Saratoga County

Weather wets track attendance, handle

The unusually rainy late July and early August period has hurt both attendance and betting at the Sa

The unusually rainy late July and early August period has hurt both attendance and betting at the Saratoga Race Course at the halfway point in the racing meet.

Daily average attendance at the thoroughbred horse racing track is down nearly 17 percent this year compared to the first three weeks of the 2007 meet.

The daily average on-track handle, or the amount bet, is down 9.2 percent for the same period last year, New York Racing Association officials said Monday.

“It’s the weather, first and foremost,” said John Lee, NYRA’s communications director. “This is an outdoor sport.”

Lee said so many track fans enjoy having picnics in the track’s backyard area or spending time along the open-to-the-elements track side rail. The amount of covered seating at the historic track is limited, he noted.

The wet weather has also forced NYRA to take many more races than usual off the track’s two turf courses and put them on the main, dirt track.

At the halfway point in the generally dry 2007 Saratoga racing season, only two races had to be taken off the grass and run on the dirt. At the halfway mark this racing meet, 24 races have already been pulled off the turf.

When a race is moved from the turf track to the dirt track, many horse owners and trainers “scratch” their horses from the race. Lee said this reduces the betting options.

“There are fewer betting interests and less betting,” Lee said. “This drops the handle.”

The daily average on-track handle was just over $3 million for the first three weeks of racing this year as compared to $3.3 million during the 2007 meet.

The average daily attendance for the first half of the meet was 23,099 as compared to 27,793 for the first half of the 2007 meet.

To add insult to injury during a wet July and early August, Friday’s heavy downpour of more than one inch of rain in 30 minutes damaged the main track and forced NYRA to cancel the final eight races.

On Monday, NYRA officials noted that they did not factor in the Aug. 8 attendance and betting on just two races in calculating the average daily attendance and average daily betting for the first three weeks of the 36-day meet that ends Labor Day. However, season totals include these numbers.

“Although the forecast calls for more unsettled conditions through Thursday, the weekend looks promising,” said Charles Hayward, NYRA’s president and CEO.

“As we move into the second half of the meet, Saturday’s Grade 1 Alabama and Sword Dancer [races] are both coming up strong,” Hayward said in a statement.

“We’re expecting a full field for the Travers . . . and the last weekend will feature 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin in the Woodward and a very strong field in the Three Chimneys Hopeful,” Hayward said. The Travers will be run Aug. 23.

On Sunday, rain again affected a giveaway day. A total of 45,840 paid general admission and collected a Saratoga stadium seat on Sunday as compared to the 72,745 who paid their $3 and collected a free folding chair on the third Sunday of the 2007 racing meet. These give-away day numbers are inflated because people called “spinners” pay admission more than once so they can collect more than one give-away item. Some people go through the turnstiles a dozen times.

Lee said NYRA officials have high hopes for the second half of the racing meeting with fingers and toes crossed that the wet weather systems will end and warm, sunny, dry weather prevails through the balance of the month.

Despite the rain, businesses downtown appear to be “holding their own,” said Dawn Oesch, president of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association.

“The overall spirit is a little down because of the rain,” said Oesch, who owns The Candy Company just off Broadway.

“Everybody is holding their own,” Oesch said about what she has heard informally from her fellow retailers. “It’s a moderate season, about the same as last year.”

Oesch said people are still coming downtown and buying merchandise. But, she said, they are more selective because of the recessionary economy.

“But they still shop,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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