It was only fitting that as Chris Kay, the president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, stood in the winner’s circle Monday afternoon discussing the 2018 Saratoga meet, a few raindrops began to fall.
Though nothing more than those drops fell Monday, rain was a dominant factor through the first half of the meet, and perhaps the primary reason why Saratoga fell short of setting another record for handle.
Still, it was a very successful summer for the New York Racing Association as all-sources handle for the 40-day Saratoga meet that concluded Monday was $659,083,459, the second-highest in track history. It was 2.6 percent lower than last year’s figure of $676,709,490.
Ontrack handle was $148,826,388, down 5.2 percent from last year’s figure of $157,014,965. Paid admissions was 1,124,149, slightly up from last year’s figure of 1,117,838.
Saratoga set record handle for Travers Day ($52,086,597) and Woodward Day ($31,030,032).
There were 404 races run at Saratoga this year compared with 406 in 2017. Owing to 10.06 inches of rain that fell during the meet, 50 races were moved from the turf to the dirt.
By comparison, over the last three summers the number off-the-turf races were 27 in 2017, 25 in 2016, and eight in 2015. Field size tends to be larger in turf racing than dirt racing. Average field size this year overall was 7.75 horses per race, down from last year’s figure of 8.25. Average field size on turf was 8.66 horses, compared to 9.11 last year. Average field size on dirt was 7.17 horses, down from 7.46 in 2017.
“We had terrible weather for the first half of the meet – we took 50 races off the turf – and to have the second-highest handle is a tremendous feat,” Kay said. “This is an incredible team effort and I’m very pleased and very proud of everybody in our organization. I’m grateful to the horseplayers and fans that came here through difficult weather and great weather to support our racing.”
Saratoga succeeds despite being the only major venue that operates six days a week. Every year there is chatter about having a five-day race-week, which would mean extending the meet by one week while keeping the same 40 days.
Kay acknowledged Monday that is something that will be considered, but emphasized no decision on that will be made for a while. One of the factors in that decision will be where NYRA is in terms of potential renovations it wants to do to the existing Belmont building, in addition to progress on construction of a new hockey arena being built just outside the grandstand.
“I’m telling you we’re going to have 40 days of racing [next year] and I don’t know when it’s going to start,” Kay said. “It may very well start the same as it did this year, we may still have a six-day [week] next year, or we may do something different. I just don’t know.”
If the schedule remained the same, the 2019 meet would begin on July 19 and run through Sept. 2. If a change were made, the meet could start as early as July 12.
Mother Nature wasn’t the only dominant force at Saratoga this summer. Chad Brown set a record for wins by a trainer at one Saratoga meet with 46, as he won two more races on Monday’s closing-day card. Brown won 10 races with 2-year-olds, capped by a 4 1/4-length victory by Complexity, a son of Maclean’s Music, on Monday. Brown also won six graded stakes including the Diana with Sistercharlie and the Test with Separationofpowers.
“I know we kicked off the meet with that nose win in the Diana – that kind of sticks out, that got the momentum going and it never really stopped,” Brown said. “Travers Day was the only bit of a disappointment, had a lot of chances in a lot of big races – especially the Travers – and for that to elude us was really the only low spot of the meet for us.”
Brown dedicated the meet to his brother-in-law Brian Morgan, a lifelong racetracker who on Aug. 30 had a heart attack while at the track and died. While Brown was being honored for his meet’s success in the winner’s circle Monday, a member of the trainer’s family held a placard containing a photo of Morgan.
“Brian was not only a great father but a real positive person, you wouldn’t hear anything negative out of his mouth ever,” Brown said. “It felt good to share this moment with all of our family and dedicate the entire meet to him.”
Following Brown in the trainer standings were Todd Pletcher (19 wins), Rudy Rodriguez (14), Steve Asmussen (13), and Bill Mott (13).
One of Brown’s major clients, Seth Klarman, was the leading owner. He had 21 wins – 13 by his Klaravich Stables alone, and eight more with partner William Lawrence. For Klarman, it was his first Saratoga owner’s title.
“It’s a nice honor to win the owner title here, it’s sort of a lifetime achievement thing,” Klarman said. “But we’re really excited about Separationofpowers and the 2-year-olds.”
Separationofpowers won the Grade 1 Test and is likely to run against Monomoy Girl in the Cotillion on Sept. 22 at Parx. Among the Klaravich 2-year-old winners at the meet were Complexity, the impressive debut-winning filly Feedback, and the impressive turf winner Newspaperofrecord.
Irad Ortiz Jr. won the riding title with 52 wins, beating Javier Castellano by nine. Jose Ortiz, the leading rider the last two years, won three races on Monday and finished third in the standings with 42 victories. Manny Franco (35) and Luis Saez (33) round out the top five.
“This one is very special,” said Ortiz, who won the title in 2015 and finished second to his brother the last two years. “A lot of good jockeys come here, all the good trainers come here and they bring all the nicest horses in the summer – most of them are here and Del Mar. You want all those trainers and owners to see you do well, so I’m very happy to win another title.”
Monday was not only the final day of racing at Saratoga for the season, but marked the end of the career for Sam Grossman, NYRA’s bugler for the last 25 years. Grossman was honored for his career following Monday’s fifth race.
Tuesday, NYRA was scheduled to break ground on the 1863 Club, a three-story, 36,000 square foot building that will replace the At the Rail Pavilion and temporary trailers that served as suites by the clubhouse turn.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.