SARATOGA SPRINGS — It downpoured Monday afternoon just before the second race on the final day of the Saratoga Race Course season, but fans didn’t care.
Some opened their umbrellas while others ran for cover. Once the sun came out several minutes later it was like it had never rained.
People were back at their chairs or tables laughing, drinking, eating food and preparing for the next race.
One group of around a dozen people were celebrating two birthdays — Joyce Robillard, was turning 81 and Dawn Matthews was turning 61.
Robillard is Adam Brennan’s aunt and Matthews is Brennan’s cousin. The family tries to go to the track on closing day every year, said Brennan, who is from Stillwater.
“We try to get together every year, especially when it falls on their birthday,” he said.
He said watching people get together and relax by smoking some cigars and enjoying a drink while watching the horses race is the best part of going to the track.
Not having the track open last year to fans due to COVID-19 was upsetting.
“It’s phenomenal, just to see the people and feel the buzz in the air,” he said.
It was that elated feeling of people wanting to see each other again and have something to do that helped lead the track to it’s sixth consecutive year, excluding 2020, of eclipsing more than one million in paid attendance for the season, said Pat McKenna, the director of communications for the New York Racing Association.
McKenna also said it was the second time in three years the track broke the all-sources wagering handle record and the first time in track history that the track reached $800 million in all-source wagering, which was “important because it demonstrates the continued excellence of thoroughbred racing in Saratoga.”
The 2021 summer meet ended with an all-sources handle of over $815.5 million, a 15.6% increase over the prior record of $705.3 million set in 2019.
Average daily attendance at The Spa during the 40-day meet was 26,162. Total attendance was 1,046,478.
He said the thanks belongs to the dedicated fans.
“This has been a tremendously successful meet thanks to the energy, enthusiasm and support of the best fans in horse racing,” McKenna said.
What also made the track a successful season was that many of the seasonal workers returned this year, helping the track’s staffing levels. The track also implemented precautionary measures to deter the spread of COVID-19, such as requiring employees to wear masks.
He said along with the expansive backyard people felt comfortable returning to the track.
Additions to the track also encouraged more people to attend, McKenna said. This year’s addition included the Spa Verandas, covered picnic areas located at the top of the stretch that can accommodate groups of up to 50 people.
“They were very, very popular,” McKenna said.
He said more capital projects are to come.
“Some on the back stretch including dormitories and barns,” he said.
He said the focus of the projects is on the longevity of the track and making it a safe and enjoyable place for jockeys to practice from April to October and fans to visit.
“NYRA thanks our fans for making this a summer reunion like never before,” he said.
For JoAnne Piterniak, of Cohoes, the track is sort of a second home in the summer. She has been going there since the 1970s.
“This was my thing with my dad,” she said.
She and her husband, Bill, had set up their chairs in the picnic area behind the grandstand. Piterniak said last year she was able to come on the last day because she had a horse in one of the races. This year she didn’t have a horse in one of the races, but had to come back on closing day.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s very nostalgic.”
Inside the grandstand 4-year-old Quinn Pallozzi was munching on a hotdog next to her dad Mark Pallozzi while her brother, 5-year-old Jack Pallozzi and mom Talia Pallozzi checked out the horse just before the first race kicked off.
“It’s our end of the summer activity,” Talia Pallozzi said.
Talia and Mark Pallozzi had been to the track before over the years, but this was the first time they had driven from Lansingburgh to watch the races as a family.
“I told him (Jack) that these are the fastest horses in the world,” Talia Pallozzi said.
For the family part of the day also included checking out the food at the course — top of the list to find was cotton candy.
“We wanted to give them the whole track experience,” Talia Pallozzi said.
For the Mohen family from Long Island stopping to watch the races at Saratoga was a fitting almost end of the season that included stops at all the races making up the Triple Crown. Lisa Mohen said they may still head to the Breeders’ Cup, which takes place in the first week of November in Del Mar, California.
Lisa Mohen and her son Liam Mohen were wearing fitting attire for the track. She had on a green feathered fascinator, while he had on a vest with horses on it.
“I bought it in Kentucky and it’s come along every step of the way,” Lisa Mohen said.
The family started going to horse races around 20 years ago and have even owned some horses over the years.
But the family is partial to Saratoga’s track, they said.
That’s because it’s all about the horses and the races, Liam Mohen said. He said other venues they have been to also had huge concerts going at the same time and it’s more of a party than a race.
“There it’s like a party with horses and everyone here is a horse person that comes to party,” he said.
Like many who visit the track during the summer season the family opted to stay in a hotel in the area — one just off Broadway.
With the track open again the economy in the area flourished, said Todd Shimkus, the president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s no doubt about it, it had a huge positive impact on the community,” Shimkus said. “People spend money where they stay.”
The summer meet brings in over $240 million in overall economic revenue,” McKenna said.
While COVID-19 still had some impact as some people canceled plans to visit, Shimkus said there was always another person right behind them to pick up an open hotel room or reservation.
He said having the track season open to visitors again also lifted people’s spirits.
“It was like the roaring ’20s here in Saratoga,” he said. “Everybody raced to see each other.”