Yes, you read it right – in seven days. That’s because on Sunday the track will be opened to the public for a trial run and four non-betting races for steeplechase horses is on the card. Fans can bet among themselves, just as people do in the Bayou or at baseball games when they flash those video images of donuts or pizzas running an imaginary race across the scoreboard.
Then on Wednesday, July 25, the pari-mutuel betting portion of the meet begins – 41 days, minus Tuesdays, ending on Labor Day. Purses will average a whopping $771,535 a day and 47 stakes races will be held.
Nevertheless, news here, for at least the last two years, has been which group is going to take over for NYRA in running the racing operations in the Empire State. A decision to select the new franchise owner was to have been made six months ago. But now Gov. Eliot Spitzer is feuding with Sen. Joe Bruno, the Senate Majority Leader, and chances are they won’t have the consensus needed to appoint an operator this summer.
The 7-year-old gelding Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner that is owned by a bunch of blue collar guys with a stable of New York-bred claiming horses, is calling it quits. The Green Monkey, a $16 million yearling purchase by one of the world’s richest men, is reluctantly approaching his first starting gate.
“We want to give him an opportunity to enjoy his retirement,” noted Funny Cide’s part-owner Jack Knowlton, while assuring all that the horse was still sound. Well, what about us, Jack? Remember when 7-year-old geldings that were sound used to race for as long as the spirit moved them? Remember Kelso and Forego?
Kelso retired at age nine after starting 63 times and racking up 39 victories. Forego raced until he was eight, winning 34 times in 57 starts. Sackatoga made Funny Cide bow out after winning the $100,000 Wadsworth Memorial Handicap before a near record crowd at Finger Lakes and finishing his career as the victor in 11 of his 38 starts.
“If anyone came to see him they would be elated with the way he looks,” trainer Barclay Tagg inexplicably advised turf writer Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse magazine after the announcement of Funny Cide’s retirement became public. “But you have to stop on them sometime, and we’ve received a lot of critical mail for not retiring him.”
In this age of political correctness and cautiousness, it’s pretty clear that there won’t be many people, including Haskin, to write that Sackatoga should have barnstormed their sound horse for the benefit of fans. But for Tagg to say, as he did, that a demotion to stable pony was in store as some sort of reward for the former great horse, that’s malarkey.
Regardless, as Funny Cide departs, The Green Monkey emerges. Look for him to race against other troubled three and four-year-old maidens at Saratoga in week one or two. “I will do everything I can to have him as ready as I can first time out, and sometimes you can only do so much,” trainer Todd Pletcher warned readers of the New York Times in Bill Findley’s piece about the colt’s long-awaited debut at the races.
Pletcher’s quote read as waffled as Aunt Jemima’s syrup. But, then, that’s what you get when there’s so much dough in the batter and not enough heat to make it edible. It’s only 30 miles from the state capitol in Albany to the racetrack in Saratoga, but much shorter as the bull flies.