain today and the races held together well," said Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association. "I think things went well. Maybe we can return the focus here and everybody can get back to appreciating what a great race meet this is and get the focus and the fun back on the racing."

The day got off to an unfortunate start when jockey Mike Luzzi broke his right leg after he was thrown from his first-race mount, Honey Fritters, who bolted entering the first turn in the off-the-turf race. Luzzi was taken to Saratoga Hospital and then to Albany Medical Center Hospital, where Dr. Rick Alfred was to perform surgery.

Luzzi will definitely miss the meet, and likely a good part of the remainder of the year.

In the Schuylerville, Classic Elegance was shuffled back to sixth on the turn and appeared not to be handling the muddy track too well. But turning for home, Pat Day guided her off the rail, and she rallied down the center of the track to run down the pacesetting Angel Trumpet in the final yards. Classic Elegance, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, ran six furlongs in 1:12.48 and returned $7.80 as the second choice.

"I don't think she really relished the going," said Lukas, who has won 30 juvenile stakes at the Spa. "She's small and petite, and I thought these six-furlong races might be her limit. But I don't feel that way now."

Lukas said Classic Elegance will be pointed to the Grade 1 Spinaway on Aug. 20.