Attendance at Saratoga Race Course on Wednesday beat last year’s dismal opener but didn’t reach 2007’s record high figures.
“I think it was a really good turnout,” said Dan Silver, spokesman for the New York Racing Association.
Wednesday’s paid admission was 25,444, or 40.4 percent more than last year’s 18,127. In 2007, a total of 30,052 people passed through the turnstiles on Opening Day.
The on-track handle on Wednesday was $3.6 million, up from $2.8 million last year but not quite reaching the $3.9 million gambled in 2007.
Fans were hungry, too. The Turf Terrace restaurant served more people on Wednesday than any day last year except Travers Day, Silver said.
Last year’s Opening Day — and the whole first half of the season — was so rainy that the crowds were thin.
The crowd watching the races was energetic Wednesday afternoon, gamely following the lead of announcer Tom Durkin, who enlisted their help to collectively announce, “And they’re off at Saratoga” when the horses in the first race broke from the gate.
After that race, six Cohoes residents did a little victory dance when they won $100.
“Now everything’s free for the rest of the day,” said R.J. Langlais.
The three men in the group are veteran track fans, but it was Melissa Mayer’s first time.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” she said.
Excited by their winnings, Langlais and Jason Fosmire called themselves “two of the best handicappers in the area.”
“We like to consider it educated guesses,” Langlais said. “But they’re probably just guesses.”
Like a number of area residents who plan a vacation day on the first of the 36-day racing meet, Kathleen Schlegel, 30, of Colonie and her co-worker Amy Smith, 29, took off work from Albany County Family Court on Wednesday and arrived with friends at noon. “There were not many people here last year,” she said.
They snagged a seat in front of the grandstand on the wooden risers to enjoy some time in the sun. With two coolers, bags of food and a folding table and chairs, the friends were ready for anything. They bet on the races based on the odds and by asking around for advice, Smith said.
“It gets a little more competitive toward the end, but in the beginning, nobody’s counting,” she said.
Two 10-year-olds waited for rain in the backyard, umbrellas at the ready. Showers started at 4 p.m., after about half the races were run.
Kelly Kiefer of Saratoga Springs and Samantha Nordstrom of Anchorage, Alaska, like to watch the races and pick their favorite horses.
“I pick the names,” Kelly said.
“All summer long they’re here,” Kelly’s grandma, Jean Skorenski of The Villages, Fla., said of the girls. “Usually they like to get the jockeys’ autographs.”
Samantha’s family has a home in Saratoga Springs and visits every year. Skorenski also spends summers in Saratoga Springs.