Fans Return For 2021 Saratoga Meet
Fans returned to Saratoga Race Course Thursday for the first time in two years.
The fans walking through the gate this morning were the first spectators allowed since 2019 after racing was held in a largely empty racetrack last year because of the pandemic.
With free admission offered to fans who showed proof of vaccination, the backyard was buzzing with eager race fans.
“When in Saratoga. What am I going to do, not buy a hat?
“I dunno, that hat doesn’t scream Saratoga to me, though, personally…”
Flynn McMorrow was purchasing a summer hat, with input from friend Tony Passela.
“My dad used to take me here, like, four or five years ago… for the past seven or eight years. But this is my first time back with just me and my friends. But this is the first time we’ve actually been at opening day like this,” said McMorrow.
Before the first race, Zac Bellinger, managing partner at Snowy Sunset Racing Stables, was watching the track from the apron.
“Lot of local people and friends from college, that’s how I got involved in this. But it’s great to see people back and it looks like it’s going to be a great crowd today. I don’t know where I’d rather be than here.”
Bellinger, who traveled from Elmira, says he’ll be here each weekend throughout the summer.
“I called every Friday off. Eight weeks,” laughed Bellinger.
Returning fans can expect an experience similar to 2019, with some changes. Vaccinated fans can go without face coverings and those who haven’t received their shots are required to wear a mask.
All seating areas are open and officials cut the ribbon on some new amenities as well.
The Spa Verandas at the Top of the Stretch includes six partially covered picnic areas, each designed to accommodate up to 45 guests. A new drive-up Tailgate at the Turn picnic area is also now open, beside the 1863 Club building.
The Saratoga Room horseman’s area was renamed after Carmen Barrera, NYRA’s horsemen liason who died unexpectedly in August 2019 at the age of 60.
Ahead of the first race, the grandstands sprung to life as the horses entered the starting gate.
The first winner of the 2021 meet was thoroughbred Charlie’sarchangel, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.
“Last year was very sad. A lot of things happened. I really missed the fans. So I feel very excited, I’m very happy to get them back,” said Ortiz.
NYRA is hoping for a lively season that will feature 76 stakes races, including the 152nd running of the Grade I Travers on August 28th. Dave O’Rourke, NYRA’s President and CEO, commented on the demand for advance ticket sales.
“We’ve been tracking everything to 2019. The numbers at this point are very similar to ’19, but everything has been on sale for a much shorter period of time, so you could make the argument that demand’s been even stronger. We’ll see how the numbers play out over the year. Everyone’s pushing me to say we’re going to have records here or there, but we’ll take a nice safe meet and make sure everyone has a fun time.”
The Saratoga Race Course season runs through Labor Day with Mondays and Tuesdays off.