2014 Racing Season Gets Underway In Style
The 2014 racing season got underway at Saratoga Casino and Raceway on a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the Spa City. The day had the normal buzz of an opening day as fans came out in full force while treated to a baseball hat giveaway in addition to a superb thirteen race program. There was a double feature highlighting the card as a pair of Opens shared the stage. The 73rd year of racing kicked off at the premier entertainment facility in the Capital Region with a victory by young pacer Lex Lugar and driver Bruce Aldrich Jr. The $17,000 Fillies and Mares Open, which has become a Sunday staple in recent years, was first on the docket among the two Opens and several new faces showed up to take part in the ladies’ feature.
Magic Starlight made her local debut in the Open and was the race’s odds-on favorite for all-world trainer Ron Burke and driver Jim Morrill Jr. Morrill is a name very familiar to Saratoga fans as the top flight pilot comes to town to drive usually during the month of March and then here and there throughout the summertime in the New York Sire Stakes. Morrill aggressively moved Magic Starlight to the early lead on Sunday afternoon, battling several foes in the process and even parking out a rival through a hotly contested opening quarter in 27.4. The five year old mare, who finished second in the Yonkers Open as recently as January, proved up to the task and drew clear late in the mile to win by open lengths in 1:56. It was an impressive mile for the out of towner who bested fellow invaders Strings and On The Cusp who rounded out the trifecta. All three top mares were making their local debut on Sunday afternoon. Morrill continued his winning ways throughout the matinee card and wound up making six trips to the winner’s circle on opening day. The superstar driver averages about five wins per night when he comes to town in the last few years and his Sunday performance was much of the same.
The regular Saturday night Open took place on Sunday as the back half of the opening day double feature. The $18,190 Open consisted of several familiar names and a few outsiders. With the morning line favorite scratched, the race looked to be wide open on paper and certainly played out that way. In the end, it was Morrill again in the winner’s circle after a perfect drive behind the favored Money Twitch A. Assigned the outside post, Money Twitch A would have to get a good trip to come from the back of the pack but Morrill mapped out a second over journey for the race’s even money favorite. Following the live cover of rival Sand Summerfield, Money Twitch A wound up wresting control away turning for home and drawing off to win in 1:55.3. Morrill completed the sweep of the double feature with Money Twitch A while piloting for trainer Heidi Rohr. Rohr is the defending Trainer of the Year at Saratoga after a season that saw her record the most purses of any local conditioner and accrue the best training average amongst top flight trainers. Rohr started off her campaign at the Spa with a pair of victories as her Cameron Lucky prevailed to join stablemate Money Twitch A as opening day winners.
The dominance continued throughout the afternoon for the 49 year old Jim Morrill Jr who continues to drive at a sensational level. Trainer Kevin Efimetz had the services of Morrill on five of his horses that competed on the matinee card. That quartet piled up three victories and two second place finishes as a tandem. Efimetz, a new name to us at Saratoga, took the (very) early lead in the trainer standings behind his trio of winners. Pacers Local Art, Fameous Western and Muscle Beachboy comprised the hat trick for the out of town conditioner. If you haven’t already, keep your eye on Jim Morrill Jr when he comes to town as the superstar driver usually wins better than half the time at the Spa.
The first card of the 2014 season featured a pick five wager, a bet formerly offered only on Wednesday nights. This season the pick five wager will be available on every race card beginning in race six. The bet is still a fifty cent wager and could offer carryovers a bit more often this year when there are no winning tickets from the previous night. The pick five handle was $1,875 on Sunday on a card that saw a total handle of $414,884 eclipsing last year’s opening day handle of $380,362. With no pick five winners on Sunday, there will be a carryover to Thursday night’s pool. Energy was certainly high in the grandstand and clubhouse on Sunday afternoon and hopefully that will spill over as the season heads into its first full week.
Racing will take place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with 6:45pm first posts and on Sunday afternoons with 12:45pm matinees. That will be the schedule for the majority of this year while some weeks will have altered schedules for various and assorted reasons.
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