By JAMES A. ELLIS
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Coming off a successful Belmont Stakes event earlier this month, New York Racing Association Chief Executive Officer Christopher Kay said he is looking for the momentum to carry over to the 40-day meet at the Saratoga Race Course.
New York Racing Association Chief Executive Officer Christopher Kay speaks during a press conference Monday in Saratoga Springs. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
"We had a banner day in so many different ways," he said at Monday's press conference. "We had the third largest crowd in race history with a handle of over $150 million. A lot of people had a great time that day. It also gave us the momentum heading up here to what is already the finest meet on the planet. It is one of the most successful meets in the nation and we are not going to rest on our laurels. We are going to continue to work hard to improve things."
The 146th summer meet will begin July 18 and run through Sept. 1, and will feature 15 Grade I stakes races.
Some of the upgrades to the facility for fans include the addition of 500 new high-definition televisions throughout the grandstand and back yard area, along with three video walls installed in the grandstand, paddock and Carousel Restaurant areas.
More than 100 new picnic tables have been added to the track's backyard area.
For the first time in more than a decade, NYRA has raised the price of general admission from $3 to $5 and clubhouse admission from $5 to $8. Travers Day general admission is now $10 for the grandstand and $15 for the clubhouse. Trackside parking is now $12 and $15 on Travers Day.
With an eye on allowing fans more time to enjoy other activities in the area, the number of races per day also have changed.
The track will run a nine-race card on Mondays with a 1 p.m. post time. On Wednesdays and Thursdays a 10-race card will be run with the addition of a steeplechase. Post time for the steeplechase will be at 12:25 p.m. followed by the regular race program starting at 1 p.m.
Fridays will feature a 10-race card with an 11-race card on Saturdays. Sunday racing will be either a 10 or 11 race card.
The track has eliminated the twilight racing programs this season.
"No one needs to be at the races seven to eight hours a day," senior vice president of racing operations Martin Panza said.
Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, as well as Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, and Triple Crown contenders Wicked Strong and Ride on Curlin, are expected to be on hand for the running of the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 23.
The purse for the Grade I Whitney Handicap for older horses has been increased to $1.5 million and has attracted 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malace, 2013 top 3-year-old Will Take Charge and Moonshine Mullin to the field.
Four giveaway days are slated on Sundays during the meet.
On July 20, fans will receive a Saratoga baseball cap with a paid admission, while on July 27 fans will receive Saratoga Pilsner Glasses. A Saratoga tote bag will be handed out on Aug. 10, while a short-sleeve T-shirt will be offered Aug. 31.
New to the program this season will be the Taste NY program Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays during the meet.
On Thursdays, fans can sample New York State wines in the pavilion for $30, while Fridays the Beer and Cider will be featured with patrons receiving 20 sample tickets for the $20 admission price.
Sundays will feature food and artisans with products made in New York state.
It was announced that long-time track announcer Tom Durkin will call his final race at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 31.
"He announced that Aug. 31 would be his last day before retiring," Kay said. "The reason he chose Aug. 31 is so he can return on Labor Day and enjoy the races as a fan."
The season will get underway on July 13 when the track opens its doors for the 34th annual open house. The event will be free to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Newman E. Wait Jr. Trials will be run that day at the Oklahoma Training Track across from the main track facility.