08/31/2003 11:00PM

Strong numbers despite weather


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Despite a dreary start and dreary finish, it was another strong season at Saratoga.

Total attendance was 1,049,309, surpassing the record of 1,011,669 set in 2001. The 2003 mark was a 5 percent increase over last year. The daily average of 29,147 was also a record, surpassing the average of 28,479 in 1989 when the meet was 24 days.

Ontrack handle reached $117,368,204, a gain of 1.7 percent over last year's total of $115,400,498. Total commingled handle was off 1.6 percent from $562,356,929 in 2002 to $553,210,895 this year. The 2003 daily average commingled handle on Saratoga races was $15,366,969, a 1.6 percent drop from last year's average of $15,621,026

New York Racing Association officials blame that on that legislation that enabled the state's offtrack betting corporations to take unlimited simulcasting. Intrastate handle was down around $13 million, or 10 percent, from last year, according to NYRA executive vice president Bill Nader.

The first half of the meet was plagued by extremely wet weather that forced the cancellation of many turf races. One race had to be canceled when the track washed out. Monday's final card was also plagued by wet weather, forcing four of seven scheduled turf races to the dirt.

"It's been a remarkable meet considering everything, the weather, the power outage, the scratches at the gate, the canceled race,'' said NYRA president and chief operating officer Terry Meyocks. "The quality of racing stood up.''

Despite the absence of Funny Cide and Empire Maker, the Travers was a record-setting day. The crowd of 66,122 was a Saratoga record for a non-giveaway day. The ontrack handle ($9,390,934) and total commingled handle ($39,489,786) were Travers records.

It was also a record-setting meet for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez. Pletcher won a record 35 races, including six stakes. His Grade 1 victories came in the Spinaway (Ashado) and Ballerina (Harmony Lodge). Pletcher also won the Jim Dandy with Strong Hope, who upset Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. Bill Mott finished with 17 winners.

Velazquez finished the meet with 61 wins, surpassing the previous mark of 55 set by Jerry Bailey in 2001. Bailey finished as the second leading rider in wins, but was the leading percentage rider (29.4) at the meet and won nine stakes, including five Grade 1's.