Saratoga Springs is preparing for its biggest tourist weekend of the summer season, capped by horse racing’s Mid-Summer Derby.
Tens of thousands of visitors will pack Saratoga Springs and Saratoga Race Course to celebrate Travers weekend. The Travers Stakes, which will be run on Saturday, was first held in 1864, and is one of the oldest and best-attended thoroughbred races in the country.
New York Racing Association CEO Chis Kay said New York has enjoyed a great summer for racing, leading up into this weekend’s event, a key stakes race for 3-year-olds.
“Our attendance is up and our on-track handle is up despite the fact that we're running 9 to 10 percent fewer races," said Kay. "And I think the idea of the 'Big Event' has really resonated. We had a great Whitney weekend, we had a great Belmont weekend, we had a great inaugural Stars and Stripes, and we're looking forward to having a wonderful Travers."
The Travers will bring some big names to the track.
“It looks like now at the moment, knock on wood, we're going to have an outstanding field for that race including Wicked Strong, Tonalist, Mr. Speaker, and Bayern.”
Trainer Bob Baffert’s Bayern, the winner of the Haskell earlier this summer, was made the 2-1 favorite.
The weekend has long been an economic boon for downtown businesses and hotels. Cindy Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs, said this year business has been up slightly.
“The demand may be a little stronger this year and...there's more of a panic mode than I've seen in four or five years - people really trying to find rooms in the community," said Hollowood.
Todd Shimkus, President and CEO of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said occupancy numbers from hotels across the county point to a strong tourism season. With 2013 on the books as the strongest tourism season on record, Saratoga has become a center for investment in recent years.
“We’ve got new hotels that are in Saratoga County this year that opened recently - the Residence Inn and the Pavilion Grand- so that adds to the supply. But at the same time we know that demand has also increased over the last 12 months, and so our occupancy numbers and our revenue-per-available-room numbers are both headed up, both locally within the City of Saratoga Springs, and across all of Saratoga County."
Saratoga Springs mayor Joanne Yepsen said her office has been coordinating closely with NYRA and Saratoga Race Course this year to promote another strong Travers weekend.
“I think closer than ever before to ensure that we're promoting them and they're promoting us, because this is a huge asset and oppuotunity for the City of Saratoga Springs.
Yepsen also mentioned that along with the economic benefits to the city, the weekend does mean a huge task for public safety services.
“From our first responders, from our firefighters, our police department - and I think they're gearing up and they always do a great job to protect the residents and the visitors alike," said Yepsen.
Elsewhere in Saratoga Springs, this weekend marks the final performances of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s summer residency at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, as well as upcoming LiveNation concerts.
Shimkus said for Saratoga, Travers weekend is like a “holiday nobody else has.”
“It’s a reason to come to Saratoga for tens of thousands of people, and you add to that what's taking place at SPAC this weekend, what's going on locally in terms of the fine dining, and great opportunities to have fun downtown and this is a blockbuster week for us. It really is."
Last year, 47,597 people attended Travers day, the highest crowd since 2004.