SARATOGA SPRINGS — Harness racing will return to the Saratoga Casino Hotel on June 18, but it will be without fans in the stands to cheer the trotters on.
That means the harness track off Crescent Avenue will be the first area horse racing attraction to open without fans in attendance. NYRA has said that it plans to race at Saratoga Race Course on schedule, starting July 16, even if fans aren’t allowed.
The harness track will be opening even though the video lottery terminal casino remains closed for the foreseeable future, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he doesn’t want to re-open regional attractions that could draw large crowds of people and spread the novel coronavirus. The prospective opening of the casino, which has been closed since the COVID-19 epidemic struck in March, “awaiting further guidance from the state regarding a reopen date for the entire property.”
The 117-room luxury hotel also remains closed, though it hopes to re-open in July.
Despite the in-person restriction, fans will be able to wager remotely on the races through Saratoga Casino Hotel’s online wagering platform, SaratogaBets.com, or on any other state-approved online waging platform.
Working with the state Gaming Commission and state Department of Health, casino officials said they have put measures in place to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak among the employees and horsemen who work on the backstretch. All employees and service providers will need to review COVID-19 information, and have their temperatures taken on arrival, according to the Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s Association.
The harness track has roughly 350 horses stabled in the backstretch and approximately 200 people working, including trainers, grooms, blacksmiths, veterinarians and facilities personnel.
“We’re very excited to resume our 79th season of racing here at the historic Spa Oval, and are particularly happy that our horsemen will be able to get back to the sport they love after a time that’s been difficult for so many,” director of racing operations John Matarazzo said in a press release. “We’d like to extend a special thank you to the New York State Gaming Commission and the Department of Health for making this possible.”
Races will run two days a week, every Thursday and Sunday, with a noon post time.
On all race dates throughout June and July, SaratogaBets will be offering a 5% bonus on all winning Saratoga Harness wagers, as well as double the money back on program purchases. Those bonuses are in addition to up to 5% in daily or weekly player reward payouts regularly offered to SaratogaBets account holders.