SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – A new Saratoga Race Meet is upon us, not only new as in a new year of celebration of the sport that has been a part of the Spa City for more than 151 years, but changes that appear to welcomed by the sports, its racing staff and at least a few track goers.
There is the consistent 40 days of racing at historic Saratoga Race Course, something that helps the city and its surrounding areas thrive throughout the summer months, but with a change in the schedule – everyone gets to start their racing season/summer track vacation a week earlier.
The hotels get a jump on filling its rooms one week earlier, restaurants get a chance to feel the rush of seating customers and then flipping those tables for one extra week and of course, The Pink Sheet gets an even earlier run.
The change – Saratoga Race Course will join the rest of North America with racing just five days a week compared to its previous tradition of a six-day a week meet. The second day off from racing is expected to be welcomed by everyone associated with the track that makes a living from spending their summers in Saratoga.
While the work never ends for the caretakers of the 1,000-pound athletes, the stars surrounding them, the jockeys and trainers have a better chance to regroup from a demanding six-day workweek that only in the summer months is then filled with celebrity appearances, interviews along with the occasional softball and basketball contests locally.
It also means more money for NYRA.
It is estimated that every entry at Saratoga Race Course is worth between $150,000 to $200,000 dollars in wagering. The calendar extension allows for an estimated 25 more horses to race each day.
There is a new face for NYRA as David O’Rourke now holds the role of president and CEO, taking over the reins in January after Chris Kay was forced to resign over several ethics violations, several stemming from actions he took during the summer months while at Saratoga Race Course.
While things are expected to always heat up on the track, the latest cool edition for Saratoga Race Track is not for the faint-hearted, but air conditioning in the newly revealed 1863 Club built on the front stretch offers luxury suites and a new restaurant facility for those looking for the best in comfort and experience while in Saratoga for an afternoon.
What hasn’t changed is that Saratoga is “The Summer Place to Be” offering more than 75 stakes races with over $20 million in purses with new additions to the racing card.
Saratoga also becomes a key to the newly created Turf Triple created by NYRA and shared by both summer NYRA tracks with the introduction of the Turf Trinity and Turf Tiara series for three-year old horses racing on the grass surface.
Henley’ Joy captured the first leg last week in the Belmont Derby with Concrete Rose won the Belmont Oaks last weekend downstate will both make their run toward the newly created crown competing in the $750,000 Saratoga Oaks to be raced on Aug. 2 and the $1 million Saratoga Derby to be run on Aug. 4 before returning Belmont for the closing leg, $1 million Jockey Club Derby and the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks on Sept. 7.
The Mid-Summer Derby returns on Aug. 24 celebrating its 150th installment of the $1 million Travers with a who’s who of potential contenders and big names.
This year does not include a Triple Crown winner, rather those that are looking to solidify their place in the Horse of the Year race.
Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes winner Code of Honor could be pointed to the Travers, but trainer Shug McGaughey was non-committal after the win last Saturday at Belmont Park. Code of Honor also won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March.
Preakness winner War of Will, displaced to seventh for interference in the Kentucky Derby and a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes could make the Travers a race for redemption for the Mark Casse-trained colt.
Other big names include Tax and never rule out Bob Baffert-trained Game Winner as the trainer enjoys flying into Saratoga for the biggest stakes races of the season.
Several of the stars of Saratoga are available for both interviews and autographs as Mechanicville native Chad Brown returns for another summer near home enters with a three-peat as the top trainer while the jockey titles has been a family affair for the past two summers, shared by Irad Ortiz, Jr. last year and Jose Ortiz in 2017 with Javier Castellano owning the title in 2016.
Four familiar faces and one fowl return to the front page five days a week in The Pink Sheet, a supplement to The Saratogian as handicappers Sam Hollingsworth, Liam Durbin, Dan Feiss, Andrew Champagne and Wise Owl prognosticate each race for our readers during all 40-days of racing.
Celebrating its 130th year in print The Pink Sheet has entered into a partnership with the Daily Racing Form and for the first time will offer Past Performances for each day’s feature race inside The Pink Sheet, again included in your Saratogian available from our Pink Sheet Kids in front of the track entrances.
Not calling the races, but from his rotating vantage points throughout Saratoga Race Course will again be our own horse racing writer extraordinaire Jeff Scott with race preview, feature recaps and more about the athletes barreling down the front stretch for the next two months.
Like Christmas, it comes every year… And They’re Off!