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Expected heat cancels Saratoga's Saturday racing card

Expected heat cancels Saratoga's Saturday racing card

National Weather Service predicts heat indices ranging from 105 to 110 degrees
Expected heat cancels Saratoga's Saturday racing card
Midnight Bisou, the top older filly in the country, gets playful during a bath after a workout earlier this week.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

SARATOGA SPRINGS — An expected fiery hot and humid day has convinced the New York Racing Association to cancel Saturday's card at Saratoga Race Course.

The association made the announcement shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. The early decision likely saved long road trips for racing fans who often leave parts of New York and New England for weekend stays in Saratoga.

Hot and muggy conditions are on the way. The National Weather Service in Albany said a heat advisory for the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys will go into effect at noon Friday and remain in place until noon Saturday.

An excessive heat warning will start at noon Saturday and remain in effect until 8 p.m.

High heat and high numbers arrive today. The weather service said heat index values — a measure of how hot it feels — will be up to 105, with temperatures in the low 90s. The heat index will increase to 110 Saturday, with temperatures in the mid- to upper 90s.

"This is a responsible and prudent decision that aligns with our New York Racetrack Heat Management Protocol designed to ensure safe racing for all participants," said Dr. Scott E. Palmer, equine medical director for the New York State Gaming Commission, in a news release.

NYRA officials decided to call off Saturday's races — which included the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for three-year-old fillies — after consultation with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and following the recommendation of the Gaming Commission.

Saturday's horses will run Sunday — a 13-race card will begin with first post at 12:20 p.m.

David O'Rourke, NYRA's chief operating officer and president, said cancelling the card was in the best interests of safety for the race course's horses and horsemen.

"Assessing the safety of racing conditions, including weather, racing surfaces and race day scrutiny, is of the utmost importance to NYRA and our industry partners," O'Rourke said in a news release. 

Training will be permitted Saturday on both the main track and Oklahoma training track. Horses and jockeys will work in the cooler temperatures prevalent during morning training sessions.

Hot and rainy weather has vexed Saratoga in the past.

Extreme heat last cancelled Saratoga races on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006, when temperatures rose to the upper 90s. The heat index that day measured as high as 110 degrees.

A fast-moving storm soaked the race track on Saturday, Aug. 13, 2016, and jockeys told racing officials the track was not safe. The final six races on the card were called off.

Tropical Storm Irene canceled Saratoga's 1-race day on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011, the day after the Travers Stakes.

Through six racing days this year, heavy rains have fallen on two days.

Members of Saratoga Springs' business community started conversations after they heard about Saturday's cancellation.

Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber, said his people were on telephones during the afternoon.

"We're in the process now of notifying all the hotels so they can notify their guests," Shimkus said. "We'll have to see what kind of impact that has.

"Certainly, the weekends for us, particularly Friday into Saturday based on the graded races, the graded stakes, it's certainly the most popular day of the week," Shimkus added. "To evaluate the impact it's going to have right now is a little challenging, until we hear back from the hotels in terms of how many cancellation they may have or not."

Visitors to the city will lose the races Saturday but Shimkus said they can still see horses run today and Sunday and find other diversions for the unplanned dark day.

"We've got plenty of indoor options in terms of restaurants, movie theaters, shops, museums," he said. "The other option is in the morning, the cooler part, you can still play a round of golf or go for a little walk in the park. We've got Saratoga Lake, Brown's Beach, we've got the pools at the Spa State Park, many of the hotels as well have pools, so there are plenty of opportunities there."

The loss of a weekend business day hurts, but Shimkus said plenty of summer season remains.

"The good news for Saratoga is the prime of the season for us here is August," he said. "We still have all of August before us and a little more time in July, so there are are many more weekends for us to try to make up for this. And the first two weeks in July were really strong."

At The Brunswick at Saratoga, a bed and breakfast on Union Avenue, guests were already arriving for the weekend. Tom Amello, who owns the business with his daughter Kate, said this weekend would have been Saratoga's opener but NYRA decided earlier this year to begin racing July 11.

"We were practically fully booked," Amello said. "For us, it's greeting our guests, for those who are traveling in who have not yet heard. We had people walk in the door today and we shared it with them and there's that shoulder drop and jaw drop and a moment of disappointment. But then they realize they're in Saratoga and there's racing (Friday) and there is racing Sunday and they get it."

Amello understands the decision to close the race track on Saturday.

"Context is everything, and with the context of what's gone on with horse deaths around the country this year, everybody is going to make decisions in the best interest of horses," he said. "That's not only what we should do but it's incumbent upon them to do that now.

"I don't think any of our guests who are racing fans and racing aficionados will begrudge the New York Racing Association for making this decision on behalf of the equine athlete, the human athlete and their own guests," Amello added.

The Brunswick has space for 20. Cancellations would have been topics for discussion.

"If folks didn't want to make the trip. we'd have to have a conversation," Amello said. "We have a cancellation policy, but this is not their fault and we wouldn't want to inconvenience our folks.

"I guess I don't want anyone to be angry with me because of a decision I had nothing to do with," he added. "I think if we couldn't resell the room, which we probably couldn't, we'd probably ask folks if they wanted to come back later in the meet when there was an opening time ... these are the things you have to consider if you're going to deliver good customer service and have guests come back."

At Gaffney's, people can eat and drink in the spacious outdoor courtyard or the air-conditioned dining room.

"We still have the same live entertainment we do every weekend, so I don't think it's really going to affect us too much," said Alex Moore, one of the restaurant's managers.

She expects to see customers, even in the summer heat.

"That hot, we haven't really had here," Moore said. "It hasn't slowed them down so far."

Weather officials want people to slow down during the hot days ahead.

"We're expecting high temperatures on Saturday to be around 95 degrees," said Christina Speciale, a meteorologist with the weather service in Albany. "However, we are also expecting very high humidity. The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity will lead to what we call dangerous heat index values."

Meteorologists said people who spend prolonged periods of time outdoors or in non-air conditioned locations risk heat illness. 

Speciale said people must stay hydrated.

"We're also saying avoid alcohol," Speciale said. "I know it's summer, I understand it's a Saturday in July but it's not good to stay out in the sun and drink alcohol when you have heat index values in excess of 100."

Sunday also will be hot and humid.

"We may have to issue additional heat-related advisories or extra heat warnings for Sunday," Speciale said. "We are expecting the temperatures to again remain in the 90s and the humidity is just staying where it is, it is not going anywhere on Sunday.

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