Perfect summer weather over the past week gave the Saratoga Race Course its strongest attendance and betting numbers of the rain-plagued racing season.
“We are in much better shape right now,” said John Lee, communications director for the New York Racing Association.
“We are making up ground, closing the gap,” Lee said on Monday about week five of the 36-day thoroughbred horse racing meet at the historic race track on Union Avenue.
For the first time this summer the attendance numbers and betting numbers exceeded the very successful — and very dry — 2007 racing meet.
Attendance was up 3.3 percent comparing the fifth week of racing this year with the fifth week of racing in 2007, according to NYRA. On-track betting was also up 2.6 percent comparing this past week with the same week in 2007.
NYRA officials are resigned to the fact that the 2008 racing meet won’t measure up to last year’s record numbers in betting and attendance.
“We’re just not going to get to those numbers,” Lee said. He said even if this summer’s weather had been dry and warm like the 2007 racing meet, the “economic jitters” of the current recession in New York State would have had a negative impact on the bottom line.
Betting on track totaled $95.9 million, down from the on-track five week total of $104.8 million in 2007.
The National Weather Service in Albany said Monday the track’s luck regarding the weather will continue through the week.
“We will continue with the dry weather, at least through Thursday,” said Joseph Villani, a meteorologist with the weather service. “We could see some moisture by Friday but that’s up in the air at this point.”
Villani said a cool, dry air mass coming east out of the Great Lakes will bring sunny, comfortable summer weather to the region with highs in the mid to upper 70s and lows at night in the upper 40s.
Cindy Hollowood, long-time general manager of the Holiday Inn on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, said bookings for this past weekend’s Travers Stakes race were better than 2007 Travers weekend. She said the perfect weather was the reason.
“Year-to-date our business is only slightly off,” Hollowood said about the 168-room Holiday Inn, one of the city’s larger hotels.
She said so far this racing meet her business is close to the first five weeks of the much drier 2007 racing meet.
“Our reward for four weeks of primarily miserable weather was day after day of sunshine and sensational racing, topped by surely one of the most exciting Travers Stakes ever witnessed at Saratoga,” said Charles Hayward, president and CEO of NYRA, in a prepared statement.
Track officials and downtown merchants are gearing up for the final week of racing that starts Wednesday and ends after the last race on Monday, Labor Day.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson is proclaiming Saturday as “Curlin Day” in the city in honor of the 2007 Horse of the Year, Curlin. The champion horse, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall as well as this year’s Dubai World Cup, will race in the Woodward Stakes late Saturday afternoon.
Free posters of Curlin will given to the first 20,000 fans entering the track on Saturday.
The Final Stretch Weekend starts Friday. Racing starts later that day, at 2:45 p.m., for the new “sunset racing” program.
A free downtown music festival, with live music from 7 to 11 p.m., will be held along Broadway in Saratoga Springs on Saturday and Sunday. A dozen bands will be playing everything from rock to reggae.
On Monday, Labor Day, there will be free admission at the track. Lee said this fan appreciation day is a way of thanking the loyal horse racing fans who braved some torrential rains earlier in the season.