After an opening week that went as well as could be expected, the second week of the Saratoga Race Course meet began with an extra dark day.
New York Racing Association officials canceled Wednesday’s race card because the combination of heat and humidity made safety a concern.
`The consensus in the room was to take the ultimate precaution,` said NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader. ` Racing will resume (Thursday), and Friday’s card will be expanded to a 10-race program.`
Mother Nature had tried to interfere with last week’s racing as well, but with little or no success. Outside of the occasional shower or thunderstorm, the sun shone on Saratoga, and the fans showed up to see some of the top thoroughbreds in the nation make their Spa City debuts.
The most pleasant surprise came Saturday when Preakness champion Bernardini ran in the Grade II Jim Dandy ` Saratoga’s traditional prep race for the Travers. Bernardini took the lead on the first turn and pulled away in the home stretch to earn a convincing victory over a six-horse field that also included another Triple Crown participant, Hemingway’s Key.
`People want to see that,` said NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo. `People want to see a horse to root for, and they may have found one in Bernardini.`
Getting any horses that ran in the Triple Crown series to compete in the Jim Dandy isn’t easy, said Campo.
`It’s a tough task with 3-year-olds. There’s so much money around the country during the summer (racing season) for trainers to choose from,` Campo said.
In Bernardini’s case, the Jim Dandy was already on his radar screen, thanks to trainer Tom Albertrani’s cautious approach to running his horse.
`Remember, this horse had been lightly raced before his win in the Preakness,` said Campo. `Once he passed (on running in) the Belmont, it was a no-brainer. Their strategy was Jim Dandy, Travers and then the Jockey’s Club Gold Cup (in September).`
Bernardini will stay in Saratoga to train for the Aug. 26 Travers, where he will try to become the seventh horse in the track’s history to win both the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Campo said the rest of the field won’t likely be determined until the Haskell is run Saturday at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
`I think it’s too early to tell. I think Nick Zito has a couple of horses he’s thinking about (including Hemingway’s Key), and with the Haskell coming up, we’ll see what comes out of that,` he said.
This weekend at Saratoga: Saturday’s race card is highlighted by two Grade I stakes races ` the Whitney Handicap and the Darley Test. The Whitney for older horses will likely feature last year’s Jim Dandy and Travers winner, Flower Alley.
Sunday is the annual Saratoga T-shirt giveaway, as well as the Grade II Fourstardave handicap.
Monday brings the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion. The induction class includes trainer Carl Hanford, jockey Bill Boland and turf champion Cougar II.“