SARATOGA SPRINGS — Nearly 50,000 people are expected to flood into Saratoga Race Course on Saturday for the 149th Travers Stakes, despite the fact no Triple Crown winners will be racing.
"You can't beat having a Triple Crown winner in the Travers — there's no replacement for that," said Saratoga County Chamber President Todd Shimkus. "But there is no shortage of reasons for people to come to Saratoga Springs."
Shimkus said the excitement on Saturday will be centered around Wonder Gadot, as no fillies have run in the Travers since 1979, and no filly has won it since 1915.
Gronkowski, named after the New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, could also be an attraction, according to Shimkus.
"People want to see if Wonder Gadot can make history," he said. "Also, since Gronkowski grew up in Buffalo and plays for a New England team, fans may want to make the trip to see the race."
Pat McKenna, a spokesman for New York Racing Association (NYRA), said all reserved seats, as well as clubhouse admission tickets, are sold out for the Travers.
Attendance will be capped at 50,000. Last year, 47,725 racing enthusiasts attended the Travers.
Shimkus said the Saratoga County Chamber kicked off a campaign to bring Justify, the 13th Triple Crown winner, to Saratoga Race Course. The chamber ended the campaign last month after it was announced that Justify would retire from racing.
"We did it for the energy level and interest level," Shimkus said. "In 2015, when American Pharoah ran [in the Travers] there were 15,000 people at 7:30 a.m. the day before to watch him warm up.
"Chances are, there won't be 15,000 people at the track this Friday, and that's the difference here."
According to the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, hotel occupancy rates for July were 74.6 percent within the county, compared with 71.5 percent in July 2017.
Shimkus said hotels are reporting strong advance bookings, and hotels and restaurants are hosting parties for those who want to watch the Travers but avoid the crowds at the race course.
"I've chatted with a number of hotels, and they said July and August have been very good compared to prior years," he said. "While hotels are having a great year, they're also talking about how they're making a lot more day-of and day-before bookings, as people wait to determine what the weather will be and whether they can get away.
"I think the August [hotel occupancy] numbers will look good, but those who are making those numbers are working harder than ever to see that growth."
The weather will not be a deterrent Saturday, if the forecast for Travers weekend holds. It is expected to be partly to mostly sunny, with temperatures in the low 80s, National Weather Service meteorologist Jennifer Vogt said on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, Vogt said the track season so far, which will conclude on Sept. 3, has included 16 days of rain, compared with 15 days of rain during the 2017 six-week track season.
Gates will open on Saturday at 7 a.m., with a special first post time of 11:35 a.m.
The Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers is scheduled to start at 5:44 p.m.
Grandstand general admission tickets are available for $10 in advance until Friday night at the Saratoga Race Course Box Office or at Ticketmaster.com. Grandstand admission will be $15 at the gate on Travers Day, pending availability.