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New Saratoga Seating Area Already Popular On Opening Day

Friday marked the start of another summer season at Saratoga Race Course. As WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports, fans are already exploring new amenities at the track.

In a place full of traditions, a new one has been added to opening day at Saratoga Race Course in recent years: a ribbon cutting.  

For the past few years, the New York Racing Association has used the start of the 40-day meet to showcase its upgrades at the Spa. Last year, a kids’ play area opened. Today, Berkshire Bank was named as a sponsor for the play area. And a new copper roof has been installed on the grandstand.

But the big announcement before post time was the opening of a new premium seating area at the Top of the Stretch. It’s part of a strategy to bring new fans to the track that dates to 1863.

The grandstand, where The Stretch is located, has not been touched since the 1960s.

Chris Kay is NYRA’s President and CEO.

“The important thing for our sport’s future is to be able to recruit new generations of fans. What are new generations, people in their 20s or 30s, like right now? They love technology. So we gutted these sections and put in what we call social boxes: places where you can hang.”

Guests will have technology at their fingertips. Each of the 32 boxes is equipped with 15-inch iPads.

NYRA Senior Vice President and Chief Experience Officer Lynn LaRocca says the new area is “steeped in modern tradition” with new tech.

“You can watch TV, you can watch other sports, you can watch racing simulcasts from other racetracks. You can obviously watch the races here at Saratoga. You can replay the races here. You can bet. And you can order food and have it delivered to you in the boxes,” said LaRocca.

There are also iPads placed at reserved bar stools. And a new bar, of course, with a high-definition video screen. Two hundred reserved seats at tables are also available.

Advance seating at The Stretch for opening day sold out in 96 hours. In April.

The Club House area has long been the best seat in the house. It’s where guests are more likely to run into owners, trainers, and the occasional celebrity.

But there’s a dress code and it can be difficult (and expensive) to land a spot in a Club House box.

LaRocca said guests’ concerns and suggestions were put into the NYRA “gonculator” when dreaming up the Stretch.

“So some of the feedback that came back from customers was, ‘I would like to sit somewhere that’s nice, that doesn’t have a dress code.   Where I don’t have to wear a suit and a tie.’ OK, so that was one of the reasons behind the Stretch. The other was this area of the track historically has been underutilized on most of the race days during the meet,” said LaRocca.

Just below the renovated grandstand is a new Top of the Stretch picnic area, outfitted with a bar and reserved picnic tables.

And the new accommodations had plenty of occupants before announcer Larry Collmus called, “They’re off at Saratoga!”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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