Updated on 07/23/2012 9:50AM

Saratoga: Opening day handle and attendance up from 2011

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rosie Napravnik is interviewed after winning the first race of the Saratoga meet.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When trainer Nick Zito drove to work Friday morning, it didn’t take him long to realize that this day was different from most.

As he drove to the Saratoga backstretch, Zito saw long lines of people waiting outside the gates on Union Avenue, gates that wouldn’t open yet for hours.

“You come in, it’s 6 o’clock and people are standing on line outside trying to get a good seat,” Zito said. “You know it’s different. Like they say, the show starts.”

Though there were several technical difficulties, the show that is the Saratoga meeting opened Friday in a big way, with significant increases in handle over 2011.

Attendance for opening day was 25,676, a 2.1 percent increase over the 25,155 that showed up in 2011. Ontrack handle for the 10-race card was $4,075,817, a 14.8-percent increase from the $3,551,745 wagered ontrack in 2011.

All-sources handle, which includes wagering on Saratoga from simulcast outlets, was $16,690,234, a 5.2 percent increase from the $15,871,449 wagered in 2011.

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While the weather was superb - partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s and no rain - there were several glitches.

Audio problems prevented the popular Talkin’ Horses handicapping segment from being conducted prior to the card. The highly-touted free wireless Internet - introduced for the first time at Saratoga -worked intermittently at best. Later in the day, there was no running water in the bathrooms and jockey quarters, problems reminiscent of the nightmare conditions fans had to endure in the 2008 Belmont Stakes.

“Our fans on track and across the country responded to a great day of racing,” New York Racing Association president and COO Ellen McClain said. “We appreciate their patience with opening day complications such as sporadic shutdowns of the new wireless Internet service, television and public address system issues, and a drop in water pressure at approximately 3 p.m. We will be working through the night to resolve all of these matters.”

The crowd was treated to a show dominated late by the brothers Dutrow. Embattled Richard Dutrow Jr., who is facing a 10-year revocation of his license from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board for past rules violations, won the Grade 3 James Marvin with Pacific Ocean. Thirty minutes later, Tony Dutrow, Rick’s older brother, won the Grade 3 Schuylerville with So Many Ways. Tony then took the finale with To Dubai.

In the winner’s circle after the Schuylerville, Tony Dutrow talked about how sad it will be if his brother is eventually forced out of the game.

“With the real reality of this being taken away from him, I can’t help but be heartfelt for him,” Tony Dutrow said. “He is such an incredible talent, such an incredible horseman … The game will miss the talent that Ricky showed them.”

There was other talent on display as well Friday. Most notably, Kauai Katie, a 2-year-old filly by Malibu Moon, who won her debut by 12 lengths for Stonestreet Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher. Kauai Katie covered 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.66 or 1.36 seconds faster than Lignite ran winning the other division of this race over the Pletcher-trained Kimono.

“When [Kimono] ran well we felt this filly was just a little quicker away from the gate and so it worked out well,” Pletcher said.

Rosie Napravnik rode Kauai Katie. She also won the first race with Nine O Wonderful, giving Napravnik her first-ever win at Saratoga. Napravnik, along with Joel Rosario, Javier Castellano, and Ramon Dominguez, each won two races on the card.

“I was like, Yes! Just happy to get the monkey off my back,” Napravnik said. “First win at Saratoga, and hopefully that’s the way the whole meet will go, in a positive direction from here.”

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch