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33° Good Afternoon

Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz big winners as Spa opens

Sully Crotti of Saratoga Springs, left, and Gabby

Sully Crotti of Saratoga Springs, left, and Gabby Rossa of Boston were among the railbirds in a crowd of 32,980 on opening day at Saratoga Race Course on Friday, July 22, 2016. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Temperature of 93? Nobody was going to let that ruin their day. They just squirted on the sunscreen or stayed in the shade. Saratoga Race Course celebrated its 148th opening day Friday, and as always, the Spa was all about fun.

There were thousands of sharply dressed women, along with a few guys wearing bow ties and sweat-soaked seersucker suits. The fans enjoyed the best racetrack food in America and savored the unique atmosphere. A crowd of 32,980 packed the old place, enjoying barbecue and beers in the backyard and engaging in nonstop pari-mutuel speculation.

Speaking of fun, a 22-1 shot named, in a bizarre coincidence, Fun, rallied for second under Junior Alvarado in the Grade III, 6-furlong Schuylerville Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. Fun paid $16.20 to place, $7.10 to show and completed a $226 exacta behind 4-1 Sweet Loretta.

“When I asked,” Alvarado said, “she was there for me.” And for many ecstatic hunch players, too.

Transplanted Australian Ian Wilkes, Fun’s trainer, was “very happy with her performance. I’m going to enjoy a drink with [owner] Dennis Farkas tonight.’’

Those who hit the exacta would have bought Wilkes and Farkas as many rounds as they wanted.

Sweet Loretta paid $10.80 after drawing away by 4 1⁄4 lengths for her second win in two starts. The margin in her debut was seven. She was the third consecutive winner to come from off the pace on a tiring track. The time was a so-so 1:10.89.

The runner-up in the Schuylerville, the traditional opening-day feature, was a shocker, but the winning trainer-jockey combination of Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez was as familiar as the track’s red and white colors. Todd and Johnny V. are the longtime kings of Saratoga. Pletcher is going for a record 13th title here and his seventh in a row. Velazquez is the track’s all-time leading rider, with more than 700 victories.

“Winning at Saratoga never gets old,” Velazquez said. “Every time you come here and win a race, it’s always special.”

The co-feature, the Grade II, 1 1⁄16-mile Lake George Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the grass, was a tap-in for chalk players. Chad Brown, North America’s best turf trainer, ran 1-2 with favorite Ancient Secret ($6.40) and 5-2 second choice Elysea’s World. Rising star Irad Ortiz Jr., 23, picked up his third of four wins as he begins his defense of last year’s Saratoga crown.

“I wasn’t quite sure about the two turns,’’ Brown said. “I know [Ancient Secret] is a top-class horse, but I was curious to see what she was going to do when the gates opened. She passed the test.”

When Brown saddles a horse on a surface that requires mowing, they usually do.


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