Weather shuts down racing, but downtown businesses benefit

The brief, powerful rain and hail storm that halted racing at Saratoga Race Course Friday afternoon

The brief, powerful rain and hail storm that halted racing at Saratoga Race Course Friday afternoon was bad for racing but good for business at many downtown restaurants and shops.

The historic track on Union Avenue had to cancel eight races after a downpour of a little more than 30 minutes that washed out a turn on the main track around 2:15 p.m.

“We had this influx of people,” said Dawn Oesch, owner of The Candy Company on Washington Street, just off Broadway.

“Everybody was coming in and getting goodies,” Oesch said.

“What might not be good for the track might be good for downtown,” said Ray Morris of Lillian’s Restaurant on Broadway.

Morris said a “big onslaught” of people came downtown after the track closed, meaning a very busy late lunch and much larger than usual crowd for the early dinner at Lillian’s, which starts at 4 p.m.

“Business has been very, very good,” Morris said about the rainy first two weeks of the 2008 thoroughbred horse racing meet at the flat track.

“We sure did,” said Jo-Ann Moriarta, a marketing manager for the Olde Bryan Inn on Maple Avenue, when asked if the restaurant had a burst of business Friday afternoon. “It was very positive,” she said.

“Rain tends to bring people in anyway,” Moriarta said.

“We saw it pick up between 2:30 and 3 p.m., which is usually a quiet time,” she said.

“Everybody is talking about [the track being flooded],” Moriarta added.

The track is scheduled to reopen as usual today for a full card of racing and special events.

The last time racing was canceled during the Saratoga summer meet was Aug. 2, 2006, when 100-plus temperatures canceled the entire card for the first time since 1940.

The race course has canceled parts of a day’s card because of severe summer storms in 2004 (one race), 1998 (two races), 1988 (two races) and 1986 (four races).

Some of the track’s 12,928 patrons (down from 19,151 on the same day in 2007) stayed at the track after live racing was canceled. Groups of racing fans could be seen continuing their parties in the backyard after the sun came out. They wagered on the simulcast races from Monmouth Park in New Jersey shown on television monitors throughout the backyard.

Betting before the storm on the day’s first two races generated an on-track handle of $465,683, compared to a handle of $3 million-plus for a full day of racing on the same Friday in 2007.

Brian Frugis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said Friday’s storm developed right over the northern end of Saratoga Springs.

“It was very limited in space and time,” Frugis said. He said the storm lasted between 30 minutes and 45 minutes and included hail the size of a pea or a dime.

More than one inch of rain fell during the brief thunderstorm.

Today is expected to be partly sunny and dry with a less than 10 percent chance of showers, Frugis said. The temperature will be in the mid-70s, about the same as it was Friday.

But the showers are expected to return on Sunday. He said there is a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms then.

Frugis said the recent cool, rainy weather has been coming out of the west from the Great Lakes to the Northeast. He said this pattern may finally change by the middle of next week.

“It’s more like a spring or fall pattern,” Frugis said of the rainy weather.

Categories: Schenectady County

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