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Thursday, 18 July 2013 14:09

They’re Off: Season Set to Begin

By Brian Cremo | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The wait is over and the 150th opening weekend is set to start.

With temperatures anticipated to be in the mid-90s this afternoon, the New York Racing Association’s new President and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Kay, said the summer meet will begin on schedule. 

“There is no intention to cancel opening day,” Kay said  at a press conference at the Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday. “It’s warm, but we’ve had warm days here in the past. We’re prepared for it. Our intention is to have a full day of racing.”

One of the most anticipated seasons in the meet’s history has the Spa City and fans of horseracing eager for the trumpet.

All three winners of the Triple Crown—Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice—are in town and expected to be at the starting gate at the August 24 Travers Stakes. 2012 Horse of the Year, Wise Dan, and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larnerd, are expected to set foot on the track some point this summer.

Fort Larnerd also won last year’s Whitney, which will be August 3 this season. That day, Buddy Valastro, from the TLC hit series “Cake Boss,” will provide a specially designed cake shaped like the race course.

Members of the community were able to ask a five-person panel made up of Kay, NYRA’S P.J. Campo, Hall of fame jockey John Velazquez, renowned trainer Linda Rice and well-known thoroughbred journalist Michael Veitch, as they addressed questions and reflected on the memories of past meets at the annual Saratoga Preview at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

“(Wise Dan) is on his own planet,” Veitch said. “He is in his own zone. I’m praying for the Whitney because it will be the race of the ages if it happens. I think that’s the superstar, raw talent right now.”

The scene has been set and everyone attending opening day will get a commemorative fan guide, which will include upcoming races and event information.

One event, discussed on Thursday, was Ramon Dominguez Day. That tentative date is August 25, the day after the Travers. 

“You don’t replace a Ramon Dominguez,” Campo said.

“That touches close to my heart, being a jockey,” Velasquez said. “No one could have replaced him obviously, the kind of person he was, the kind of jockey he was. It takes a special person to do the things he did. I don’t think we saw the best of him yet. I think he was just getting there where he was getting better and better.”

Not all the events will be released, said NYRA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Rodnell Workman. There will still be surprises to keep the fans entertained every day.

Last season was Workman’s first in Saratoga with NYRA.

“It’s a special place,” Workman said. “I had always heard the myth of the town and the racetrack. A lot of times you hear the build up of something and then when you finally get to experience it, it doesn’t always live up to the hype. Saratoga is the exception. Our goal this year is we want to put on the best meet ever. A meet that we will look back on in 10, 20 years from now and remember that it was a phenomenal meet.”

In memory of the first organized race meet that took place over the course of four days in 1863, even people who have been around Saratoga for a long time have been hit by the aura of this season in particular.

“It hit me the other day at the Walk of Fame,” Veitch said. “During all that time and they’ve been here since 1863 and they still come. We’ve been through two world wars, civil war, depression, and blackouts and bad management and here we are in 2013 and people want to still be here.”

“I’ve been coming since I was a little kid, growing up in the business,” Campo said. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of tradition here. This is just a feel good start and it’s 40 days of quality racing, the best fans in the world and it makes me feel good that I’m a small part of what we do.”

Wednesday’s panel also discussed the topic of extending the length of the summer meet.

“As I look at it right now, this works pretty well,” Kay said. “Whether or not more days would be beneficial, I want to look at it. I want to make sure when we look at this, are we going to have quality racing for every one of the days? And are we going to have it special, because Saratoga is special.”

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