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New York Racing Set for All Things 'Spa'

The New York Racing Association previewed its Saratoga meet June 23.

The New York Racing Association held a press conference in Albany, N.Y., June 23 to discuss the upcoming 36-day Saratoga meet, which begins July 23 and runs through Sept. 1.

The press conference drew a large crowd of local media to the Desmond Hotel, 30 minutes south of Saratoga Springs. Among the NYRA personnel speaking at the one-hour session were Charles Hayward, president and chief executive offer; Hal Handel, executive vice president and chief operating officer; P. J. Campo, racing secretary and director of racing; and Gavin Landry, senior vice president of sales and marketing development.

Not surprisingly, the media had more questions regarding Big Brown’s status for the meet’s centerpiece race, the $1-million Travers (gr. I) Aug. 23, than they did about the new amenities NYRA will trot out for the 140th racing season at the track. No one could provide the answer on Big Brown, whose connections said the colt is headed to the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park Aug. 3.

Campo said it would be premature to speculate on whether the colt would then come to the Travers, and remarked he thought “it was unlikely” Big Brown would come to the Travers if he lost the Haskell. Big Brown or not, among the new perks awaiting fans is the participation of six local restaurants--Hattie’s, Brindisi’s, Grey Gelding, Panza’s, 1 Caroline Street Bistro, and Mouzon House—each of which will serve specialty house items at the track throughout the meet.

Landry, the former president of Saratoga’s Convention and Tourism Bureau, also said two new air-conditioned tents, one trackside and one near the paddock, will replace the old tents that didn’t provide air-conditioning.

The ever-popular Sunday giveaways are scheduled five times during the meet: baseball cap (July 27), traditional T-shirt (8/3), stadium seat cushion (8/10), long-sleeved T-shirt (8/17), and cooler bag (8/31).

Something new this year is the availability track seats for purchase through Ticketmaster. Previously, seats could only be bought at the track or downtown at the Holiday Inn.

Handel, who will be working his first Saratoga meet after a long tenure as a racetrack official in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said the Saratoga signal will reach 39 states and 27 Canadian racing venues, as well as be exported to, among other sites, Mexico, the Caribbean, Austria, and Germany. Collectively, the signal will reach more than 1,000 sites.

Handel said the total handle at last year’s Saratoga meet was $582 million, which averaged to $16.1 million per day. He believes those numbers can be increased this year.

“I have every expectation, and I think (Hayward) shares it, that we have a realistic chance to increase total pari-mutuel wagering this year, and the reason for that expectation is that the number of account wagering operators–ADWs--around the United States, especially, that will be taking Saratoga this year, will be dramatically enhanced from last year,” Handel said.

“Obviously, there are some uncertain economic times facing Saratoga,” Handel said. “This is where the executives give themselves wiggle room in case the meeting isn’t successful. We are facing uncertain economic times and very high gas prices. And I have been told repeatedly that the weather in Saratoga can be somewhat fickle on a day-to-day basis. We have every reason because of the quality of the product, the allure of the racetrack, and the demand for the product around the country and the world, for Saratoga to remain successful and to promote another great season of racing.”

Campo said daily average purses at the meet would be $750,000. During the course of the meet, 33 graded stakes will be run, including 15 grade I events.

Charles Wheeler, NYRA’s facilities manager at Saratoga, told The Blood-Horse that a portion of the grandstand will be raised by about a half-inch after he discovered settling in the area this spring. The area is located about 150 feet before the finish line. The maintenance will be done before the start of the meet.

“The grandstand at column 5, we noticed it was settling there and we had an outside engineer come and look at it, and right now we are in the process of raising the structure itself to take the pressure off the column, like a fence post,” Wheeler said. “At the bottom of the (steel) fence post we will restructure the footing, and raise it a little higher so the column will be better supported. It’s just part of the due diligence of the upkeep of a historical building.”

Wheeler also reported Saratoga’s barn 50, which suffered a partial roof collapse in May, has not yet been reconstructed because NYRA is awaiting approval from the state’s racing oversight board on the necessary permits needed to fix the barn. Wheeler said “a confab” structure might be in place for the meet.