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Saratoga meet ends, talk of 2015 begins
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  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.
make a decision. people have to make travel plans way ahead
Going to eight weeks would be the dumbest thing ever. It would make the meet an almost identical length to the Belmont spring meet, which makes the season at the Spa no longer special. If anything, they should cut it down to thirty one days: six weeks of racing, five days a week, plus Labor Day.
You know how to get people at the track?Shut down otb,online betting and racebooks.Watch the attendence go up.
Belmont and Aqueduct have 15 million people within 50 miles of them. Saratoga probably has 500k people with 50 miles. The question becomes-why do people go to Saratoga and not Belmont and Aqueduct? Personally, I prefer Belmont as a track, having grown up in the area. Saratoga has a party atmosphere which coincides with people wanting to go outside in the nice weather. The NYC weather is not always as forgiving as upstate NY in the summer. So I think the answer to the attendance problem is to give people more reasons to go. Poker tables would certainly help. Weekly low-roller contests should be continued and perhaps a series of contests that have a monthly prize and a NHC seat every 3 months would be of interest to people. If you have been to a contest at the NYRA tracks you know the room is full and the contests sell out. There is a growth area in contesting that needs to be exploited. Good live music is a plus as well. I would get into Jazz and Blues a little more. Something that is a complement to hanging out and relaxing. Rock music brings the wrong element to the track and they come to party, not to gamble. How about a poker room that stays open until 1100pm. Video slots bring money in-Aqueduct probably needs it to turn a profit-but the industry is in need of new younger fans and I think poker and horse tournaments are two ways to reach the new fan.
First improvement should be to get rid of Kay and put someone in that position who knows something about horse racing.
I like six day days racing with dark Tuesday My brother and I go up on WED. and come home after the races Monday works well for us and the Hotel we stay at.
Great meet but always room for improvement- Please, Please, Please bring back the breakdown of the win/place/show pools on the infield tote board like previous years. Only one small blue screen in the clubhouse and a brief flash on the monitors doesn't cut it-
Horse Deaths. Let's talk about the increase in fatalities at Saratoga, (16?), the Del Mar turf fiasco, and Aqueduct winter meets, These are very troubling trends and perception is reality magnified under the scrutiny of most racing fans, supporters and detractors. Artificial tracks statistically are much safer. Horse deaths are not going away, they are increasing. This is totally unacceptable.
I sure miss the days of Eddie maple...... Flint schulhofer.....and the good old crew. This place is a boring same old same old year after year now. Wait I know let's tinker with it some more next year.
How nice would racing be at Saratoga, on a cool fall day? The attendance may not be as good in the last 2 added weeks, but it would still be more in 2 days than Belmont would draw for 2 weeks.