If the decision as to when to schedule the dark days for the Saratoga Racecourse and other issues simply came down to a matter of dollars and cents, there’s probably be no debate right now.
Despite canceling an entire Saturday of racing due to extreme heat, the track topped $705 million in total betting, $29 million above the track record. The average daily handle was up almost 10 percent over last year to more than $18 million, and the on-track handle for the year was a whopping $146.6 million.
This year’s racing season was a rousing success from a financial standpoint, which one would think should cement the new eight-week racing schedule that for the first time featured dark days on two days, Mondays and Tuesdays.
If it was solely about how much money was banked at the track, then there should be no more discussion.
But Saratoga and the Saratoga racing season are about much more than just how much money the track takes in in a single year.
The New York Racing Association (NYRA), the race track, the city government, and the businesses and the residents in and around Saratoga Springs have a symbiotic relationship that works to everyone’s benefit when everyone involved has input into the decision-making surrounding race operations.
So sometime later this year — when businesses have had a chance to evaluate how they did during track season and when residents and city officials and city department heads and SPAC and everyone else has had time to evaluate the season and assess the true impact of the new Saratoga schedule — everyone needs to come together and tell their stories.
And sitting in the front row, hanging on every word and jotting down names and numbers, should be NYRA officials.
If NYRA wants to continue to see record-breaking handles, it needs to listen to voices outside the organization.
Are Mondays and Tuesdays really the best days for the track to be dark, for instance? Would it be more beneficial to businesses and race fans if they were Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or another combination? Have parking and traffic plans worked to everyone’s benefit? What else can be done to improve the experience for visitors, residents, businesses and employees?
NYRA needs to hold public meetings and accept written input and truly evaluate how to move forward based on the best interests of all involved.
A rising tide lifts all boats. But when everyone aboard rows in a different direction, the boat goes nowhere.
Shutting out others who have a stake in the future of racing at Saratoga would be a mistake that NYRA can’t afford to make.