SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The 2018 summer thoroughbred racing meet that wrapped up Monday at Saratoga Race Course attracted near-record handle, despite it being a sometimes rainy meet, New York Racing Association officials said Monday evening.
The total all-sources handle -- the amount bet on races run at the race course from all on-track and off-track sources -- was just over $659 million, which fell short only of the $676 million that NYRA said was bet on Saratoga races in 2017. On-track handle was $148,826,388, down from $157,014,965 during last year's meet.
Paid admission was 1,124,149, the third consecutive year that paid attendance exceeded 1.1 million. Many of the people who visit the track for its world-class racing stay in local accommodations or go out after the races, making the track one of the prime draws for a thriving downtown scene during the summer.
Those numbers were achieved despite what officials said was more than 10 inches of rain falling during the 40-day racing meet, which began July 20. That rain forced 50 turf races to be run on the dirt track instead -- nearly twice as many as in the last two years combined.
It was also hotter than normal, with the National Weather Service in Albany reporting that the average temperature in Albany was 75.1 degrees in August -- a full 5 degrees about the historic average.
The meet's top crowd was a paid attendance of 49,418 on Aug. 25 for the prestigious Travers, which was won by Catholic Boy. That day's card of races attracted a record all-sources handle of just over $52 million, NYRA officials said.
This past Saturday saw another handle record set, when $31 million from all sources was bet on Woodward Day.
Horses and trainers will start shipping back to Belmont Tuesday, but another kind of activity -- construction activity -- will be picking up at the track.
NYRA officials Tuesday morning plan to break ground for the 1863 Club, the long-planned and much-discussed new luxury clubhouse that will allow Saratoga to offer a high-end experience to those who can afford it. The state's Franchise Oversight Board gave the project the go-ahead in April.
The building, the cost of which has not been disclosed, is the first major project to go forward of a series of capital improvements that will top $100 million over the next decade, as NYRA officials look to make upgrades and modernizations.
The three-story building will rise just west of the existing grandstand, where a collection of luxury-oriented trailers and tents is now located. While Tuesday's groundbreaking will be ceremonial, actual work will need to progress quickly -- NYRA's goal is to have the new building ready in time for the 2019 season.
The building, which will be enclosed and climate-controlled, is being named the 1863 Club after the year when racing was first conducted at Saratoga -- four days of racing in August 1863, in the midst of the Civil War.
The luxury building will be the most significant addition at the track grounds since the 1960s, officials said, and has been designed with an architecture that will reflect its surroundings, which are on the National Historic Register.
NYRA officials have said it's necessary to keep up with the luxury accommodations other tracks around the country offer.
"The three-story, air-conditioned building will provide new and different options for guests, including a banquet area on the first floor and a bar and dining club on the second level, which be connected to the clubhouse via a walkway," NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay said in a statement. "The third floor will feature true luxury boxes offering outstanding sight lines of the entire track."
The new building will also have a full kitchen in the basement.
Anyone interested in buying tickets or leasing event space or suites in the new building for next season can call the NYRA sales office or go to nyra.com/1863Club.
The new clubhouse will follow the introduction this year of The Stretch, which offered modern boxes, a new dining area and premium reserved seats in the grandstand area.
"Each year will try to introduce new and unique experiences for our guests in order to provide something for everyone to enjoy at Saratoga Race Course," Kay said.