The New York Racing Association is placing a $2 bet that an admission increase will not adversely affect the gate or handle at the upcoming Saratoga Race Course meet.
As a result of the hike — the first price increase since 2005 — general admission prices for the 2014 meet (sans Travers Day) will rise from $3 to $5. Clubhouse admission rises from $5 to $8.
NYRA CEO and President Chris Kay, speaking Monday after a kickoff news conference at the Fasig-Tipton Humphrey S. Finney Sales Pavilion across the street from the Oklahoma Track, said even with the price increase, general admission for Saratoga will still be cheaper or comparable to the other elite race tracks in the country.
Fans are also able to purchase nontransferable season passes for the grandstand ($30) and clubhouse ($50) from local Stewart’s Shops.
“The other thing you should know is from 2001 to 2012, our costs increased 97.2 percent,” Kay said. “I always ask the question: What business do you know that hasn’t raised its prices for its services or its products in the past 10 years? … You have to raise your prices if your costs go up 97 percent.”
At a glance
A look at general admission prices for select race tracks (excluding major stakes days):
• Pimlico (Md.): $3
• Churchill Downs (Ky.): $3
• Saratoga: $5
•Belmont (N.Y.): $5
• Keeneland (Ky.): $5
• Del Mar (Ca.): $6
• Arlington International (Ill.): $8-$12
Still, the admission is less than what one would pay for a major or even minor league sporting event in the region, and about half the price an adult pays for a movie ticket.
Saratoga attendance fell nearly 5 percent last year, despite the track’s 150th anniversary celebration. Wagering dropped less than 1 percent.
Kay said this is a critical year for NYRA, as it hopes to re-privatize in 2015 after financial woes put it under temporary stewardship of the state. For the first time in 14 years it expects not to run an operating deficit, thanks in part to funds from VLTs installed at downstate Aqueduct. “This is the year,” Kay said, “we are going to put our house in order.”
In other announcements regarding the 40-day meet that runs July 18 to Sept. 1:
Saratoga will host four giveaway days on Sundays: July 20 (baseball cap); July 27 (pilsner glass); Aug. 10 (tote bag); and Aug. 31 (T-shirt).
Aug. 31 will also be Tom Durkin Day, honoring the longtime track announcer who will be calling his last races that day at Saratoga before retiring.
NYRA made $1.9 million in track improvements, highlighted by 750 new high-definition televisions ranging from 19 to 70 inches throughout the grounds, as well as an enhanced sound system. A total of 125 picnic tables, prized acquisitions on Travers Day, have also been added.
Fewer, better races
Race cards have been trimmed in spots to improve quality of the fields, with the byproduct of allowing people to leave the track earlier — and potentially spending more at establishments outside the race course.
“No one needs to be at the races seven to eight hours a day,” said Martin Panza, the new senior vice president of racing operations.
He said there will be nine races (not counting steeplechases; see below) Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 on Fridays and most Sundays and 11 to 12 on Saturdays. Three Sundays will also have 12-race cards. There will be 13 races on Travers Day.
“There is a tremendous tradition at Saratoga,” Panza said. “My goal is to bring the best horses in the world, certainly the country, to Saratoga.”
There will be 15 Grade I races this meet, more than any other meet in the country, Panza said. In addition, the Aug. 2 card highlighted by the Whitney will be ugraded, with five stakes races.
Finally, Sunday, Aug. 24, will be dedicated to the best New York Breds in the inaugural Saratoga Showcase Day.
For a separate entry fee people will be able to sample New York wines (Thursdays) craft beers and ciders (Fridays) and food and artisan market products (Sundays) throughout the meet.
“New York is home to a wide variety of world-class food and beverages producers, and by showcasing their tremendous products at the Saratoga Race Course every week we are helping to raise the profiles of small businesses from all across the state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
Travers Day will be Saturday, Aug. 23, with a first post at 11:35 a.m. On other days the first post will remain at 1 p.m. The exception will be Wednesdays and Thursdays, when steeplechase races will go off at 12:25 p.m., followed by thoroughbred racing at 1 p.m.
International Heritage Days will held Wednesdays throughout the meet in the Saratoga Pavilion, honoring Latino-Americans (July 23), Italian-Americans (July 30), Irish-Americans (Aug. 6), African-Americans (Aug. 13) and Asian-Americans (Aug. 20). The history and culture of Saratoga Springs will be recognized on Aug. 27.