09/05/2016 7:45PM

Saratoga meet ends with second-highest handle in track history

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Chad Brown finished the 2016 Saratoga meeting with a record 40 victories.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.  – It was another sensational Saratoga summer for the New York Racing Association as all-sources handle was the second-highest in track history.

All-sources handle for the 40-day meet was $647,322,503, a less than 1 percent decline from last year’s figure of $648,272,805. (These figures do not include international handle, which for 2016 has not yet been calculated).

When one factors in that the final six races of the Saturday, Aug. 13, card were scrapped due to unsafe track conditions caused by a mid-day rain storm, this year’s numbers stack up extremely well to 2015.

“It’s been a great meet for us in that we have been able to overcome some unusual weather,” said Chris Kay, NYRA’s president and CEO. “We had a washout on a Saturday, we had three Sundays when there was rain, and yet we are within an eyelash of equaling or bettering last year’s all-source NYRA handle.”

Ontrack handle was $151,841,828, down 3.6 percent compared to last year’s total of $157,647,599.

This, despite the fact paid admissions, which includes a daily count of season passes whether those pass holders attended the races or not, was 1,123,544, up 5.4 percent over last year’s total of 1,065,625.

There were 408 races run at this year’s Saratoga meet, five less than a year ago. There were 190 turf races run and 25 scheduled turf races transferred to the main track. In 2015, there were 211 turf races run, and only eight transferred to the dirt.

Average field size at this meet was 8.09 horses per race, down from 8.36 in 2015.

Kay credited the racing office, the marketing team led by Lynn LaRocca, and the launch of NYRA Bets, spearheaded by David O’Rourke and Tony Allevato, as reasons for the meet’s success.

NYRA Bets, NYRA’s accout-wagering platform, went national in early August. From the start of the meet, there was a daily 2 1/2-hour live broadcast of Saratoga’s races that was available in as many as 65 million homes via various cable outlets. Kay said wagering on those televised races was up over last year, though he didn’t have exact percentages.

“It’s meaningful,” he said.

NYRA’s live daily broadcasts will continue at Belmont – which opens Friday – through Oct. 2. There also will be a show on Oct. 22, New York Showcase Day.

Saratoga’s handle was aided by the debut of a late pick five for the final four days of the meet. The wager handled $2,870,016, an average of $717,504. Kay said NYRA will evaluate the impact the pick five had on other wagers before deciding whether to offer it at some point during the Belmont fall meet.

On track, trainer Chad Brown set a record for wins by a trainer with 40, eclipsing the previous mark of 38 set by Todd Pletcher in 2011, one year after the meet expanded to 40 days. Brown finished with 40 wins, 35 seconds, and 23 thirds from 164 starters.  Pletcher was second in the standings with 31 winners from 149 starters.

Brown, who had finished second to Pletcher in five consecutive years, said wining the Saratoga title, “is the highlight of my career, highlight of my life.”

Brown, who won 12 stakes at the meet, credited his staff that numbers 150.

“I’m just like the lead singer of a band, the people behind me make the music,” Brown said.

Jose Ortiz won his first Saratoga riding title with 65 wins, just the third rider to win at least 60 races at one Saratoga meet. Ramon Dominguez (68 in 2012) and Javier Castellano (66 in 2013) were the other two.

“It’s a great feeling, I had a great meet, Saratoga is the best meeting in America,” Ortiz said. “Last year, I won 38, my goal was to win 40. It was way better than that.”

Michael Dubb won the owner’s title with 13 wins, two more than Seth Klaravich and Bill Lawrence, who did close out the meet with a victory in the Grade 1 Hopeful.

The one negative to the meet was the fact there were 11 deaths related to racing or training between the main track, turf course, and the Oklahoma training track. There also were a plethora of injuries, including three horses that had to be vanned off over the final five races of Monday’s card.