Saratoga County

Big day arrives for Saratoga Race Course

Around Saratoga Springs, everyone seems to have hit on the same metaphor this year.
NYRA landscaper Zach Grandy waters the flowers near the grandstands at the Saratoga Race Course on Thursday in preparation for today's opening.
NYRA landscaper Zach Grandy waters the flowers near the grandstands at the Saratoga Race Course on Thursday in preparation for today's opening.

Around Saratoga Springs, everyone seems to have hit on the same metaphor this year.

Thursday “felt like Christmas Eve.”

Well, actually, it was something like 60 degrees hotter, but the sense of anticipation is real.



SCHEDULE: Opens today. Runs through Labor Day, Sept. 5. Daily Wednesday through Monday. Closed Tuesdays.

POST TIMES: 1 p.m. Friday-Monday, and 12:25 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, (except for Travers Day 11:45 a.m. and Labor Day 12:30 p.m.).


• The $1.25 million Whitney on Aug. 6 and $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 27.

• The $600.000 Jim Dandy, traditionally a prep race for the Travers, will be July 30.


General: $5 (Children under 12 free, with an adult.)

Clubhouse: $8

Travers Day, $10 general and $20 clubhouse.

The presents start to get unwrapped this morning, when the gates open at Saratoga Race Course for the 148th time.

If the past is any guide, more than 25,000 people will flow into the historic Union Avenue track to picnic, acquaint, reacquaint, and witness the first of 40 days of some of the best thoroughbred horse racing in the world.

There are 69 stakes races scheduled, for a record $18.7 million in purses.

Last year, with high anticipation surrounding the appearance of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes, the track drew a record attendance of 1.065 million.

This meet will again feature horses whose names will be familiar to racing fans.

This Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks has drawn undefeated Songbird all the way from California. The 3-year-old filly was an Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old and is a candidate for Horse of the Year. She is supposed to stay in Saratoga for the duration of the meet and also run in the Alabama.

The Travers on Aug. 27 is expected to draw Preakness winner Exaggerator and Belmont first- and second-place finishers Creator and Destin. (Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is doubtful).

Frosted, who dueled with American Pharoah early in the Travers last year, will be one of the favorites for the Whitney Stakes on Aug. 6, after crushing the field in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day.

Those attending the track will see 850 newly planted trees around the ground, more large video screens, and better wi-fi connections for their smartphones and computers.

“It’s better than Christmas morning,” said Georgeanne Lussier, a city resident who sits on the New York Racing Association board.

“It’s amazing how much goes into it to make the whole racing season come together,” Lussier said on Thursday.

Around the city, restaurants are adding late-night menus and supplementing their waitstaffs, hotel rooms are filling, and trainers, jockeys and vacationing fans are moving into their rented houses. Broadway will be even more full of people.

“I think we have built a great tourism attraction here, but people also come for the historic downtown, for the arts and of course the racing,” said Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “I think its going to be tremendous.”

A 2014 study estimated the total economic impact of the track at $237 million annually, including the year-round spending by horse farms on feed, bedding and veterinarians.

The biggest share of the public’s spending, though, will be between now and Labor Day, when the six-day-a-week meet will conclude.

NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay, in a presentation to chamber members at a Thursday breakfast at Longfellow’s restaurant, highlighted many of the physical improvements at the track, where NYRA has invested $23 million in capital improvements over the last three years.

“We are committed to making the Saratoga Race Course experience and the quality of our racing second to none,” Kay said.

The track opened in 1863, and is believed to be the oldest continuously operating sports venue in the United States.

Additions this year include the NYRA Bets Lounge on Saturdays, where fans can get betting tutorials from handicappers and sometimes meet jockeys and other racing figures.

“You do not have to bet a lot. It is open to anyone,” Kay said.

A new hospitality area, called the Easy Goer, will open in the upper grandstand, and the Fourstardave sports bar will have more televisions, as well as a selection of craft beers. And it will remain opening into the evenings, after the racing is over.

“This is a great place to have a drink and not fight the traffic,” Kay said.

The clubhouse, meanwhile, will have a new champagne bar.

Holders of season tickets will also be entitled to the Saratoga Perks program, with discounts at businesses from restaurants to dry-cleaners to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Premium giveaways this year will include a Saratoga baseball cap this Sunday; a Saratoga duffel bag on Monday, Aug. 1; a Saratoga beach towel on Monday, Aug. 15; and a long-sleeve pullover on Sunday, Sept. 4.

There will also be family activities every Monday, part of an effort to get parents to bring their children to the track and expose them to racing and the track’s festive atmosphere — and thereby germinate a new generation of racing fans.

“A lot of people never connected to racing because their mom and dad never brought them to the race track,” Kay said.

The meet is launching against a backdrop under which New York state has extended its control of NYRA’s operations for a fifth year, through the fall of 2017.

That’s even though the NYRA board and both houses of the state Legislature voted in favor of plans to return NYRA to private non-profit control. The effort foundered in a dispute with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over putting a cap on how much money NYRA can receive from the video lottery terminals at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens.

A group of prominent residents called Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing has pushed for privatization, and plans to keep on doing so.

“We were not fully successful this year, but those efforts will continue,” said Matthew Jones, an attorney involved in the effort.

The state took over NYRA in 2012, after financial losses and management scandals within the organization.

But since Kay was hired as CEO in 2013, the racing organization has made a profit for three consecutive years, which he and the NYRA board believe justifies a report to private control, which backers say will make setting priorities and financial decision-making easier.

On the Northway as motorists approach Saratoga is a new billboard paid for by the concerned citizens which says: “Whoa Cuomo . . . End Government Control over Horse Racing in New York.”

Mike MacAdam contributed to this report.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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