Today was the first day of the 2019 meet at Saratoga Race Course. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard was there and has an update on what’s new.
Hours before the first bugle, officials with the New York Racing Association and others gathered to cut the ribbon on the brand new 1863 Club. The three-story building contains a restaurant, a bar and lounge, and luxury suites. It’s the biggest physical update racing fans might notice this year.
But there’s also another change. The 40 days of racing at Saratoga has begun a calendar week early, and the number of race days per week has been reduced from six to five.
This is also the first summer as President and CEO of NYRA for David O’Rourke. He says NYRA will be assessing the changes as the summer moves forward.
“What will the five days do to the work-life balance? That’s something we want to measure here. Obviously, how will it impact business in terms of wagering and per capita? And then we want to sit down with the business leaders around in the counties around us and understand, well, how did it impact hotels? How did it impact restaurants? Because right now this is a test. We’re doing this during the construction phase downstate.”
Currently, an arena is being constructed at Belmont Park, one of NYRA’s other tracks.
Roger Locks, who was getting ready for opening day at Hatsational, a hat booth that sells a critical piece of Saratoga fashion, has been at the track for 10 summers. He likes the changes to the race calendar, personally.
“Mondays was basically just a dead day. There wasn’t that many people who came in. The races were not the weekend-quality races where you got your Grade I stakes, a minimum of Grade II stakes on the weekend. I think that it’s easier on the horses, easier on the people,” said Locks.
Randy Staples of Cohoes, who was one of the first in line outside the main gate in his fold-up chair, isn’t as thrilled about the changes.
“I used to come on Mondays. That was my day to come. So I’m very disappointed. But I don’t think it’s going to go back. I really don’t. I don’t think it’s going to go back. I think this is going to be a norm,” said Staples.
At 11 o’clock, the gates open for the race day. Those who claimed their picnic tables earlier in the day don’t need to rush now. But there’s always excitement among the crowd that’s stretched down the sidewalk on Union Avenue.
Just before the first race at 1 p.m., NYRA announcer Larry Collmus talks to the fans in the stands and at the rail.
“All right everybody, they’re going into the gate for their first race at Saratoga. Which means, we’ve all got work to do!”
The tradition at the Spa is to at the first race yell a familiar phrase.
“They’re off at Saratoga!”
The winner of race one of the Saratoga meet is five-year-old thoroughbred Armament ridden by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. In the winners’ circle, Ortiz has just a few short words at the start of the meet. Last year he was the top jockey at Saratoga.
“We start good so I just want to stay healthy and enjoy my career,” said Ortiz.
The Saratoga meet runs until Labor Day.