Saratoga's Million-Fan Meet

More than a million fans spun Saratoga's turnstiles for the first time in its 137-year history and their enthusiasm for good racing reset every statistical record worth noting.

Attendance for the 36-day meet was 1,011,669, a 3.4% increase over last year's attendance of 978,321. The meet also set records for:

* On-track handle (including simulcasting), increased 5% to $124,683,338,
* Total handle (from all commingled sources), rose 3.2% to $553,620,155
* Single-day attendance, a crowd of 66,942 turned out for t-shirt day Aug. 5 and exceeded the previous single-day record of 66,194 set in 1999.
* Opening day attendance, 31,254 fans showed up for the start of racing July 25. The previous record was 27,810 set last year,
* Opening day on-track handle, $3,499,418 was wagered on Saratoga races. The handle including simulcasting was $3,588,212. Both handle figures were records
* Opening day total handle, exceeded the previous record by 10.8% to $14,382,432. The previous record of $13,134,037 was set in 1999.
*Closing day attendance, which reached $27,654.

"With the introduction of full-card contemporaneous simulcasting throughout the state during the meet, the totals on the Saratoga signal could have diminished," said Terry Meyocks, president of the New York Racing Association. "But that wasn't the case at either Saratoga or Aqueduct while out-of-state growth continued. That is a great testament to the strength of the Saratoga signal. I don't think there is any other meet in the country that can sustain the introduction of new product and not experience a decline in business."

Aqueduct was allowed to carry two full-card out-of-state signals along with Saratoga and Finger Lakes Race Course as part of legislation that lowered the takeout statewide. Total in-state handle on Saratoga predictably dropped 6.2% to $132.7 million, but the total simulcasting handle at Aqueduct jumped 33% to 31.8 million.

The Saratoga meet also broke new ground by being the first New York track to offer lower takeouts on win, place, show betting, two-horse multiple wagers, and on some Pick Six wagers.
Bill Nader, NYRA senior vice president, said by most indicators the reduced takeout was successful.

"An additional $7 million was redistributed back to the players," Nader said. "That is phenomenal."

New York players responded the most to the lower takeouts, which reduced win, place, show bets from 15% to 14%, two-horse bets such as exactas from 20% to 17.5%, and Pick Six wagers on non-carryover days from 25% to 20%. Multiple horse exotics such as trifectas remained at 25%.

For on-track wagers, the percentage of handle from win, place, show betting increased from 32.8% last year to 35.7%, and the percentage of wagers from two-horse bets rose to 39.6% of handle from 36.7% last year. As expected, the percentage of handle from exotics decreased to 24.8% from 29.5% last year.

Bettors outside New York essentially ignored the new takeout rates. The percentage that win, place, show bets contributed to the out-of-state handle on Saratoga races increased slightly from 32.9% to 33% and percentage from two-horse wagers remained flat at 37.7%. Exotics also did not change, remaining at a flat 29.3%.

"I think it will take awhile for people outside New York to become aware of it," Nader said. "The people who are takeout sensitive were aware of it. The other needs constant reminders that we are providing them with value."

The lower takeouts remain in effect for three years and will apply to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships being held at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.