SARATOGA SPRINGS -- And ... they're off! But earlier than usual.
The Saratoga Race Course meeting is expected see some substantial calendar adjustment in 2019, including an earlier starting date in July to accommodate two dark days instead of one per week.
The New York Racing Association would keep the meet at 40 days of live racing and a closing day on Labor Day, Sept. 2. Opening day will be Thursday, July 11, after which the track would be dark on Mondays and Tuesdays. That pushes the opener eight days earlier than what would have been the start of the meet if it remained at six racing days and a Tuesday dark day per week.
A source with knowledge of a Friday meeting of the NYRA board of directors confirmed that the board had voted in favor of the new format, which will be subject to New York State Gaming Association approval.
That could happen this week, provided the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, representing trainers in the state, and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders sign off on the schedule change.
NYRA, which operates Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, would expand the Saratoga calendar as one of several means to maintain its annual racing schedule while construction of a new hockey arena for the New York Islanders takes place on the Belmont Park grounds, the source said.
Construction is supposed to begin in May or June, and once it does, it's likely that daily Belmont Park cards would start later in the day so as not to overlap with the construction.
In an email statement regarding reports that the Saratoga meet would see some changes, NYRA director of communications Patrick McKenna said:
“We understand the urgency in announcing the dates for the 2019 Saratoga racing calendar. This matter is a complex issue that transcends NYRA and involves multiple partners. We anticipate that we will be in a position to announce the 2019 Saratoga dates within the near future. We appreciate the patience of our horsemen, fans and the community.”
The number of racing days at Saratoga, which had been 24 for decades, has gradually grown since the 1980s. In 1975, the dark day was switched from Sunday to Tuesday, and in 1982, they ran 27 days with no dark days.
It expanded to five weeks and 30 racing days (opening on a Wednesday) in 1991, then was briefly at 34 before going to 36 in 1997. The standard became 40 in 2010.