Most horsemen welcomed the additional week of racing at Saratoga, announced by the New York Racing Association on Thursday, believing the shorter five-day race week trumps the potential added expense associated with a longer meet.
NYRA announced that this summer’s Saratoga meet will consist of 40 days spread out over eight weeks, compared to the same number of days run over seven weeks, as has been the case since 2010.
Saratoga’s meet will begin on Thursday, July 11 and run through Sept. 2. The first week will have four days of racing, the next six weeks will have five days with Mondays and Tuesdays dark, and the final week will be six days, ending with a Labor Day holiday card. Previously, Saratoga raced six days a week, Wednesday-Monday.
“Running six days a week is hell,” said trainer Mark Casse. “They don’t realize it if they’re not behind the scenes, but six days is hell. There’s some negative [to an extra week], but the positive is running five days a week is going to help everybody around the track.”
Saratoga was the last track to conduct racing on a six-day week. The additional week of racing does figure to increase expenses for horsemen who ship in from other jurisdictions or those who don’t own homes in Saratoga.
“It’ll be a factor for a lot of people, but people will just have to deal with it, figure out a way around it,” said Dallas Stewart, another Kentucky-based horseman who typically stables at Saratoga for the summer. “We’ll have to get the owners to help us out a little bit.”
Though Kentucky is expected to have larger purses at both Churchill Downs and Ellis Park this year, most Kentucky horsemen are still expected to maintain a presence at Saratoga.
“I’m still going to be there,” said Dale Romans, who acknowledged that he has cut down on the number of horses he’s brought to Saratoga over the years. “But I will predict there will be a much smaller Kentucky presence this year.”
Joe Sharp, who stables about 30 head in Saratoga, said he’s in favor of the extended meet, even if it means added cost.
“Saratoga is expensive,” Sharp said. “It costs you $40,000 to walk in the door. Renting stalls, renting places for your help – it’s expensive. It’s worth it. It’s the best racing anywhere, wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m grateful to have the stock to compete up there.”
Linda Rice, who is based in New York, said she welcomes the five-day race week and the elimination of Monday racing at Saratoga.
“My feeling has always been that Mondays at Saratoga have always been kind of unproductive as far as when your clients come into town and run a horse on a Monday,” Rice said. “It wasn’t the excitement of Saratoga that you’d like to show them. For me, I think it’s a welcome change. Selfishly, I think my staff would sure enjoy having two days a week when we’re not racing because they’re very long days.”
Gary Sciacca was the lone trainer Daily Racing Form interviewed Thursday who expressed reservations about the extended Saratoga meet.
“It was a long, drawn-out meet before,” Sciacca said. “Now it’s going to be longer. I hope it works out. I hope they’re not killing the goose that’s laying the golden egg.”
NYRA officials, in a press release, said the impetus for an extended Saratoga meet this year is because of the expected start this spring of construction on a 19,000-seat arena on the Belmont grounds intended for the NHL’s New York Islanders. The arena, which needs to be completed by October 2021, will take up a sizeable portion of the backyard.
However, NYRA officials have long wanted to try a five-day race week at Saratoga, believing it will help the meet.
“Nobody races six-day race weeks in the United States anymore,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s vice president of racing operations. “When you race nine less races a week, it should allow for larger field size and a little bit more quality racing.”
The extended Saratoga meet means there will be less racing at Belmont Park. NYRA announced Thursday that the Belmont spring-summer meet will have 48 days (April 26 through July 7), six fewer than in 2018. Panza said it was too early to determine whether any dates will be added in the fall.
“We obviously hate to lose dates,” said Joe Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “However, we understand there’s going to be a lot of compromises over the next couple of years and we want to work with NYRA, the state and New York Arena Partners to make sure horse racing has a healthy future at our historic Belmont home.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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