Saratoga County

Saratoga training track opens to chilly, quiet start

About 20 horses started their spring training season at Saratoga on an overcast Monday morning that

About 20 horses started their spring training season at Saratoga on an overcast Monday morning that felt more like winter than spring.

Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma Training Track on the north side of Union Avenue opened for business at 6 a.m. and will run through early November, with more horses on the way.

“We expect more this week,” said facility manager Peter Goulet. “Hopefully we’ll be up to 100 by the end of the week or so.”

On Monday, the backstretch was tranquil, with most stalls still shuttered from last year.

Seasonal workers who started at the beginning of the month raked yards and mucked out stalls on the quiet backstretch.

The dirt training track is in good shape, Goulet said.

Trainer Nick Zito brought in his feed truck and had employee Dillon Murphy disinfecting stalls on Monday.

He said Zito will bring a few horses on Sunday from Palm Meadows in Florida, though the best ones will go straight to Churchill Downs to train for the Kentucky Derby.

At the height of the training season, Zito will stable about 50 horses at Saratoga.

Some backstretch workers will have better living arrangements this year after electricians spent the fall and winter outfitting about 100 dorm rooms with better electric service and new heaters. The new 200-amp service allows workers in those dorm rooms to plug in their own window unit air conditioners without shorting the system.

Air conditioners were banned from the backstretch because they overloaded the 100-amp electrical system, although the rule wasn’t always strictly enforced until last year.

“It wasn’t safe for them to plug that in,” Goulet said.

Now the air conditioners and new electric baseboard heaters in the improved dorms will be hooked to the same circuit, since workers won’t be using both at the same time. And each of the improved rooms is on its own circuit, isolating the problem.

Overhead lights are on a different circuit than the rest of the power in the room, leaving the lights on even if the breaker trips from appliances.

“They’re not going to be sitting in the dark,” he said of the workers. “We did this at other race tracks and it worked out great.”

Goulet said dorm rooms that were chosen for the upgrades are the ones that are used for the longest time during the training season.

All the backstretch bathrooms also were upgraded — walls scrubbed and disinfected, painted and new shower stall doors put on, he said.

On the front side, racing fans will notice the plastic fence around the paddock has been replaced with sturdier wooden fencing.

And over the winter, carpenters built 16 new sheds that can be moved to stable areas for extra tack rooms or feed storage. The 8-by-10-foot structures are visible from East Avenue.

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