08/29/2011 4:07PM

Saratoga: Hurricane Irene will leave her mark on track's bottom line

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Hurricane Irene may have done minimal damage to the grandstand and barn areas, but it dealt Saratoga a rather substantial blow from a business standpoint when it passed through the area Sunday.

The likelihood that Hurricane Irene would strike locally on Sunday compelled management to announce minutes after the completion of the track’s marquee race, Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers, that racing would be canceled Sunday. The decision proved to be a wise one, but it will ultimately impact the bottom line approximately 2 percent when total handle figures are added up following the conclusion of the 40-day session on Sept. 3, according to Charles Hayward, CEO and president of the New York Racing Association.

“Although the Sunday following the Travers is generally a slower day than normal because there are no giveaways and a lot of wind is taken out of the balloon after Travers, we would have expected attendance and handle figures to be about the same as a year ago,” Hayward said.

A crowd of 23,347 attended Saratoga on the corresponding Sunday after the Travers in 2010, wagering $3,516,949 ontrack, with the total all-sources handle exceeding $16.2 million.

“When you look at the overall picture of a 40-day meet, that would factor to about a 2 percent loss,” Hayward said. “In addition, we were off slightly in both attendance and all-sources handle on Saturday. Were it not for the prospect of Hurricane Irene, I think we would have had a killer day and been up approximately 5 percent in all-sources handle and 10 percent ontrack.”

Hayward said the forecast for Hurricane Irene to dump from 5 to as much as 10 inches of rain on the area Sunday and the prospect of an off track when racing resumed kept entries to a minimum for Monday’s card.

“Because we took entries for Monday’s card on Friday, trainers didn’t think the track would be fast, and the program was definitely the worst of the meet and as a result both attendance and handle were down as well,” Hayward said.

Hayward said damage on the backstretch was limited primarily to downed branches and the roof of one dorm, all of which was cleaned up and repaired quickly. He said there was also no “substantial damage” downstate at either Aqueduct or Belmont.

“The idea that no trees fell and hit power lines was remarkable,” Hayward said.

Hayward also defended the decision to withhold the announcement that Sunday’s card was canceled until 6 p.m. Saturday.

“We have two weather-service advisories and wanted to wait until the 5 p.m. reports were in, since there was some possibility the storm could slow down or go east once making landfall,” Hayward said. “We needed to gain more information before making the final decision. I know we got criticized by some for waiting that long, but everybody would have killed us if we’d canceled and had a bright, sunny day on Sunday. We don’t think anybody was inconvenienced by us waiting for the best information available before making the final call.”