Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Race Course sees opening weekend jump in handle and attendance

Mo Strike (6) and jockey Florent Geroux pull away late to win the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga on Saturday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Mo Strike (6) and jockey Florent Geroux pull away late to win the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Opening weekend at the track attracted more people and bigger handles than in 2021.

The New York Racing Association reports a 10% increase in paid opening weekend attendance this year over last year, from 94,078 in 2021  to 103,254 in 2022. 

“Fan interest and engagement with the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course is at an all-time high,” NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke said in a statement. “We saw that on display throughout Opening Weekend presented by Runhappy, which generated record wagering handle and a 10% increase in paid attendance.”

NYRA announced the all-source handle for the opening weekend for the 2022 season totaled $106,401,827, an 18.1 %  increase from last year’s opening weekend all-source handle of $90,112,255. 

“Saratoga stands apart as a destination that continues to grow in popularity, and we thank the fans for their enthusiastic support of the summer meet,” O’Rourke said in a statement.  “Beyond the gates, NYRA is pleased to play a central role in driving tourism and economic activity throughout upstate New York. We look forward to all that lies ahead this summer at the Spa.”

The on-track handle for opening weekend this year also saw an increase over last year’s opening weekend. In 2021  the on-track handle of $14.39 million opening weekend in 2021 increased to  $17.06 million this year, an increase of 18.5% this year. 

“It was a crazy opening weekend for everyone in Saratoga,” Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said Monday. “The hotels definitely did well this weekend. Advanced bookings were very strong heading into the opening weekend. The reality is, with hospitality, where people stay is where they spend their money.”

“Everything that’s happening at the track in terms of higher paid attendance that spills over into overnight stays,” Shimkus said. “That translates to shopping and dining and just all around having a good time here, which means spending money.”

The past two years the racing season in Saratoga Springs has not been typical because of the restrictions and guidelines put in place from COVID-19. In 2020 no fans were allowed at the races. Shimkus said. He said the Chamber of Commerce had to promote Saratoga as a destination without people being able to see races.

The majority of states around New York also had travel restrictions prohibiting people from going to New York in 2020 Shimkus said. He explained for the 2021 season last year no one knew in the months leading up to opening weekend if fans would be able to attend the races. 

“2021 we didn’t know whether or not there would be fans allowed until June,” Shimkus said. “We expected it along the way, but we didn’t know what the rules were going to be. If fans would be allowed, whether they would need to be vaccinated or whether they would need to present a test until June. We had none of that clarity.”

The attendance last year was all last minute Shimkus said. He said this year people have been making reservations since March to be at the races for opening weekend. 

“Hotels knew well in advance,” Shimkus said. “They purchased seats at the track well in advance. That’s ultimately what helped drive up attendance this year vs 2021. You can advance book a hotel, you can buy seats at the track and know you’re going to be able to use them earlier this year.”

This time of year is the busiest for Saratoga Springs area businesses in certain sectors such as hospitality, retail and dining Shimkus said.  

Categories: At The Track, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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