By Steve Byk
The New York Racing Association, preparing for its meet at Saratoga, will continue to face unique challenges when racing begins July 27.
With its five-decade run as the operating franchisee of three racetracks under assault, NYRA officials girded themselves at the their annual media press conference June 27 by announcing continuation of a few policies designed to enhance the sports' long-term integrity.
NYRA president Charles Hayward and senior vice president Bill Nader said the race-day security plan that began May 4 at Belmont Park would continue at Saratoga, but with a twist. NYRA will employ two barns on the Saratoga backstretch but also must erect three tents to house the 100 or more runners typically entered on a daily race card.
NYRA will continue to randomly test for "milkshakes," a mixture of bicarbonate and another liquid that is believed to enhance performance. The stringent security practices are expected to cost NYRA an estimated $300,000 during the upcoming meet.
In addition, Nader said that while attendance at Saratoga is expected to remain close to one million patrons for the meet, he anticipates a 5%-10% drop in total handle for the 36-day meet because certain wagering outlets--primarily rebate shops--won't have the Spa signal.
The execution of the race-day security plan will generate some logistic difficulties at Saratoga that have been far less daunting during the 60 days they have been in place at Belmont.
"It can't be accomplished as conveniently here as it is downstate," Saratoga facility manager George Hathaway said. "But we've been committed to it since May 4 and have put together a plan that will meet the unique demands here."
That plan includes the use of an estimated 30 stalls in Barns 27 and 28 at the end of the Saratoga backstretch, and three adjacent semi-permanent style tents that will each house 25 horses.
"We are taking bids from vendors who have built these before," Hathaway said.
After initial reluctance to the race-day security barn program by some horsemen, the system at Belmont operated smoothly. But the prospect of open-air accommodations at Saratoga has produced some concern.
"Of course you worry about how your horses will handle any change in environment," veteran trainer Del Carroll said. "Seeing horses running on the track, for instance, can get them worked up. And anyone who visits Saratoga is familiar with the weather issues."
But Hathaway is confident the tents will prove invulnerable to the elements, and said NYRA is taking precautions to address all potential concerns of horsemen and owners.
"All the necessary elements will be provided," Hathaway said. "Electrical and water service is being brought in, and there'll be fans to keep the horses cool."
In addition to the tents, bids are being evaluated for the erection of security fencing around the entire detention compound. Hathaway also plans on adding temporary hedging to obscure the horses' view of the racetrack itself.
Extensive security details will be assigned to the area, and access to the compound will be strictly limited to NYRA veterinarians and the credentialed trainers and grooms associated with the secured horses.
"They're trying to do the right thing to promote honesty in the game," Carroll said. "We all recognize that it's a challenge to keep the state, fans, horsemen--everyone--happy."