07/16/2014 2:08PM

Saratoga placing even greater emphasis on quality

Barbara D. Livingston
The New York Racing Association has shifted its focus this summer for Saratoga, placing an emphasis on quality of racing over quantity of races.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The 146th meeting at Saratoga could answer these questions: Is less more, and will more mean less?

Hoping to emphasize quality over quantity at the 40-day Saratoga meet that begins Friday, the New York Racing Association plans to run approximately 15 to 20 fewer races than the 420 conducted in 2013. Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, said he wants to write fewer cheaper races if possible, but he also knows he’s dealing with a foal crop that has shrunk over the last several years, making for fewer high-level horses.

“It’s going to be a process over the next couple of years to try and slowly change to the program that we want,” Panza said Wednesday at an opening-day press conference. “We started doing it at Belmont Park. We’ll carry it through here at Saratoga. There’s a fine line for all of American racing on the right amount of races to run. We’re fortunate that Saratoga draws a lot of the best horses in the country up here, and I feel very confident we can put on a good show.”

While there will be less flat racing, there will be more steeplechase racing at this year’s meet – 12 races compared to nine in previous years. The steeplechase events will take place every Wednesday and Thursday, and first post those days will be 12:25 p.m. First post for the first flat race every day – except Travers Day – will be 1 p.m.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers at Saratoga each race day

Meanwhile, it will cost more money to attend a day of racing at Saratoga this year. Clubhouse admission has been raised from $5 to $8, while grandstand admission has gone from $3 to $5. On Travers Day, Aug. 23, general admission will be $10, up from $5, and clubhouse admission will be $15, up from $10. Reserved seats in both the grandstand and clubhouse have gone up $2 from last year as well.

It remains to be seen how the decrease in races and increase in pricing will affect business. Last year, Saratoga averaged $14.6 million in daily handle, $3.6 million on track, while attendance averaged 21,679.

“It may mean in 2014 that our handle may be down a bit because we have fewer races, but we believe it’s the right thing to do, and in 2015, we’ll see an increase in that handle,” NYRA president and CEO Chris Kay said Wednesday.

Kay said NYRA hadn’t increased admission prices in 10 years, and he doesn’t feel the increase will cut down on attendance – especially tourists who pay exorbitant hotel and restaurant prices.

“I think we’ll see the same number of people we’ve had in the past that came in from Boston or from Buffalo, and the modest price increase will not have an impact on them,” Kay said.

As a way to ease the increases, NYRA, in partnership with a local convenience store, has offered a season pass that offers reduced cost. As of Wednesday, NYRA had sold 4,631 season passes compared to 1,400 last year.

NYRA has spent $2 million in improvements at Saratoga, installing 750 new HD televisions and improving the sound system. The picnic area will have 100 new tables, making it more congested than in past years.

The winner’s circle will be less congested, as it has been widened by 5 1/2 feet.

The racing should be as good as it gets. There will be 33 graded stakes – 15 of which are Grade 1’s – with total purses of $17.45 million. Following on its business model at Belmont Park, NYRA has enhanced two of its biggest days. The Whitney Handicap had its purse doubled to $1.5 million, and that Aug. 2 card will include the Grade 1, $500,000 Test and the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt, as well as two additional $100,000 stakes.

The Travers had its purse raised 25 percent to $1.25 million, and that Aug. 23 card will include the Grade 1, $500,000 King’s Bishop, the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina, and the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa.

Last year, the Travers had Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice. California Chrome, this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, will not be participating in the Travers, though the Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist is slated for both the $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 27 and the Travers.

This Sunday’s Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks lost top 3-year-old filly Untapable – who is running July 27 in the Haskell at Monmouth Park – but she could come back Aug. 16 for the Alabama.

Wise Dan, the two-time defending Horse of the Year, also could run here at the meet. He missed 3 1/2 weeks of training after undergoing emergency colic surgery in mid-May. He arrived here Monday and, depending on how he trains, could seek a third straight victory Aug. 9 in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap. Other options include the Bernard Baruch Handicap on turf or the Woodward on dirt. Both races are run Aug. 30.

Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Quality my butt! Maybe Mr Kay can show them how to groom a fair racing surface.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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1971 Whippet More than 1 year ago
Dear Mr. Anonymous: Why do you bother? Horse racing's fixed, the stock market is fixed, everything's a scam. Does that cover it....or is there any substance that you'd like to add? Find some joy in life, will ya?
Dennis Fisher More than 1 year ago
Well said Anonymous with Churchill Downs controlling United Tote and MID Group controlling Am Tote (TVG - HRTV), their name of their game is cheating to the 10th degree which includes Del Mar, thieving the trustworthy wagering public/tax payers - Simulcast audiences hard earned monies right in front of their eyes is the name of their game well said bettors are big fools they love to be taken for a joy ride on their mickey mouse horse racing roller coasters 24x7
Anne Mayea More than 1 year ago
Is this the only article on Saratoga that is free?????
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
yes, unless you want to feed the greed machine. +
B More than 1 year ago
Quality, huh? Take a look at the field for the CCAO. Not Saratoga's fault though. Usually the meet of the year, but I think it's got some problems this year with so many major horses bypassing. I predicted this would be a weak field, but even I am surprised at how poor it is. What is Saratoga's fault is that it is only a mile and an eighth. It's not really a race of all that much significance anymore.
Lefty More than 1 year ago
Saratoga placing even greater emphasis on quality Well that's good! What isn't good is the DRF making almost everything DRF+ Bah Humbug!
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
I think they just got rid on the race of the day PPs on top of it all. Liked to look at them daily and see if there appeared to be any good betting opportunities. Not sure I have any reason to come to this site anymore. Hello Bloodhorse.
billybudd16 More than 1 year ago
Almost went to the Dr. the other day complaining of seeing red spot in front of my eyes. Turned out it was just the DRF website.
Bobby Lee More than 1 year ago
What's the over/under on how many times CEO Chris McKay will show up in the winner's circle? 49 1/2 seems about right. With all the New York State wines available, they choose to serve up Yellowtail swill from Australia where a glass costs more than a whole bottle in a store. Aside from that, I will make my annual trip to Saratoga from Florida for most of August. There are tradeoffs. To secure full fields, they have to have a lot of NY Bred races and turf sprints and they are tough to handicap. So, either adapt and pick your spots or go the way of the dinosaur. The NY Bred program has done quite well and improved the breed. They do okay in open company.
will More than 1 year ago
Stupid to raise the admission price... its peanuts for the establishment, but significant for the players, consider the price of a program is also raised. If you bring 50 bucks there.... its 8 to enter plus 8 for a decent program... you are down 16 before your first bet.
tim More than 1 year ago
Agree. They should have no admission. What they are doing now is driving people to stay home and bet on line, or hang out in a sports bar where the food and beer is better and cheaper. They are being penny wise pound foolish.
mikey More than 1 year ago
You forgot parking, a seat if you can get one.The food cost are out of sight.So a paper admission, a program, parking,a hot dog and soda and maybe a seat and you need a 20/1 shot to get even.
gary Potter More than 1 year ago
One of the beauties of Saratoga is that you can bring your own food and drink, including alcohol, so I wouldn't complain like you have. I agree the admission price should not have been raised as it was, but let me know how many other tracks have the beauty and history of Saratoga and allow you to bring food and drink. Certainly not Del Mar.
Donald More than 1 year ago
I've been going to Saratoga for 47 years and paying $5 bucks to get in isn't bad. Parking is free (I park where it costs $5.00 and it is one block from the front gate) and when you bring your on refreshments, it's a cheap day (especially when you're winning)..
1971 Whippet More than 1 year ago
Hey, if I can pay $7 to get into Emerald Downs (which I thought was okay), I can pay more for Saratoga. After a 200 mile drive, what's another buck or two?
Kurt More than 1 year ago
My comments from opening day fit well here- Comments on opening day (my 27th in a row)...Thanks for the TV's- they were long overdue. Now if you could actually make the sound on them work (i.e. the group of four closest to the clubhouse entrance next to the paddock). Thanks for the picnic tables, again, long overdue. Bathroom upgrades...? Oh, you mean the new faucets, gee thanks. How about running down to the local Salvation Army and grabbing some A/C units for $50. And a grade of F for the obstructive views of the paddock now. The broadcast booth for Talking Horses- F. The big tent (bigger this year) in front of the paddock -F. The Broadcast booth near the clubhouse-F. And if there was a worse grade than F, you would get it for the increase in Beer and Food prices. A 16 ounce Coors Light....$8! REALLY? The craft beer tent offerings...last year $5, this year $7! Okay, so we needed a new CEO to come in and turn things around in a struggling industry having a hard time bringing in new fans - so his idea to gain more players and have the current ones come back more often? RAISE the parking, RAISE the admission, RAISE the food and beverage prices. Brilliant!!- that ought to bring 'em in!
Bill Ware More than 1 year ago
A great thoroughbred racing venue! Even the tellers are improving over years past! Best of the Best racing. No saucemasters, race-fixers, no more Suffolk 35k shippers without their Bute or shenanigans.........just fields loaded with sound horses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No race fixers? The race fixers are right up in the tote room. The bigger the pools, the bigger the lure to fix races.
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
How much did you lose today?
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I count 5 playable fields Fri-Sun at Saratoga. Delmar and Gulfstream better.
Bobby Lee More than 1 year ago
After the Florida Derby, we started calling the extended Gulfstream meet, the "Hialeah Meet." Stronach's purpose was to wipe out Calder which he has done. Calder now belongs to him. Del Mar's 8 race cards and short fields on synthetic are terrible. But, they have expanded the turf course this year and will go back to dirt in 2015. I'll return to Del Mar when that happens.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
You see the pays at Delmar Fri? To me its about value so I go where the value leads me. Best value for my dollar.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
As for Gulf. Calder was on a dead path and seemed to me they care more about slots than racing. I'm glad Stronach took it over and you can play into huge fields four days a week. The qualify may not be as good since the main meet is DEC but they pay nice. I think Saratoga be a fun place to watch racing as a hardcore fan but not necessarily bet. Delaware has also caught my eye of late.
gary Potter More than 1 year ago
if you only count 5 I suggest you work on your math. Please don;t even try to compare Del Mar with Saratoga, especially Del Mars 5 horse fields with $2.60 win prices.
John Murphy More than 1 year ago
I'll take a 10 horse NYB race over a 5 horse allowance race anytime. If you say otherwise, you are trying to be an elitist.
Thomas Nicholson More than 1 year ago
First six races Saturday are maidens, you should love that. Card is a joke. The bean counters have taken over.