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NYRA Details 2014 Meet At Saratoga

Lucas Willard

New York Racing Association officials have detailed the upcoming summer meet at Saratoga Race Course.

NYRA officials Monday provided information on the improvements to the track, special events, giveaways, and other happenings to benefit guests at Saratoga this summer.

NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay highlighted many of the upgrades guests will be able to see at the track beginning this July, including 750 new HD televisions, three new video walls, an improved sound system, an expanded children’s play area, with a horse, and more, all accounting for nearly $2 million in upgrades.

Kay also said the popular event tent has been improved to feature more programs.

“What we did this year is we made the event tent bigger, put it in a floor, put in better electrical support so there can be more vendors who can also check you out with your credit card, and now the event tent is really going to be something very special, and we’re going to do something in that event tent every day,” said Kay.

Introduced last year on Sundays, the event tent will again feature vendors through the state’s Taste NY program. On Thursdays, guests will be able to sample a number of New York wines. On Fridays: craft beers and ciders. Taste NY Sundays will return with more locally made foods and vendors.

New York State Agricultural Commissioner Richard Ball says the Race Course is a great place to connect tourists who come to see New York-bred horses with New York-grown foods.

“New York is home to some of the best equine operations in the country. The thoroughbred industry is growing like crazy here, and the Saratoga Race Course will feature some of the best racing in the country, and it’s no secret that New York has a booming wine and farm-based beverage industry, almost doubling every year. And today we’re going to celebrate the connecting of those dots,” said Ball.

Several multicultural events are planned too.

Turning to the 40-day racing meet itself, the Whitney on August 2nd will have its purse increased to $1.5 million, surpassing the Travers as the richest stakes race. Travers weekend will close with Sunday featured as the first Saratoga Showcase Day, with six races restricted to New York-breds.

Martin Panza, NYRA’s new Vice President of Racing Operations, said his strategy is to expand racing weekends, bringing in more visitors to benefit all aspects of the equine economy in New York, as well as the City of Saratoga Springs.

“We’ll take the Travers and we’ll take the Whitney and we’ll try to make those national days, where  instead of us handling $40 million, we hope that we handle $80 million,” said Panza. “We hope that one those two days 50,000 people show up at the track, and that we give them a good experience from a racing standpoint, and a product standpoint, and that they have fun in the City of Saratoga. This is a wonderful place.”

Giveaways include a baseball cap on July 20th, pilsner glasses on July 27th, a tote bag on August 10th, and a t-shirt on August 31st.

A few famous horses are expected in Saratoga, including Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve. Two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan will also have a stay at Saratoga.

John Hendrickson, husband of socialite Marylou Whitney, unveiled a planned pocket-park to be located at the end of Union Ave, with a statue of Native Dancer, a horse undefeated at Saratoga.

“So Marylou and I are honored to live in the city and we wanted to give back just a little something,” said Hendrickson.

Hendrickson also mentioned the sponsors that are continuing to work help improve the Backstretch Appreciation Program, which has grown to provide meals, social offerings, and English-language and computer-skills training to backstretch workers over the past seven years.

For the first time, season passes are available at Stewart’s Shops throughout the Capital Region. A grandstand season pass will run $30, and a clubhouse pass $50. General admission will be increased to $5.

NYRA CEO Chris Kay defended the rate increase, comparing it to a day at the movies.

“You can come to our place for $5 and stay all day, and you bring your own food, which you can’t do at most theaters, so I think it’s a great, great value,” said Kay.

Lastly, Kay said an event will be scheduled to honor longtime track announcer Tom Durkin, who is retiring.

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