American Steeplechasing concluded a successful six-week Saratoga Race Course season with increases in starters, highly competitive racing, and an improved safety record.
In all, nine jump races were run at Saratoga between July 27 and Sept. 1. Despite one less race this year, the number of starters increased 9% to 73 starters. The larger number of starters drove the average field size upward to 8.1 starters per race, compared with 6.7 starters per race in 2015.
National Steeplechase Association President Guy J. Torsilieri praised the work of NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr. in putting together a successful Saratoga racing program. “I congratulate Bill Gallo on doing an excellent job this summer in Saratoga. It is never an easy task, but he did a fabulous job balancing a very light inventory and carding some very nice competitive racing,” Torsilieri said.
“We are very grateful for the support of our owners and trainers for the vitally important Saratoga meet,” Gallo said. “With their support, we were able to offer races with large betting fields, and the races were very competitive.”
Indeed, four of the nine races were settled by a length or less at the finish line, compared with one race in 2015 with as close a finish. The $70,000 overnight handicap on Aug. 3 featured a stretch-long battle between Dr. Skip and Top Striker, with Clorevia Farm’s Dr. Skip prevailing by a nose on a head bob at the finish line.
With the fence at the furlong pole removed for the final run down Saratoga Race Course’s stretch, only one racing incident, a lost rider, occurred in all of the 2016 season. A year earlier, nine racing incidents had occurred. Only two horses failed to finish the course in the current season, compared with 14 in 2015.
Dr. Scott Palmer, the New York State Gaming Commission’s equine director, recommended removal of the final stretch fence, and his suggestion was adopted by the New York Racing Association and the NSA.
“The results speak for themselves and confirm the wisdom of Dr. Palmer’s recommendation,” Gallo said. “We had several close finishes with the three-furlong flat run to the finish, and more horses completed the course.”
The Fields Stable and Elizabeth Voss were the leading owner and trainer by purses after winning both Grade 1 races at Saratoga, the $125,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial and New York Turf Writers Cup. The Smithwick Memorial was won by ill-fated Bob Le Beau, and Portrade wired the New York Turf Writers in a driving finish.
Virginia Lazenby and trainer Doug Fout also notched two allowance hurdle victories with Help From Heaven and Hardrock Eleven.
The second Go Jump Racing Saratoga Hospitality Tent, staged by the NSA’s Promotion and Growth Committee on New York Turf Writers day, highlighted the many advantages of steeplechase racing and attracted approximately 80 guests from jump and flat racing.