07/21/2017 6:54PM

Saratoga meet opens with 14 percent handle increase, even attendance

Barbara D. Livingston
An enthusiastic opening-day crowd at Saratoga Race Course on July 21 contributed to a 6.6 percent increase in ontrack handle.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Glorious weather and strong field size led to booming business on opening day at Saratoga as all-sources handle was $20,332,051, an increase of 14.4 percent over opening day 2016 when all-sources handle was 17,763,037.

Attendance was announced at 32,730 down less than 1 percent from last year’s figure of 32,980. However, ontrack handle was $5,016,519, up 6.6 percent from last year’s figure of $4,703,479.

Friday’s opening-day card was run under warm conditions with sunny skies and a high of 90 degrees, though the humidity was low. There were 92 betting interests on the card, compared to 80 last year.

Kiaran McLaughlin was the training star of the day, winning with both of his starters. Most impressive was the 3-year-old Takaful, who won a first-level allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths under Jose Ortiz while running six furlongs in 1:09.89 over a main track that yielded mostly slow times all day.

:: Saratoga Clocker Report: Get in-depth workout analysis for the 2017 summer meet

McLaughlin also won a $93,000 turf allowance race with Muqtaser, who, under Joe Bravo, prevailed by a head over Infinite Wisdom.

“Great day, fabulous day,” said McLaughlin, who also won two races on last year’s opening-day card. “It’s always tough up here. Martin Panza and the racing office deserve some credit for us to be able to point to races and know they’re going to go.”

Ironically, Takaful was scratched out of a similar spot as this at Belmont Park two weeks ago. That day, he ran off with Ortiz for about 1 1/8 miles and was scratched by the veterinarian.

McLaughlin said that his Belmont Park-based assistant Joe Lee “and the team at Belmont did a great job with this horse. He’s not easy. He’s the last horse on the racetrack every day with special equipment.”

McLaughlin said Takaful will point to the Grade 1, H. Allen Jerkens Memorial here on Aug. 26. However, he will go back to Belmont Park to train.

Ricardo Santana Jr., who won 14 races here last summer, won two races on opening day. He guided the 2-year-old filly Southampton Way ($20.80) to a front-running victory in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden dirt race, then came back with Buffalo Miss ($12.20) in a 5 1/2-furlong turf allowance race.

A pair of trainers won their first races at Saratoga in the two graded stakes on the card. Barbara Minshall, based in Canada, won the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes with Dream It Is, who rolled to a nine-length victory to remain undefeated in three starts. Minshall had gone 0-for-3 at Saratoga and hadn’t started a horse here since 1999.

Brendan Walsh was 0-for-18 at Saratoga before Proctor’s Ledge won the Grade 3, $150,000 Lake George Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths.

The last six races were won by double-digit priced horses creating a carryover in the pick-6 of $48,696 and the NYRA Bets late pick-5 of $104,258 into Saturday’s 11-race program.

The late pick-5 is only available to NYRA Bets account holders and New York state residents.