09/01/2014 7:31PM

Saratoga meet ends, talk of 2015 begins

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Well before the curtain came down Monday on Saratoga’s 146th meet, rumors began flying about next year’s Saratoga season.

For more than a week, there has been chatter about changing the structure of the 40-day meet from 6 1/2 weeks at six days a week to eight weeks, racing five days a week.

Chris Kay, the president and chief executive of the New York Racing Association, said there has been no discussion among management about next year’s Saratoga meet. Kay, in several interviews Monday, did say that the meet would remain 40 days long next year and that there is no chance that the meet would start on Fourth of July weekend.

What Kay and management eventually will talk about is where to conduct racing during the two weeks after July 4. In 2015, Labor Day is Sept. 7, the latest date possible. If the schedule remains as is, Saratoga would open July 24. If NYRA experimented with a five-day race week for eight weeks – say, Thursdays through Mondays – a likely starting date would be July 16.

Kay did not discuss specific dates Monday, but he did say several factors would be considered before making any decision about altering the Saratoga calendar.

“You’re going to look at some of the business components about what could you do here versus what you could do [at Belmont], that will be part of the process,” Kay said Monday in an interview with Daily Racing Form. “The other part of the process is what impact does it have on our employees, what impact does it have on trainers and jockeys? The third area is what impact does it have on our community?

“As we plan for 2015, we’ll do that kind of analysis internally, but we’ll also reach out to a variety of stakeholders to get their points of view as well.”

Kay was extremely pleased with the 2014 Saratoga season, though all-sources handle was down. Total all-sources handle was $571,163,484, down 2.6 percent from the 2013 figure of $586,685,154. Ontrack handle was $150,387,442, up 1.9 percent over last year’s figure of $147,456,901.

Reported attendance, which included the daily counting of approximately 6,400 season passes, was 972,018, up 12 percent over last year’s figure of 867,182.

NYRA conducted 413 races at Saratoga this year, seven fewer than in 2013. There were 10 fewer flat races but three more steeplechase events. For the 401 flat races, there were 3,290 starters, for an average field size of 8.2. Last year, in 411 flat races, there were 3,417 starters, for an average field size of 8.3.

There were 193 turf races run and 28 taken off the turf this year, compared with 209 turf races run and 24 taken off the turf in 2013.

“Because we were running fewer races in an effort to improve the quality, I expected our handle to be affected,” Kay said. “The fact we’re up ontrack despite having fewer races ... is fairly consistent with the increase in our attendance. In addition, we’ve seen an increase in the amount of money being spent in the restaurants, food and beverage, and with our subcontractors who have the [food] trucks.”

Kay said he believes the installation of 750 new high-definition televisions and the expansion and additional usage of the Saratoga Pavilion for daily special events were met enthusiastically by ontrack patrons.

“We put some plans in place months ago, and I’m very pleased our plans paid off,” Kay said.

Todd Pletcher won his fifth straight Saratoga trainers’ title and his 11th overall, though his win total of 28 was his fewest here since 2009. Pletcher won Monday’s Grade 1 Hopeful with Competitive Edge, his fifth stakes win of the meet, the fewest in that category since he won four in 2009.

“I thought we had a really good start to the meet,” said Pletcher, who had 25 second-place finishes at the meet. “I thought we had some really big disappointments at the meet – way too many seconds for my liking. At the same time, you cannot not be grateful anytime you come to Saratoga and win [28] races, win the Hopeful, Coaching Club, Alabama, and Schuylerville. No matter how good you do, it could always be better. No matter how bad you’re doing, it could always be worse.”

For the fourth straight year, trainer Chad Brown finished second in the standings, this time with 23 wins.

Pletcher and Brown both helped Javier Castellano win his second straight Saratoga riding title. He rode 58 winners, five more than Irad Ortiz Jr., who was second. Castellano won 10 stakes, including the Travers, King’s Bishop, and Coaching Club American Oaks.

“It’s two years in a row, it’s very special, and I think I’m very satisfied,” Castellano said. “When you get the title, you don’t want to give it up. You always want to keep leading jockey. ... I won the Travers. I’m very thankful and blessed and won a lot of races in Saratoga.”

Michael Dubb won his first owners’ title with 14 wins, two more than Mike Repole. Dubb, with a variety of partners, ran 30 more horses than did Repole.