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Fewer horses, fewer races at Saratoga

Saratoga Summer

Fewer horses, fewer races at Saratoga

The idea that less is more is not new, more or less.
Fewer horses, fewer races at Saratoga
Jockey Junior Alvarado crosses the wire with Moreno to win the Whitney Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, August 2, 2014.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

The idea that less is more is not new, more or less.

The problem at Saratoga Race Course: Fewer foals mean fewer thoroughbreds means weaker fields and cards at races.

The solution: Fewer races most days at Saratoga Race Course.

The byproduct: A more compact day at the track, which will allow people to get out to — and spend dollars in — the surrounding community by late afternoon rather than early evening.

Fans are split on the decision that pits quantity vs. quality.

“I’d rather see fewer races, better races,” said Tom Campney of Malta. “I love it. They used to do 13 races.”

Andy Smith of Galway said with more races “you increase your chances.” He also said those arriving at the track after work lose out.

The focus of the decision by the New York Racing Association is to improve the racing. Martin Panza, hired in October by NYRA for the newly created position of senior vice president of racing operations, noted the foal crop has fallen from 36,000 in 2008 to between 21,000 and 22,000 this year. Fewer horses means smaller and often weaker fields at races.

“We look to improve the quality of racing,” Panza said. “It’s not so much about the quantity. It’s just to upgrade the racing in general and slowly make some changes to the stakes schedule as we move forward the next couple of years.”

President and CEO Chris Kay believes the bundling of horses into fewer races is critical.

“Our strategy is to go with bigger fields,” Kay said. “It may mean that in 2014 our handle will be down a bit because we have fewer races. But we believe it is the right thing to do. “

Charlie Mendoza of Malta appreciates NYRA’s position. He doesn’t like it, not at all, but gets the effort to improve the quality of racing.

“But it’s a happening here. It’s more than just racing,” he said. “When you have more racing, the party continues on.”

His partner, Laurie Nelson of Colonie, disagrees.

“It’s a long day. It’s OK for fewer races,” she said. “We are going into town for dinner tonight. In years past we would have liked to have stayed [for the full day of racing,] but it would be too late.”

Kay and Panza both said there would be an economic benefit to the surrounding area by ending the race day soon. Ray Morris, owner of Lillian’s Restaurant on Broadway, says he’s already seen the benefit to downtown.

“I absolutely do. They’re getting out earlier,” said Morris, adding restaurants and other businesses have also been aided by the discontinuation of twilight racing on select Fridays.

“It’s not so late they say, ‘I’m tired; let’s go home and take a shower,’ ” he continued. “Our business between 4 and 6 p.m. has picked up quite a bit.”

The changes have already seen another wholly serendipitous benefit at the track: Last week a tree in the track’s back yard was struck by lightning around 6 p.m. and literally exploded. No one was injured, since racing was done for the day. Had the area still been filled with patrons, the result could have been tragic.

“Maybe Mother Nature,” Nelson said, “was trying to make a statement: ‘Get out of my park.’ ”

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