SARATOGA SPRINGS — The admission gates will be as busy as the horses’ starting gate at Saratoga Race Course once again.
The New York Racing Association announced Thursday that the track will re-open to fans at near full capacity for the 2021 meet, which opens on Thursday, July 15.
With only a small portion of the grounds designated for people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Saratoga will be open at near full capacity, which was established at 50,000 a few years ago for a few select racing days.
Season and weekly ticket plans will go on sale at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 9, at NYRA.com.
To accommodate large crowds, most sections, including the popular picnic table area in the backyard, will be designated for vaccinated fans only. This policy aligns with current New York state guidance for large outdoor sports and entertainment venues, which allows for fully vaccinated sections to operate at full capacity without social distancing measures in place.
“NYRA thanks Governor [Andrew] Cuomo for the opportunity to welcome fans back to Saratoga Race Course for what is sure to be an unforgettable summer at the Spa,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a press release.
“Thanks to the progress made in New York against COVID-19, the 2021 summer meet will be a 40-day celebration of all that makes Saratoga so special. Beyond its importance to the thoroughbred racing community and legions of passionate fans, the annual summer meet is an economic engine that creates jobs and supports the hospitality and tourism economy throughout Upstate New York. We appreciate the opportunity to open the gates at this most historic of sporting venues on July 15, and to join our fans in a collective roar of ‘They’re off at Saratoga.'”
“My guess is June 9 is going to be a pretty busy day on NYRA’s website,” Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce president Todd Shimkus dryly predicted.
Season passes, which are valid for vaccinated fans only, provide admission to all 40 days at Saratoga Race Course. Season passes do not include reserved seating and will be available by digital download only. Printed versions or hard copies will not be available. A Grandstand season pass is $50. A Clubhouse season pass is $75.
Individual tickets and tickets for other areas of Saratoga Race Course, including dining, will go on sale at a later date.
Besides the backyard picnic area, sections that will be reserved exclusively for vaccinated fans and will operate at full capacity will include the 1863 Club, The Stretch, Turf Terrace, Porch, clubhouse and most of the stadium seats within the grandstand.
Under New York State guidelines, non-vaccinated children under the age of 16 will be admitted to seating and hospitality areas designated for vaccinated fans when accompanied by a vaccinated adult.
A limited number of seating areas will be available for non-vaccinated fans, who will be required to observe social distancing guidelines and to wear a facial covering at all times during their day at Saratoga Race Course.
The NYRA news came after a preliminary announcement by Cuomo at his Thursday morning briefing that there would be free grandstand admission for vaccinated fans on opening day.
“The historic Saratoga Race Course is one of the Capital Region’s most storied attractions, drawing over a million New Yorkers and visitors to Saratoga Springs each summer,” Cuomo said in a press release. “The racing season is quickly approaching, and this year we are excited to welcome fans back to the course with free admission on Opening Day for any individual who shows proof of vaccination. This is all part of New York’s rebirth and resurgence as we continue to build back better and stronger from this pandemic.”
To gain free admission on opening day, New York State residents must proof of vaccination via the digital New York State Excelsior Pass. Fans from outside the state can show their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card.
Individuals are considered fully vaccinated by the CDC/New York State 14 days or more after receiving the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), or 14 days or more after they have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen).
The Excelsior Pass can be downloaded at https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/excelsior-pass.
Shimkus said Thursday’s news was a relief for county businesses and hotels. A poll conducted by the chamber said some people were hesitant to return to Saratoga County because of uncertainty over what venues would be open, but the latest development should assuage that.
“We’re ecstatic, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Basically, as long as you’re vaccinated, you’re going to be able to do anything and everything here in Saratoga that you could before, from going to the racing, to the orchestra — which is coming back, as well, which was announced today — restaurants, bars, the retail sector, the arts, Caffe Lena, UPH [Universal Preservation Hall] is going to have an exhibit this summer.
“I mean, everything’s open. Who was going to be able to do what or what you had to do to be able to do it was what was holding all of our hotels back from being able to start picking up on bookings. Now we know.”
Except for a small number of owners with horses racing on any given card, spectators were barred from Saratoga in 2020.
Cuomo announced on April 14 that fans can return to racetracks in New York as of April 23, and he later bumped up the allowable capacity from 20% to 33% starting on May 19. Belmont Park opened to a limited number of spectators on May 1.
The governor subsequently said that large outdoor venues like the racetracks could open up sections without social distancing requirements, provided spectators showed proof of full vaccination.
“I have a slight hesitation only in the fact that you never know, with this virus, what might happen,” Shimkus said. “Assuming everything goes the way it’s trending right now, we could be looking at the next Roaring 20’s, right? Everybody’s going to want to go out in Saratoga and party and have a great time. And we’re ready to host ’em. We missed the best fans in racing being here last summer, no doubt.”
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