It was Whitney Day, 1981, and I was about to be introduced to New York State Thoroughbred Breeding program in a big way, only I didn’t know that at the time. It was my fourth year on the job, third as a Saratoga press box regular.

Of course, I knew everything and nothing back then, but as I looked around I could see some famous bylines, competitor colleagues whose presence inspired me to be the best me I could be. The course was simple:

Learn some horseracing history; the people and the horses, both. They didn’t teach those things in my Queens neighborhood. And I was in awe of the environment that day: The Whitney; it’s important. It’s right there in the name.

When a Finger Lakes shipper, bred in New York State, came in and swooped away the blue-blooded Whitney trophy, it was at that point that I learned a Saratoga racetrack crowd actually could make a building shake.

I only remember experiencing that one other time, in 2009, when Rachel Alexandra beat back the boys in the equally storied Woodward Stakes.

But what just happened? I looked at the track program. The horse’s name was Fio Rito. Trainer Michael Ferraro tightened the girth, Leslie Hulet did the booting. He brought a gaudy record with him but never with this kind.

And the local crowd loved it, proud of their state-bred champion. After breaking through the gate before the start, not even that kiss of death could stop him he raced head to head through nine furlongs, repelling two challengers.

At the end, Fio Rito held off MacKenzie Miller-trained, newly blinkered, and perfect tripping Winter’s Tale. And he didn’t steal a thing. The contested half-mile went in 46 3/5, and he completed his mile and an eighth in 1:48 flat.

It wasn’t like waiting 37 years for a Triple Crown winner but it was 22 more before another New York-bred, Funny Cide, would garner national headlines.

And after winning the 2003 Kentucky Derby, jockey Jose Santos, while still on horseback, told a national television audience to “get with the program.”

On Saturday at Saratoga, a pair of New York breds, Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits, the two morning line favorites, finished 1-2 in the slop at Saratoga.

The 91st renewal of the prestigious event was over on the first turn, Irad Ortiz Jr. taking no prisoners from the start. As the racetrackers say, he went to the front and improved his position.

Trainer Rick Violette had called a brilliant audible and was handsomely rewarded. Violette originally was pointing toward the Woodward until the speedy Diversify touted himself in a workout last Sunday. Explained Violette:

"He did too well not to run here… He ate well, shipped up here well, breezed well last Sunday and came out of it good, his blood work came back well, so [I said], 'OK, stupid, stop being a chicken and run him’.” Good fortune helps.

Due to an all-too-familiar biblical Saratoga storm, the start of the race was delayed 44 minutes as the horses and their connections took shelter beneath the paddock stalls. Thereafter, track maintenance came to the rescue.

"I felt a little better after they sealed the track…I felt the outside was playing better than the inside and I thought maybe sealing the track in the rain might have even it out a little bit, and I felt better about that. We had planned on being very aggressive,” said Violette.

While never in danger of pulling off the minor upset, Mind Your Biscuits ran very creditably down the center of the track to secure the place. Said trainer Chad Summers of the reigning New York-bred champion:

“Diversify has good cruising speed and once he goes that 46 and change and he's in front by three or four, he's a tough horse to run down. He's a good New York-bred, but we look forward to seeing him down the road.”

Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits are both good New York breds. They have to be to earn multiple Grade 1 victories. And so the 2018 Whitney went to a remarkably speedy state-bred. Just like what happened 37 years ago.

Ladies First at the New Meadowlands: For only the second time in 93 years, the first father and son team since the immortal Billy Haughton and son Tommy won the 1982 edition with Speed Bowl, Rick and Scott Zeron won the Hambletonian trotting classic with two brilliant heat performances by their filly sensation, Atlanta.

After an overly aggressive drive that highly likely cost her victory in the first heat--beaten in the last stride by Tactical Landing under a well-timed drive from Tim Tetrick—the young Scott Heron made amends.

Atlanta, who maintained a rare three-length lead in rapid early fractions of 26 and 53 2/5, Zeron opened ground prematurely on the final turn of the first heat with three-quarters in 1:21 4/5. The final time of 1:50 1/5 was a world record for three year-old trotters.

Employing virtually the same tactics as in the first heat, Zeron left the barrier quickly, making a three-wide sweep to the lead on the first turn, only this time had had the filly post reasonable fractions, backing down the half to 55 2/5.

This time, Zeron waited a bit longer before bottoming out his rivals, opening ground one or two strides before entering the homestretch.

The 14th filly to win the Hambletonian took the finale in 1:50 4/5. To his credit, Zeron took the heat for his earlier gaffe but more than redeemed himself in the final.

Interestingly, Atlanta, like the sport’s foundation sire, Hambletonian--and like the exacta finishers in the Whitney Handicap--were bred in the Empire State. Honeycrisps for all my friends.

Separationofpowers Passes Grade 1 Test: For the second time in her career, Candy Ride’s bay daughter earned a Grade 1 title after annexing the Frizette at 2. But not before she forced to dig down deep to wear down an extremely gritty Mia Mischief.

Winning trainer Chad Brown was completing stakes double in the Test, having finished 1-2 in the listed De La Rose with Uni nailing stablemate Precieuse in the final jump after both rallied very wide into the inner-turf stretch.

Precieuse won a Group 1 at Deauville in 2017 and was last seen exiting Ascot’s prestigious Gr. 1 Coronation Stakes, finishing last of seven after setting the early pace 14 months ago. With this one under her girth, she will be very difficult to deny wherever Saratoga’s leading trainer decides to send her.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Again: At Del Mar, Cambodia won her second consecutive Yellow Ribbon Stakes, giving jockey Drayden Van Dyke an unprecedented third straight victory.

The day was marred by a horrific spill that took the life of Irish Springs, who died from his injuries after clipping the heels of a rival. Two riders, Corey Nakatani and Geovanni Franco, were sent to the hospital. Franco appears to have suffered an ankle injury.

Florida Sire Series Off With a Bang:
Cajun Firecracker, getting first Lasix following a debut win, showed some class after tracking odds on favorite Fully Loaded, running him down gamely in deep stretch to win the six furlong Dr. Fager in 1:09.94.

The 7-1 winner had to withstand a claim of foul by Tyler Gaffalione aboard maiden place finisher, Garter and Tie, who alleged interference by the winner in the stretch.

The bumping in deep stretch started with the favorite, as Fully Loaded drifted out and caused a chain reaction beneath a race-riding Edgard Zayas. Wisely, the stewards disallowed the claim.

In the Desert Vixen for juvenile fillies, Capture Your Dream, also with first Lasix, underscored her impressive 10-length debut score, pressing the pace before kicking on to win the six furlong sprint in 1:11.31. Gaffalione rode the 3-5 favorite.

The next races in the Florida Sire series is the Affirmed for males and Susan’s Girl for the distaffers, as the two-year-olds stretch out another furlong on September 1.

Rain, Rain Couldn’t Keep Them Away:
Over 40,000 fans showed up at the Spa Saturday, a day that began beautifully before the storm cell arrived.

The Whitney was the day’s ninth race and finale as NYRA prudently canceled the last two races of the day owing to 2.3 inches of overnight rain. Both turf stakes, The Grade 3 Waya and the Lure, already have been rescheduled.

Good Racing = Good Business:
The Saratoga crowd wagered $6 million with all sources handle exceeding $22.8 million. In Hallandale Beach, the Florida Sire series attracted all sources business of $9.5 million, a 13% increase year over year.