Saratoga Snacks is Bill Parcells' kind of horse, a winner who always gets a big check. The 4-year-old New York-bred has never been off the board in 10 starts, and Saturday at Belmont Park he had his biggest payday, earning $150,000 by taking the $250,000 Empire Classic. Unfortunately for his owner, he wasn't there to see it.
"Bill was watching on TV in Florida," jubilant trainer Gary Sciacca said. "Ain't that terrible?"
"I just talked to him and he was thrilled. He said, 'Great job getting him ready.' He was very excited."
But maybe not as pumped as Sciacca, who saw Saratoga Snacks' lead diminishing with a furlong to run after he looked clear at the top of the stretch. "When they turned for home, I never screamed louder in my life," he said. "When [Joel] Rosario moved at the three-eighths pole, he opened up and nobody was coming. Then I saw the gray horse closing, but he's tough and I was confident he would hold on."
The 3-2 favorite did, by three-quarters of a length over Bigger Is Bettor, for his seventh career win and fourth in five tries at Belmont. The time on a fast track was 1:48.79. It was his second try at 11/8 miles, and he hadn't run since Aug. 1 because of foot problems.
"Bill was very patient when we were up in Saratoga and said, 'What do you want to do?' " Sciacca said. "He left it up to me. Once I put glue-on shoes on the horse, it made all the difference in the world."
The Empire Classic was the centerpiece of Empire Showcase Day, an 11-race card restricted to New York-breds with seven stakes worth $1.25 million. Competing with the mutuel windows for the fans' cash were dozens of booths featuring crafts, jewelry, baked goods, health food, barbecue sauce, wine and liquor.
Saratoga Snacks raised his earnings for Parcells' August Dawn Farm to $464,600. The son of Tale of the Cat is the best horse Parcells has owned, and he's hopeful a relative can duplicate his success. Two months ago, he purchased Saratoga Snacks' full brother for $105,000 at a New York-bred yearling auction in Saratoga, where Parcells has a home.
Sciacca made the winning bid the weekend after Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The 72-year-old invited Sciacca and trainer Shug McGaughey to the ceremony, which both attended. Sciacca met Parcells in 1992 when Sciacca trained another standout New York-bred, Saratoga Dew.
"Bill and I talk two or three times a week," Sciacca said. "He was asking me how the horse was training, and I told him he couldn't have been doing better. Joel worked him the other morning in 1:12 4/5, and I told Bill, 'Well, if he wasn't fit, that'll get him right there.' "