Fans visiting the historic Saratoga Race Course on opening day Thursday will notice something new at the first turn. The brand new 1863 Club offers high-end hospitality.
Beside the historic Clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course stands a three-story structure where the paint might even still be a little wet. The 1863 Club, referencing the year racing began at The Spa, is the New York Racing Association’s latest amenity at America’s oldest sporting venue.
Local officials and dignitaries gathered inside the first-floor restaurant of the structure on Tuesday. With views on all sides of the iconic flat track, NYRA’s new president and CEO David O’Rourke raised a glass to the partners that made the project a reality in time for Thursday’s opening.
“When I took this job a few months ago, the construction team here was faced with a significant challenge: open this place for Opening Day. So we decided to move it up a week,” joked O’Rourke.
This year, the racing season has opened seven days early to accommodate a new track calendar. There will still be 40 days of racing at the track, but Mondays, in addition to Tuesdays, will remain dark, with racing through Labor Day.
The $30 million 1863 Club boasts large windows, a multi-tiered copper roof, outdoor balconies, a large restaurant, a full-scale bar and lounge, and luxury suites enclosed in glass.
Architect Matthew Hurff of Saratoga Springs firm Frost Hurff Architects told the crowd that building a new facility to mesh with a place like Saratoga Race Course presented far more challenges than his example of a casino.
“You build a shell that maybe looks like a Best Buy and put some overly vibrant finishes in and call it a day. When the bar is set so low for success, it’s relatively easy. A historic race track, however, is no more a casino than Saratoga Springs is Atlantic City. Building at Saratoga Race Course requires something more. This place has character. And if you want to succeed here, you have to show character,” said Hurff.
The 1863 Club building stands where there used to be a white tent, often rented by corporate parties and other groups. A covered walkway connects the new building to the Clubhouse terrace. The walkway stands directly over where thoroughbreds are led onto the track.
Saratoga Race Course has seen plenty of additions and changes in the grandstand and backyard in recent years. Guests can now enjoy a walk-of-fame, the Stretch seating area on the opposite end of the grandstand from the 1863 Club, and the addition of the Four Star Dave bar in the carousel area.
The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation has had a role in shaping the vision of the new projects at the old track. Executive Director Samantha Bosshart said she initially had some concerns about the design for the new club.
“For example, while I was excited to see the tent and the temporary tractor trailers be removed, I was not all too keen at first on connecting the Clubhouse to the building through a walkway. However, Matt Hurff designed a runway that will return the once-lost prominence of the horses entering onto the track,” said Bosshart.
Seating for the 1863 Club can be reserved over the phone and online. Prices for individuals range from $130 for standard seating on Sundays and Labor Day, to $350 for glass seating on Travers Day, the season’s most famous race.
The 2019 season at Saratoga Race Course opens Thursday.
For more information visit: https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/tickets/1863-club