SARATOGA SPRINGS — With pretty much an all-day rain on Monday — in stark contrast to Sunday’s gorgeous weather and sweatshirt giveaway that drew a massive crowd — the 2019 Saratoga Race Course meet staggered to the wire on closing day.
Despite the small crowd and a scratch-riddled card with all but one of the turf races moved to the sloppy main track, though, the New York Racing Association still crossed a golden line with authority by hitting the number 700 million.
With over $25 million in all-sources betting handle on Monday, the 151st Saratoga meet totaled at least $700 million for the duration of the season for the first time in history.
That’s the most significant number of what was another highly successful race meet, but there are several others that tell much of the story of 2019.
Here are 10 of them:
References made in the Daily Gazette sports section to the Kentucky Derby disqualification of Maximum Security — or at least it seemed that way.
The Triple Crown season began in bizarre fashion when Maximum Security became the first horse in the history of that race to win it, but be taken down for an on-track incident.
That was the gift that kept on giving to turf writers everywhere, who were forced to throw in a little qualifier when mentioning the performance of pretty much any horse who ran in the Derby, many of which ran at Saratoga, were pointing toward a race here or were mentioned in updates.
Besides the culprit himself (who won the Haskell at Monmouth Park on crazy-hot July 20), that list includes Travers winner Code of Honor; Preakness winner War of Will, who was fifth in the Jim Dandy; Jim Dandy winner Tax; Tacitus, second in the Jim Dandy and second in the Travers; Derby winner Country House (by Maximum Security’s disqualification, here we go again); Game Winner; Spinoff; and Vekoma.
That’s the total number of dollars wagered on Saratoga racing, whether it was on track, at an OTB outlet, at a racetrack carrying the simulcast, or through an electronic device.
That’s a 7% increase ($46 million) from last year, and broke the 2017 record by $29 million.
Saratoga pulled this off despite canceling an entire Saturday race card on July 20 because of dangerously hot weather, followed five days later by a card that was halted after four races when an intense rainstorm made a swamp of the track.
The handle on closing day was bolstered by a mandatory payoff on the new Empire 6 bet, for which the pool surpassed $5 million.
Average daily handle for the 2019 Saratoga meet was $18,085,742, an increase of 9.8 percent over the 2018 average daily handle of $16,477,086. On-track handle for 2019 was $146,618,750.
Two other all-sources handle records included $31,835,863 on Whitney Day and $52,129,344 on Travers Day.
That was the projected heat index for July 20, prompting NYRA to announce two days prior that there would be no racing, a substantial handle hit considering Saturday is the biggest betting day of the week.
A card on Aug. 2, 2006, was also canceled for intense heat.
“It is just gone,” new NYRA president and CEO David O’Rourke said earlier this week of the betting dollars that melted away. “It’s roughly 30 million [lost], give or take. I mean, it’s an outdoor sport, so you just have to roll with the punches. We weren’t going to change anything.
“A few people asked if we would add a day back [on a dark day], but we were just going to run the meet out and see how it played out.”
The highest mutuel win payoff of the meet came when Heartstrings, trained by Cherie DeVaux, won the last of 12 races on the July 28 card.
Heartstrings came from last place in the 11-horse field to win it at odds just shy of 40-1 in her career debut.
Alas, the 3-year-old filly couldn’t back it up with another win, pushed upward into allowance company against winners the next time and finishing last of nine on Aug. 30 at 20-1.
It’s impossible to pick a spot at which the chase for the training title was effectively over, but it was somewhere midway through the meet, as Chad Brown continued his dominance by winning 41 races, none of which came on the last two days of the meet.
The Mechanicville native broke the meet record with 46 last year and is well on his way to a fourth straight Eclipse Award as the most outstanding trainer in North America.
His forte is turf stakes — Sistercharlie led a Chad-fecta with Rushing Fall and Homerique in the Grade I Diana — but Brown also had some important wins in dirt stakes, none better than Dunbar Road in the Alabama, Brown’s first win in that race.
The rider that day was Jose Ortiz, who won his third straight Alabama and polished off the meet with his third jockey championship in the last four years.
He had one race left in the meet to jump from Babe Ruth to Roger Maris, and although he lost, Ortiz grinned and said, “60 sounds better than 59,” after having won the penultimate race of the meet.
If records are meant to be broken, the 2019 Saratoga meet nearly broke that entire concept.
Imperial Hint kicked it off by kicking home in 1:07.92 to win the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 27, breaking 2004 champion sprinter Speightstown’s record for six furlongs on the main track.
Next up, King Zachary, who ran 2:52.97 for a mile and three-quarters on the main track while winning the Birdstone Stakes on Aug. 1
Macagone ran 1:33.13 for a mile on the Inner Turf Course the next day, and Leinster won the Grade III Troy in 1:00.23 for 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon Turf Course the day after that.
Neither Leinster’s nor Macagone’s records would last long.
Got Stormy beat males in winning the Grade I Fourstardave in 1:32.00 on the Inner, and Carotari took down Leinster’s record — by all of two-hundredths of a second — on Aug. 17 with a 1:00.21 in an allowance race.
The six was almost a seven: Uncontested equaled the record for seven furlongs on the main track with a 1:20.52 on Aug. 15, which converts in fifths of a second to the 1:20 2/5 run by Darby Creek Road in 1978.
Total horses euthanized due to injuries suffered during the 403 races run at the meet.
In a year when a rash of deaths during the Santa Anita Park meet from December to May has pushed racehorse deaths into a wider mainstream media spotlight, Saratoga bookended a relatively safe meet with a catastrophic breakdown at the wire on the second day of the meet and the on-track euthanization of Borough Boy after the final race of the meet.
He broke down at the eighth pole and couldn’t be saved, a grim final reminder — with Saratoga racetrackers ready to exhale — of the reality of the sport.
It’s difficult to win a race at Saratoga. The huge purses attract deep fields, and although the graded stakes fields occasionally number around a half dozen, there are no easy spots.
That said, four horses doubled up with a pair of stakes wins at the meet.
Got Stormy’s wonderful Fourstardave win came just a week after she won the De La Rose.
Of Chad Brown’s 41 wins, two came compliments of Regal Glory, who won the Grade III Lake George on July 19, then dead-heated with Varenka in the Grade II Lake Placid on a crazy rain-soaked day on Aug. 17.
Winston C was the first steeplechaser to sweep the A.P. Smithwick and New York Turf Writers Cup in the same meet since Campanile did it in 1999, and the 2-year-old filly Perfect Alibi put together a beautiful double by winning the Grade II Adirondack on Aug. 4 and the Grade I Spinaway on Sunday.
Total dark days per week, up from one, as NYRA changed the Saratoga format from racing Wednesday-to-Monday to Wednesday-to-Sunday, and started the meet on July 11 to make an earlier getaway from Belmont Park, where construction has begun on a new arena for the New York Islanders.
“It’s funny, because it’s mixed,” O’Rourke said, of the local reaction to the Monday-Tuesday dark days. “This is all in conversation. Nobody’s laying down hard numbers, but a lot of the hoteliers are saying they like the Monday-Tuesday, which was surprising. I didn’t realize Wednesday was such a big day for the hotels up here.
“And it’s been mixed from the restaurants. I think the extra weekend [in July] is good for them, but you hear Sunday’s light, and then others will say Sunday was always light. So until we really get hard numbers, it’s kind of hard to just make up a conclusion.”
A single pink rose rested on her seat.
Marylou Whitney, the Queen of Saratoga, died at the age of 93 on July 19, leaving a legacy of unbounded philanthropy benefiting racing and the city of Saratoga Springs, and well beyond.
In honor of Marylou’s 85th birthday, her husband John Hendrickson commissioned a flower breeder to create a tea rose in her name, blossoms that grace the blanket awarded to the winning horse in the Whitney Stakes, which was McKinzie this season.
Hendrickson brought one of the pink roses to the National Racing Hall of Fame ceremony on Aug. 2, when Marylou received the only standing ovation of the day upon announcement of her induction as a Pillar of the Turf.
He placed the flower on the front-row chair that Marylou traditionally graced for the Hall of Fame ceremony each year, then brought it to the podium for his short dedication speech.
“She was extremely humble when she heard the [induction] news,” Hendrickson said. “She told me she wanted to dedicate her induction to the horses and the people who loved them, especially the unsung heroes, the backstretch workers. She said the sport of horse racing gave her the most incredible life, and she was extremely grateful.
“She loved the sport, and all of you, with her entire heart. So let us not cry because it’s over. Let us smile because it happened.”.