09/05/2011 6:27PM

Saratoga business solid for 39-day meet

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In spite of several attempts of sabotage from Mother Nature, the first meet in 40 years without New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., and some lower-level races atypical for this time of year, Saratoga enjoyed a solid season for the 39-day meet that concluded Monday.

Ontrack handle was $121,101,664, a daily average of $3,105,171 and an overall increase of 5.6 percent compared with $114,693,168 wagered on last year's 40-day meet. This year's meet was scheduled for 40 days, but the Sunday, Aug. 28, card was canceled because of the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

All-sources handle on the 39-day meet averaged $13,493,636 daily to total $526,251,818, down 4.6 percent from last year's total of $551,660,726.

Total attendance was 871,772, averaging 22,353 and down 0.7 percent compared with last year's total of 878,284.

Even with the cancellations, there were 397 races run at this Saratoga meet, two more than last year. Total betting interests at this meet were 3,269, compared with 3,314 last year.

"We're pleased with the results," the New York Racing Association's president, Charles Hayward, said. "They're a little better than what we thought. I said coming into this if we could be down anywhere around down 2 percent it'd be really successful. The industry in general had a 12-percent reduction in handle."

According to Hayward, New York City OTB - which went bankrupt in December - wagered approximately $44 million on Saratoga's races in 2010. Hayward said that approximately $18 million of that handle was made up by an increase of $10.5 million in phone and Internet wagering from a year ago and an increase of $7.5 million from wagering at Aqueduct and Belmont Park. Last year, only Belmont Park was open for simulcast wagering during the Saratoga meet.

Hayward also believes NYRA's increase in ontrack business was a result of downstate players traveling to Saratoga.

"People think I'm crazy, but it's the only way to explain it," Hayward said.

Mother Nature certainly had an impact on this year's meet. The meet began under oppressive conditions, with temperatures in the mid to upper 90's. But with many East Coast tracks cancelling the second-to-last weekend in July, Saratoga may have actually benefited from the heat.

Part or all of seven cards were run under wet track conditions - including Monday's closing-day card. In addition to the Aug. 28 card being canceled, the last race on Saturday was also canceled.

This year, Saratoga conducted 158 turf races, 29 fewer than a year ago. A total of 42 races were taken off the turf - including four on Monday - this year, compared with 23 last year.

"Obviously, you live and die by Mother Nature up here," said P.J. Campo, NYRA's director of racing.

On the track, Todd Pletcher continued his dominance at Saratoga, winning his eighth trainer's title - all since 1998 - with 38 wins, a Saratoga meet record. He won 14 stakes, including the Grade 1 Travers and Grade 2 Jim Dandy with Stay Thirsty and the Grade 1 Ballerina with Hilda's Passion. Fifteen of his victories came with 2-year-olds, including Overdriven in the Grade 2 Sanford and a plethora of maiden winners.

Chad Brown finished second in the standings with 22 wins, while Steve Asmussen finished third with 17 wins from 51 starters.

With 54 wins, John Velazquez won his second straight Saratoga rider's title, and fifth overall. He beat Javier Castellano, who finished second with 52 wins, but who won five Grade 1's. Castellano's horses earned more than $4 million, about $1 million more than Velazquez. Castellano had no chance to catch Velazquez on Monday because he was riding at Parx Racing. Ramon Dominguez, who won the Grade 1 Woodward and Grade 1 Spinaway on closing weekend, finished third with 47 wins.

Mike Repole held off Michael Dubb to win the owner's title, 16-15, as Dubb went winless with three starters on Monday's closing-day program.