At least one Super Bowl pregame show won’t have any difficulty keeping the action flowing.
Saratoga Gaming and Raceway will open its 2008 harness season with a 13-race card at 7 tonight, followed by racing on Saturday night and Super Bowl Sunday
The Sunday card, with a first post at 12:45, isn’t a one-shot deal — the raceway will conduct racing on 35 Sundays during the year, replacing Wednesday racing during the less busy months.
Racing director of operations John Matarazzo, who grew up on Dean Street in Schenectady and used to occasionally trek to Saratoga for Sunday racing, said a positive response to two experimental Sunday cards last February prompted raceway officials to change the schedule this year.
They’re expecting the Sunday cards to further accelerate the increase in business the track experienced after video gaming machines were installed in 2004.
“The Sunday cards last February were very successful,” Matarazzo said. “Our fans seemed to be interested in Sunday racing, it’s a better day to come out, and it was well received, so we went ahead and eliminated Wednesday evening racing.”
Matarazzo said the two racing Sundays last year saw about a
35 percent increase in handle from what the track would bring in on a Wednesday night.
“For the two Sundays, we handled a little under $50,000 on track,” he said. “Comparatively speaking, that’s a significant increase in the numbers we normally do. And we did a lot more off our simulcast product, so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see where this is going.”
The track will race just about every Sunday afternoon through the end of June, then pick it up again on Sept. 7, so as not to conflict with the Saratoga Race Course thoroughbred season. They’ll race through Dec. 20.
This month, the raceway will have a special Monday card, with a 12:45 post time, on Presidents Day (Feb. 18).
“You can never be sure how you’ll do on Sundays during the warmer weather, but we’re confident we’ll do well,” Matarazzo said.
The raceway has seen a domino effect linking gaming revenue and attendance to better handle from the races.
Money from the video gaming machines feeds racing purses, which has brought more and better horses to the track. Better quality fields attract more wagering.
Purses at the track in 2003, the last year of racing before the VGM’s were installed, totaled $2.9 million; this year, the raceway will give out $12 million in purses.
“That’s a huge increase,” Matarazzo said. “Consequently, we’ve gotten a better product, people have upgraded their stock and the fields are more competitive.”
There are about 760 horses stabled on the grounds, and the raceway also draws horses from surrounding farms. Matarazzo said about 40 percent of the fields are made up of out-of-town shippers.
Dan Cappello Jr. has dominated the driver standings in recent years, winning his eighth title last year with 279 victories from 1,341 starts for a 20.8 winning percentage and $1,569,800 in purses.
The leading trainer was Jackie Rousse, the first woman to ever win the Spa title. She edged Ron Cushing in victories, 121-114, and won 26.9 percent of the time for $751,625 in purses.
The highlight of the season will be the New York Sire Stakes
series during the summer, for which there is over $2 million in purses.
The purse increases show up throughout the calendar, though. There’s a $15,000 open event on each card this weekend, “which is a far cry from what we used to have,” Matarazzo said. “This weekend, we’ve got over a quarter million in purses. Plus, we’ve got a seven-day-a-week simulcast schedule from at least seven tracks every day, so there’s going to be a lot of activity.”
Raceway admission is free.
The Super Bowl party at the raceway’s Vapor night club is sold out, but there is still a special brunch available from 11 a.m. to
3 p.m. for $12.95.
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