Updated on 09/02/2013 5:25PM

Saratoga: Meet sees small declines in ontrack handle, attendance


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Despite running a record number of races and getting mostly stellar weather for seven weeks, overall business at the sesquicentennial Saratoga meet was flat, while ontrack business was down, according to figures compiled by Daily Racing Form.

All-sources handle for the 40-day meet was $586,685,153, down 0.2 percent from last year’s figure of $588,351,964. A drop of $4.7 million in all-sources handle on Monday’s card, compared with last year on closing day, made the difference between a negligible uptick in business and a negligible dip. There were 54 scratches Monday due to six turf races being forced to the main track.

Ontrack handle for the meet was $146,279,604, down 1.9 percent from last year’s figure of $149,127,289.

Attendance was 867,182, down 3.75 percent from last year’s total of 901,033. Monday’s attendance was 13,760, compared with 21,272 on closing day in 2012.

The New York Racing Association was not scheduled to release official figures until Tuesday.

Saratoga conducted 420 races, three more than last year. There were 209 races run on the turf (including nine steeplechase events), with 24 taken off, including all six Monday.

NYRA President and Chief Executive Chris Kay, presiding over his first Saratoga meet, was hesitant to analyze what the numbers mean.

“I’m not going to be able to interpret it until after the meet is over and I looked at all the data,” Kay said in a brief midafternoon visit to the press box. “You have to look at in a number of different ways in terms of ontrack handle, national handle, but also look at the kind of people that have come and the kind of impact it has on the region and its tourism. I’ll look at it from those different criteria. I won’t do it today. I’ll look at it in the future.”

Kay said his emphasis at this meet was to provide better customer service, uttering his pet phrase “enhance the guest experience” several times throughout the summer. He said he believes NYRA has made strides in that area but will look to do more next year, including attempting to engage fans and handicappers more.

“There are a lot of things I’ve seen this year where I say, ‘This is good, but we can grow beyond that for the future,’ ” Kay said. “There will be a few changes for next year.”

It remains to be seen whether the length of the meet will change. Kay said he has heard from people who want to extend it from its current 40 days, shorten it, or keep it the same. It’s another decision he said will require him to consult data.

On the track, owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, trainer Todd Pletcher, and jockey Javier Castellano dominated the proceedings.

Castellano put the finishing touches on a wildly successful meet by winning five races Monday, giving him 66 for the meet. John Velazquez was second with 46, followed by Joel Rosario, who had 41 but missed the final nine days of the meet due to injury.

For Castellano, it was his first Saratoga riding title after three consecutive runner-up finishes.

“The leading jockey title at Saratoga is special for anyone; any jockey would want to win this title,” Castellano said. “I’m very proud to participate with the best jockeys in the country.”

Castellano won 17 races for Chad Brown at this meet and six for Pletcher, including the Alabama Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks on Princess of Sylmar.

The Alabama and Coaching Club were two of four Grade 1 wins and 14 stakes victories overall for Pletcher, who finished the meet with 36 wins. Chad Brown was second with 24 wins, while Kiaran McLaughlin and David Jacobson tied for third with 16.

Pletcher set a personal-best for earnings at a Saratoga meet with $4.389 million.

“Top to bottom, it was maybe our most well-rounded meet,” Pletcher said. “All the horses ran well; would have loved to have topped it off with the Travers, but that one slipped away from us.”

Pletcher said winning his first Saratoga trainers’ title in 1998 was “one of those fist-pump moments, and then when you get to 10, it’s more time to reflect a little bit and kind of appreciate the entire body of work.”

The Ramseys won a Saratoga single-meet record 22 races from 95 starters, double the number of wins recorded by both Darley Stable and Drawing Away Stable and David Jacobson. The Ramseys, who won the 2008 and 2009 titles, ended the three-year reign of owner Mike Repole.

“Very happy, couldn’t be more pleased,” Ken Ramsey said. “Twenty-two – that’s a great number to hang up anyplace, especially a place like Saratoga.”