Chalook appeared to be feeling pretty good as he stretched his legs around the Oklahoma Training Track on Thursday morning.
“I think he’s happy to get back to work,” said trainer Tom McManus of the 7-year-old gelding, who hasn’t raced since last fall.
About 60 other horses warmed up Thursday morning, the first day of spring training for thoroughbreds.
Trainers Gary Contessa, New York Thoroughbred Breeders trainer of the year, and Glen Disanto had the bulk of the horses there for the opening day of training, which will last through the end of October.
At its height, 700 to 800 thoroughbreds will be stabled at Saratoga for training. The economic recession doesn't appear to be affecting the number of horses that will be stabled at Saratoga this year, said Charles Wheeler, facilities manager at Saratoga Race Course.
“The weather’s been dry, and the snow’s almost gone,” Wheeler said. “That was a challenge because we couldn’t even get to the ground until 21⁄2 weeks ago.”
At 6 a.m. when training began, the thermometer read 28 degrees, said Bob Hamlin, a clocker for NYRA. “It was a little chilly when we got here,” Hamlin said. But by mid-morning, the sky was clear and the air warm.
Hamlin and the other clockers didn’t have much to do Thursday, but their jobs will pick up next week when the workouts begin in earnest.
“They were just galloping today. They’re getting used to the track,” he said. Clockers still had to be there to summon outriders in case someone fell off a horse.
Hamlin, a retired state worker who lives in Saratoga Springs, has worked seven days a week for eight years as a clocker for the New York Racing Association during the Saratoga training season.
“I had to retire to get the best job I ever had in my life,” he said with a smile.
Many of the horses that train at the Oklahoma track will run at Saratoga Race Course during its six-week meet.
Saratoga’s 141st season begins July 29 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 7.
This year, NYRA plans to complete $3.5 million worth of capital improvements, including installing new floors in the front of the clubhouse and new stairs, phasing in more-efficient lighting fixtures, replacing half the clubhouse sprinkler system, putting up some new awnings, upgrading electrical service at the recreation center, landscaping the paddock area with new paths, repainting dormitories and brightening up the Jim Dandy bar.
Of those funds, $1.8 million will be spent on sanitary sewers and horse wash bays at barns in “Millionaire Row” and the backstretch south of Union Avenue to comply with environmental laws.
“Wash water has to be separate from rainwater,” Wheeler said.
Work to reduce runoff from the racetrack into the neighboring Yaddo pond is being planned and is expected to start this fall, Wheeler said.
Required permits have been obtained and engineers from the firm Malcolm Pirnie, which has been hired to complete the work, met with Yaddo officials over the winter to discuss the project, he said.
As part of the work, NYRA will construct an embankment and catch basins to keep runoff on the track property instead of draining into the ponds.
Grass also will be planted in the backstretch to keep soils in place, Wheeler said.
Because a van that shuttled backstretch workers to a local soup kitchen is still needed in Belmont, the Saratoga Economic Opportunity Council and the Backstretch Employee Service Team are working together to provide meals for the backstretch workers.
“Because there’s not very many people here, the food service can’t afford to open up until May,” Wheeler said.
So until then, BEST will provide lunch and the EOC will give dinner to the workers in a first-ever initiative, he said.