The push to expand the Saratoga race meet to 54 days has run out of steam. The New York Racing Association apparently ceded to stakeholders' concerns.
August at Saratoga (and in recent years, a bit of July), a decades-old tradition, will remain intact, at least for the upcoming season. Despite talk of extending the meet to include half of July and run well into September, somebody apparently recalled the old adage "you don't mess with success," and not a moment too soon. Times Union reporter Jim Odato broke the news: "My understanding is that the executive committee of the New York Racing Association Board of Directors met in October, privately, to discuss the Saratoga meet for 2015 and beyond, and there was an idea to stretch the number of days of the season to 54, which would be about eight weeks as opposed to the six-and-a-half weeks that has been going on since 2010."
The elongated season would have kept racing five each week instead of the traditional six: Mondays and Tuesdays would be dark, NYRA theorizing the arrangement would lead to bigger fields of horses per race.
The new calendar was expected to be embraced by most retailers, hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the Saratoga Springs market. But other stakeholders expressed great opposition. "Too much might not be a good idea. That you lose the uniqueness of the event. The specialness of a reduced, condensed, concentrated meet."
Overhead to trainers and owners also factored in — and the double dark days came under scrutiny. The fear being trainers and owners might send horses elsewhere to get a better return on investment. Saratoga is a cash cow for NYRA, and any tinkering might unbalance the flow of money.
Then there's the possible effect an upstate casino opening might have on the racing venue. "That casino will indeed impact visits to the Saratoga Racino. I don't know how that will impact the Saratoga track. I don't believe that's something that's been studied."
In the casino contest, Howes Cave developers have indicated their proposal would have the least impact on the Saratoga Racino, which shares stable space and simulcasting with Saratoga Race Course. Either way, the gambling picture in the Capital Region will change if, as expected, one of the four proposals receives a casino license. Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer is optimistic the city’s Hard Rock casino proposal will get the nod. "I'm just waiting for the casino, that's all. And hopefully we'll get it. But we'll never know until the word come out, naturally, and we'll see what happens."
We're also waiting for the last word from the New York Racing Association Board of Directors December 1st meeting, where they'll likely vote on the racing calendar for the coming year, expected to maintain the status quo. But, like in racing itself, there’s always the possibility of an upset.