The New York Racing Association will spend $1.9 million on improvements for track patrons at Saratoga Race Course, including installing high-definition televisions and video screens, NYRA officials said Wednesday.
It will be the largest customer-service investment at Saratoga in “many, many years,” a spokesman said, and is being paid for with new revenue being generated from the Resort Worlds racino at NYRA’s Aqueduct track.
Projects to be completed before this year’s race meeting starts in July include the addition of hundreds of high-def TV sets, new large-screen video boards, a better sound system, more picnic tables, restroom upgrades and expanded children’s areas.
“We want our guests to have a great experience when they come to Saratoga Race Course,” said NYRA President Chris Kay. “We appreciate this treasured venue and are investing in it for all horse racing fans who cherish their visit to Saratoga.”
The track — widely considered among the finest in the world — last year attracted about 860,000 horse racing fans, a drop from 900,000 fans in 2012, despite 2013 being a 150th anniversary celebration for racing in the city.
The decline was viewed with concern by city leaders, as the track is at the heart of the city’s summer economy. Fears that the track could be affected are among the factors cited by those who oppose a full casino in the city.
“We will do everything we can as a city to ensure the success of and increase attendance to Saratoga Race Course,” said Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen.
As part of the improvements, about 750 high-def televisions, ranging from 19 to 70 inches, will be installed. About 500 will be placed in the backyard and in exterior grounds. The rest will be installed in the grandstand and clubhouse, including all dining, bar and pari-mutuel areas. Clubhouse box seats will also be equipped with the new high-def TVs.
NYRA spokesman Eric Wing said the total number of TVs will rise slightly, but for the most part new flat screens are replacing existing tube televisions.
Also, new video walls will be installed in three grandstand areas — the paddock, the outdoor pari-mutuel bay, and near the Carousel Restaurant — for better display of races and other information. Those screens will allow a single large image, or can display multiple images simultaneously.
An additional 125 picnic tables will be added. Like the existing tables, the popular gathering spots will be available at no charge on a first-come, first-served basis.
A new high-tech system called Trakus will allow television viewers to easily track their horse’s position throughout a race using the televisions.
The event tent inside the reserved seats box office entrance will be expanded to 40 by 70 feet, officials said, and feature improved flooring and electricity.
Also, the children’s playground area will be expanded. Separately, the backyard will have a new, dedicated area where children can visit with and touch one of Saratoga’s outrider horses and learn about a horse’s daily routines and activities.
Wi-Fi capacity in high-volume areas will be quadrupled, to improve service and minimize connectivity delays.
Restrooms throughout the facility will see a number of renovations and upgrades, including new fixtures, mirrors and paint.
The Saratoga Porch dining area, open for breakfast and lunch, will be expanded to provide more tables offering a close-up view of the races.
NYRA officials said the improvements are part of keeping the track competitive.
“The many improvements are being done so that guests will have the best possible experience when they decide to spend a day at Saratoga Race Course,” said Wing. “And so they’ll want to come back more often.”
“We’re trying to develop a sustainable business plan to ensure that we generate enough revenue to cover our costs so that we can remain a vital economic source for the community for many years to come,” Kay said. “These enhancements are designed to create a better overall experience for our fans.”
Most of the improvements are expected to be done before the July 18 opening day. This year’s 40-day meet will run from July 18 to Sept. 1.
“We strongly support the New York Racing Association in its efforts to continue to offer fans the excitement of seeing the best horses, jockeys and thoroughbred racing in the world — the things that make Saratoga Race Course the summer place to be,” said Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.
In addition to the capital improvements at Saratoga Race Course, NYRA also announced a series of enhancements for its two downstate properties. There will be $5.9 million in work done on Aqueduct Racetrack, including addition of a new, state-of-the art simulcasting center and addition of high-def televisions and video screens.
In addition, $680,000 in improvements will be made at Belmont Park.