The economic benefits of horse racing in Saratoga are well known. But they are also largely limited to the summer season. Ideally the season would be extended — and could be if the idea of a horse park, the subject of a draft feasibility study released last week, becomes a reality.
The study was funded by the state and done by a nationally known consulting firm that specializes in equestrian facilities. At the insistence of the Board of Supervisors, it was overseen by the county Cornell Cooperative Extension office, which had the dual effect of removing politics from the equation and recognizing that Saratoga has a reputation not only for horse racing but for horse farming (it has some 12,000 horses, more than any other county in the state).
The strong interest in horses, and the presence of so many of them, makes Saratoga a natural for a multi-use equine park — for horse shows, riding demonstrations and competitions — like the existing ones in Virginia, Kentucky and other states. (New York has some equestrian events at venues likes the state fairgrounds in Syracuse, but no horse park.) These parks bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors a year and provide big boosts to the local and regional economy, while helping the horse industry and preserving open space.
The horse park recommended by the consultant would be a major one, including an indoor arena holding up to 6,000 people; two outdoor, covered arenas; five to seven outdoor rings; warm-up and training areas; around 1,000 stalls, show offices and a sales area.
The remaining questions are: Should the county decide to go ahead with the park, where would it be? What would it cost? And where would the money come from? These should be answered in the second phase of the consultant’s report, due in November. Unfortunately, what would have been a perfect site, the former horse farm at Exit 12 of the Northway, is no longer available. But the consultant identified a half dozen sites around the county that could work, although some better than others. Especially with high gas prices, ease of access for tourists should be a primary consideration.
As for money, the cost is expected to be several million dollars, and it sounds as if the county would be asking the state for most of it. The state should provide some help, but it has major financial problems of its own, and has pumped many millions into Saratoga recently for Luther Forest and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The county should be prepared to use some of its nearly $31 million (at the end of 2007) surplus, as well as look at public/private partnerships, to get a horse park built. And it should be built.