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New York Gov. Hochul announces "parameters of conceptual" budget deal, two weeks after deadline

NYRA planning reconstruction of Saratoga's Wilson Chute, new backyard amenity in 2022

The front gates at Saratoga Race Course in 2021
NYRA
/
NYRA
The front gates at Saratoga Race Course in 2021 (file photo)

Fans returning to Saratoga Race Course this summer will be able to view a part of the track that disappeared fifty years ago.

The Wilson Chute was part of the original 1902 Master Plan for the Spa.

The New York Racing Association is reconstructing the feature that will allow for one-mile dirt races on the main track.

To learn more about the chute, WAMC's Lucas Willard spoke with NYRA Vice President of Communications Patrick McKenna.

Transcript:

Pat McKenna:

The chute was a part of Saratoga Race Course from about 1900 until about 1972. And it's named in honor of Robert T. Wilson, who was part of the ownership group that purchased the track in 1900. He was the president of the Saratoga Association from 1900 until about 1925, maybe 1926. And it's an interesting, it was an interesting feature of the track that until 1972, provided the racing office with a lot of flexibility in terms of the distances that were able to run races. So the advantage of it is not only will we be able to run one mile dirt races, when we have bad weather that forces racing off the turf, it'll allow those fields to stay together a little bit more, because the distances with the chute will mirror more closely the turf distance. So it'll be a great improvement, not necessarily improvement, it's a great addition,

Lucas Willard:

When was the last time there were changes actually made to the way the races operate themselves, a big change like this?

Patrick McKenna:

Probably when the when the shoot was unfortunately taken down in 1972. To make way for additional parking. There wa…you'll see in some of the media reports that the shoe was a part of the configuration in 1992. It wasn't what it was, it was more of a temporary rail, more of a temporary installation for that season. Ran about 25 races on a temporary shoe in 1992 and then it went away until the summer when it'll come back for the 2022 summer meet

Lucas Willard:

And I understand that in addition to the changes on the main track, there's gonna be an addition to the backyard as well. Can you tell me about that?

Patrick McKenna:

Absolutely. That many of your listeners might be familiar with the Post Bar, it sits right on the horse path from the paddock to the track itself. This is an investment in the future of Saratoga Race Course that reflects the popularity of the Post Bar. So we will be constructing a permanent two story structure starting…construction is well underway to replace that temporary tent that formerly held the Post Bar. So no change at all to the functionality of the first floor open to the public. You know no cover charg,e no ticketing necessary. First come first serve on the first floor with a significantly improved space new tables, new bar new chairs new sightlines to the paddock and to the walking path itself. And then on the second floor, we have a large, enclosed area, it’s air conditioned, that will be able to accommodate a group as large as 80 or two groups, you know, 40 people reach you know, it's really flexible space and it fills a need for those sides of groups of those size group events that formerly might have taken place in the the temporary tent. That was a long the paddock that we did away with two years ago, in order to make some more room for patrons to be able to access the paddock. So I've seen some renderings. It's a it'll be a fantastic new space, I think it will not only retain the popularity of the Post Bar but also provide patrons with an additional option. And that's that's always important. It'll honor the history and tradition of Saratoga Race Course while providing something that is in line with Saratoga’s status as a world-class sports entertainment venue.

Lucas Willard :

And I think that that's worth pointing out…there have been a number of changes and additions to Saratoga Race Course over the years. I mean, the 1863 Club is a huge example. When accounting for all those do you have $1 figure or a number on the amount of big investments like that that have been made over the past few years?

Patrick McKenna:

Into the 10s of millions, I mean, you're talking about investments, certainly north of $40 million, just in the past three or four years. These are significant projects that as I said earlier, are important because their investments in the future of Saratoga, racecourse, we're never taking anything away. The backyard is the backyard that everyone has come to know and love for generations. But we are able to add new in different kinds of experiences: the Top of the Stretch, the 1863 Club, as you mentioned, the new Post Bar and these come in at very different price points. They're accessible to a wide variety of people and it's however you want to enjoy the track in this day and age whether it's a picnic table in the backyard, a grandstand seat or a clubhouse box, the options are so varied and it's certainly something that we're proud of. So you know, these improvements are important. They're necessary to maintain Saratoga’s status as we believe the finest racetrack in the country, host of the best race meet in the world.

Lucas Willard:

And certainly there's a new dynamic this year in the world of sports and sports betting. I know NYRA has its NYRA Bets system that's been used the last few years. But now, there is the return of mobile sports betting apps, which I'm sure you've seen the online ads for, as I think a lot of people have. So how is NYRA adapting to the large number of services, mobile betting services that are now operating in New York?

Patrick McKenna:

Sure, we've viewed and have long viewed the legalization of sports betting in New York State as a once in a generation opportunity for horse racing. We hope in the coming months with this legislative session to be to be able to offer horse racing on those mobile sports apps, it would be a fixed odds proposition as opposed to the parimutuel system because sports, mobile sports books are only able to offer fixed odds wagering on football, professional basketball, baseball, etc. So, you know, to be able to be on the same shelf as the other major professional sports is a big opportunity. In the short term, we've secured partnerships with BetMGM, one of the providers on a sponsorship basis for the most part. And, you know, our marketplace is as strong as it's ever been. This past year, you know, $2.3 billion in handle. You've seen the Saratoga numbers last year, we did north of 800 million in parimutuel wagering handle for the first time in history. So we look forward to potentially sports bettors you know, maybe for the first time maybe having lapsed, coming back around to you know, to the excitement, the energy of horse racing. So [I] applaud New York State for getting this done and for getting it up and going two weeks ago, because it's obviously not a simple thing. But it's a big opportunity for horse racing, huge opportunity for New York State and its taxpayers.

Lucas Willard:

We're still in the pandemic. And I know that NYRA has had to adapt with how, you know, staff come in and out how fans… I know two years ago, there was fans allowed. So have any determinations been made yet or are those still forthcoming about how Saratoga Race Course will operate this summer? Or is it still very much a wait and see with where we are in the pandemic?

Patrick McKenna:

No, I don't think it's a wait and see anymore. I think we're in a very different place, collectively as a society here in 2022, than we were in the spring of 2020, or even 2021. We've obviously all experienced the rapid rise of this Omicron variant that thankfully seems to be going down. But you know that this is now…living with this virus that hopefully will be endemic as quickly as possible and hopefully, less severe and as we get the vast majority of the population vaccinated then we can really step away from this. But you've seen it throughout other professional sports, whether it's an indoor arena, like Madison Square Garden, outdoor football games, were open and operational. We’re open and operational at Aqueduct to fans. We’re able to finally reopen aqueduct after the departure of the vaccination site there back in October. So we certainly anticipate to be to be at full capacity just like we were last summer.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.