With four consecutive days of picture-perfect weather, attendance and betting at the Saratoga Race Course were higher for opening weekend this year than in 2013.
On-track attendance was up for each of the four days at the track, including a 25 percent increase Sunday, when hats were given away. Total handle — money bet on races — was also up significantly both Saturday and Sunday, though it was down during the first day of the meet, Friday.
“It’s a clear sign of momentum as we continue onward in the meet,” said John Durso Jr., a spokesman for the New York Racing Association. “Our guests have been pleased so far and they haven’t been shy in telling us so.”
Attendance on Saturday came in at 22,155 — an increase of 3,017 or 16 percent over the previous year. Sunday’s attendance of 26,106 easily topped the 20,812 who were on hand the first Sunday of the 2013 season, marking a year-to-year increase of 25 percent. The comparison isn’t fair, though — the first Sunday of the 2013 season was not a giveaway day.
Even Monday’s attendance was 308 higher than in 2013.
“The steps taken by the New York Racing Association to enhance the guest experience and improve the quality of our racing is reflected in the successful launch of our 2014 Saratoga meet,” Chris Kay, NYRA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “The positive momentum generated from this collective effort could not have been possible without the selfless work and dedication of the men and women of the New York Racing Association, and I want to specifically salute them all for a job well done.”
Sunday was the first of NYRA’s four giveaway days, when fans received a baseball cap with the price of admission. Durso said the total attendance Sunday doesn’t include 2,353 tickets that were purchased at the track’s multiple admission line — people buying multiple tickets for themselves to get multiple free hats — meaning it more accurately reflects the size of the crowd on hand.
NYRA implemented its new policy Sunday, in which so-called spinners are allowed to claim no more than three giveaway items.
The increased attendance came despite higher admission prices at the gate. This year, NYRA boosted the price of grandstand admission from $3 to $5 and the cost of clubhouse admission from $5 to $8.
The price increase was coupled with a slight decrease in the cost of season passes for the track. The result has been a dramatically increased demand for the passes, which are still being sold at 151 Stewart’s Shops throughout the Capital Region.
On Monday, NYRA announced its clubhouse season passes have sold out for the 2014 meet, but said it will continue to sell them for grandstand admission. The association has sold 6,373 season passes so far, a huge increase over the 1,402 sold in 2013.
With more than 73,000 people passing through the turnstiles the first three days, the track also saw a marked increase in handle. Though the year-to-year comparison of handle dipped by about a half-million dollars on Friday, the amount bet on horses running at Saratoga was up by a total of $1.62 million, or 5.3 percent, on Saturday and Sunday. Off-track and on-track handle both increased Saturday and Sunday.
Of course, there were a few hiccups during the first weekend. Some of the more than 750 flat screen televisions installed at the track either didn’t function or had a fuzzy picture — something that caused some subtle grumbles from fans.
Durso said the faulty televisions were quickly replaced. Otherwise, he said the opening weekend went off without a hitch.
“Opening weekend exceeded all of our expectations,” he said Monday.