The New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced today, February 7, that the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course would be extended from seven weeks to eight, beginning on Thursday, July 11 (instead of the original start date of July 18) and running through Labor Day Monday (or September 2). The extra week, however, won’t mean an increase in the total number of live racing days at Saratoga Race Course, which has remained at 40 since 2010, but rather a slightly relaxed schedule of five races per week—Wednesday through Sunday—instead of the usual six.
In addition to the adjustment made in Saratoga’s racing schedule, NYRA also announced a shortened 48-day meet for Belmont Park, down from last year’s 54 days, which will begin on Friday, April 26 and run through Sunday, July 7. The reason for the change in the two parks’ spring/summer schedules is to accommodate the possible construction plans of a new arena at Belmont for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) New York Islanders. Based on timelines presented by Empire State Development (ESD) and the New York Arena Partners (NYAP), construction of the proposed NHL arena could begin as soon the second quarter of 2019, potentially disrupting morning training and afternoon racing during the Belmont meet. Ultimately, NYRA decided to cut back on the total number of racing days at Belmont to protect its backstretch community of athletes, trainers and horses from the effects and inconveniences of nearby construction.
“Given the initial and proposed timelines, we believe it is the responsible action to move our racing operations to Saratoga Race Course slightly earlier than usual this summer,” said David O’Rourke, NYRA’s Interim CEO. “We appreciate the patience of our horsemen, fans and the community in awaiting this announcement. We’re working diligently with our stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition to this new calendar.”
The change has so far been met with positive reactions from the Saratoga community. The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, the Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board and the City’s Mayor, Meg Kelly, have all offered their support of the extension of Saratoga Race Course’s summer meet. “We have no doubt that the new calendar has been thoughtfully planned and will be expertly executed,” said Mayor Kelly. “The new schedule will bring both anticipated and unanticipated benefits to our summer racing season, and we’ll use the city’s resources to make it even more successful than ever. I am looking forward to the 2019 meet—it’s going to be another great season.”
According to David Grening of the Daily Racing Form (DRF), most horsemen have also been positive about Saratoga’s meet extension. Trainer Joe Sharp, for instance, who keeps 30 horses stabled in Saratoga, noted that although Saratoga’s an expensive meet, “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.”
Tickets for the 2019 Belmont Stakes went on sale back in January, and NYRA plans on issuing the full stakes schedules for both Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course soon.