Saratoga County

New free parking among fan perks for track season

New parking was found just in time for what could possibly be one of the best-attended summer meets

New parking was found just in time for what could possibly be one of the best-attended summer meets of the Saratoga Race Course.

During a preview of this summer’s meet, which is less than a month away, it was announced that free parking will be available at the nearby Saratoga Casino & Raceway, with a shuttle service running fans over to the race course. The 3,500 free spots should be a stress-free alternative to the packed streets and expensive lots around the race course.

The shuttle service is an idea that has been needed for a long time, said the New York Racing Association board’s Saratoga adviser John Hendrickson. “Parking has always been a problem. … I think it is a great idea,” he said.

The promotion will be marketed at the race course and at the racino, said racino marketing manager Jeff Scarfo. When people are on the shuttle, he added, they will get a scratch-off ticket that is worth up to $100 at the racino.

Scarfo said the goal is to create a stronger partnership between the two locations.

The unique offerings of this summer’s meet could also include a

field for the Travers Stakes that hasn’t been seen in more than 30 years. It is possible the “Mid-Summer Derby” will feature the Kentucky Derby winner, Orb; the Preakness winner, Oxbow; and the Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice.

If the Travers delivers a great card and the weather holds, NYRA officials said they hope to attract more than 1 million people this summer, an increase from last year’s crowd of about 900,000.

This summer’s giveaways, which cause attendance to balloon, include a Fourstardave bobblehead. The “Sultan of Saratoga” was chosen by fans to be the bobblehead, which is available on Aug. 11.

Additional giveaways are a short-sleeve T-shirt on July 28, two different replica models of the Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 18 and a Saratoga beer stein on Sept. 1. Giveaways are free with a paid admission while supplies last.

Crowds are also anticipated this summer because of all the Saratoga 150 celebrations, which commemorate the 150th birthday of racing in Saratoga. The celebration is continuing all summer, but NYRA’s involvement will climax on Aug. 3 with a special birthday cake, a 150th anniversary poster for fans, the running of the Whitney Handicap and the start of five chances lucky gamblers will have to bet $15,000 donated by Hendrickson and his wife, Marylou Whitney.

Hendrickson said it was appropriate for the big event to fall on the running of the Whitney.

NYRA Chief Marketing Officer Rodnell Workman said they’ve spent more than a year creating excitement for the Saratoga meet at its other tracks, including Belmont Park, which ends its spring run on July 14. “We’re going to have a time capsule that is going to go from Belmont on the closing day … and make its way up to Saratoga and be unveiled on opening day,” he said.

Hendrickson said NYRA’s plans and the Saratoga 150 events have created a “special buzz” about the upcoming meet. “Kentucky likes to say they’re the horse racing capital of the world; well, Saratoga is its soul,” he said.

Race days should also end a little earlier than last year, which should please those downtown restaurants that have complained about late post times discouraging people from eating out. One day of twilight racing has been eliminated, with the only one at the end of the meet on Aug. 30, and the races broadcast on NBC are expected to start earlier than they did last year.

Fans will also get to see the race course in a new way this summer, with walking tours, said NYRA Vice President of Hospitality Stephen Travers. The 45-minute tours, which were discontinued in 2000, cost $3 for an individual and $10 for a family of four. Starting on opening day, people will get a historical overview that covers the landscape, architecture and traditions that make Saratoga so special.

This year’s meet will also include modern Japanese food on Restaurant Row, with the addition of Duo, and the course will be selling Italian ice. Coolers will still be allowed in the course, although any previous restrictions still apply.

The Saratoga meet starts July 19.

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