Saratoga County

NYRA predicts strong meet

Despite a sluggish economy and record high gas prices, New York Racing Association officials on Mond
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Despite a sluggish economy and record high gas prices, New York Racing Association officials on Monday predicted a strong 36-day racing meet this summer.

Thoroughbred horse racing starts July 23 and continues through Labor Day at the historic Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue.

NYRA held its annual news media briefing at the Desmond hotel in Colonie on Monday, unveiling changes at the track — including a new “Saratoga Restaurant Row” of five local restaurants — and giving an overview of the racing meet.

Gavin Landry, NYRA’s senior vice president for marketing and sales, said hotel bookings so far in Saratoga Springs and the surrounding region are on pace with the 2007 Saratoga season, which showed significant increases in betting handle and attendance (958,574), compared to 2006.

Landry saw similarities with this year’s hard economic times and the year after the 9/11 terrorist attack when he was director of the Saratoga Convention Bureau. He said city officials were concerned about what the terrorist attacks would do to the local economy. They were pleasantly surprised to see hotel and convention bookings increase that year.

Landry says Saratoga will again “show fortitude” and prevail despite the sluggish economy and high gas prices.

Joseph P. Dalton, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said information he has received from local hotels has been “very good.” He said room bookings for the season are strong.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good season,” Dalton said.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson, who attended the briefing, was also upbeat about the horse racing season.

“We get a lot of day-trippers, we always have,” Johnson said. These people generally live within a tank of gas, or less, of Saratoga Springs.

Johnson said the high gas prices, which now average $4.19 per gallon locally, will have “very little impact” on the people in the greater Capital Region who want to attend the races.

John Lee, NYRA’s communications director, said he and other NYRA officials believe that people may come to the track instead of flying to more exotic places for a vacation.

Lee used the new term “staycations” to describe the idea that people will be looking for a vacation close to home because of gas prices and other economic reasons.

Charles Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, said he expects NYRA to emerge from bankruptcy by July 13 as planned. The association will then be able to sign contracts with the state for a new 25-year franchise to operate the Saratoga, Aqueduct and Belmont racetracks.

Hayward said Gov. David Paterson and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno have both been “extremely supportive” in trying to help NYRA get out of bankruptcy and launch its new franchise, which the state Legislature approved in February.

Once NYRA has its franchise contracts in place and transfers ownership of the racetrack properties to the state, the state will extend the association $75 million to pay off creditors and about $30 million to cover costs of this year and next.

Hayward said he believes that by late 2009 the lucrative Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs), computerized slot machines, should be ready to go on-line at Aqueduct.

Hayward predicted that NYRA, which was $27 million in the red last year, will have a positive cash flow by 2009 and actually turn a profit in 2010, even without the revenue from the VLTs.

Harold Handel, NYRA’s new chief operating officer, said the Saratoga racing meet is the premier meet in the nation with a betting handle of $16 million-plus each day of the meet in 2007. The signal from the Saratoga meet is carried by 1,000 different outlets in the United States and around the world, he said.

With its strong attendance and betting numbers year after year, Handel said, the Saratoga meet is the “most successful story in racing.”

As for changes and improvements at the race course, Landry said five local restaurants have been chosen from among 40 applicants to participate in the first-ever Saratoga Restaurant Row at the track.

A tent will be erected not far from the clubhouse entrance. Inside the tent each of the five restaurants will have a booth and offer their specialty food items at a fixed price of between $4 and $7.

The restaurants are Hattie’s of Phila Street, famous for its fried chicken; Brindisi’s of Broadway, known for its calamari and grilled veal chops; Grey Gelding of Broadway, featuring Voo Doo Pork Chops; Panza’s on Saratoga Lake, known for its lobster ravioli and homemade pizza; and One Caroline Street Bistro/Mouzon House with French Quarter cuisine from New Orleans.

Track giveaways will not include a bobblehead doll for the first time in several years. However, two first-time items will be handed out free to customers paying a $3 general admission fee: a long-sleeved T-shirt on Aug. 17 and a Saratoga stadium seat on Aug. 10. Other giveaways on the five Sundays of the meet are a baseball cap, July 27; T-shirt, Aug. 3; and Saratoga cooler bag on Aug, 31.

Track improvements will include air conditioning in new, see-through tents at the rail and at the paddock.

In response to demand, NYRA has added seating capacity for groups with a second tent at the top of the stretch and a fifth luxury suite at the south end of the track.

Jerry Davis, NYRA’s admissions and parking director, said sale of the 6,600 reserved clubhouse and grandstand seats is going well, despite a much later start this year because of franchise issues.

Davis said he expects NYRA will sell those seats out, except for some Mondays and Thursdays, over the next month. The 1,200 box seats in the clubhouse are completely sold out, as is usually the case.

Categories: Schenectady County

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