After Saratoga Race Course’s COVID-canceled meet last summer, fans are hoping for a mulligan, and at present, it seems to be going that way. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) today announced that the track’s annual spring training session will begin at 6am on April 17, with the barn area opening to horsemen two days earlier.
Whereas spring training usually begins on the Oklahoma Training Track side of the track, this year, to allow for the completion of a major renovation project on the Oklahoma’s training facility, training will begin on the main track across the street—which will give locals a brief taste of the real McCoy.
It won’t be for long, though; training will resume on the Oklahoma side in early May, with horses and riders able to immediately experience a completely reconstructed training track featuring a limestone base, renovated surface layer and modernized drainage systems. In addition, the Oklahoma has been widened by 10–14 feet in most areas to address the increasing population of horses training there annually from April-October. Also, to enhance safety for exercise riders and jockeys, the inner rail of the Oklahoma has been replaced with a rider protection system designed by Horsemen’s Track and Equipment. The renovation of the Oklahoma was modeled after the work that was done to the Saratoga main track in 2020.
“The Oklahoma Training Track renovation is an investment in the future of Saratoga Race Course that reflects NYRA’s commitment to providing our athletes with the safest possible environment for training and racing,” says Glen Kozak, NYRA’s senior vice president for operations and capital projects. “The Oklahoma is a special place in our sport, and these improvements will serve horses, riders and the racing community well for many decades to come.” Kozak added: “Track surfaces at Saratoga need to stand up to a wide variety of weather conditions, including incredibly intense storms that can hit with almost no warning. The main track can now recover from these weather events much more quickly while retaining consistency from day to day. We are confident the result will be just as positive on the Oklahoma as we have seen on the main track.”
Dr. Mick Peterson and the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL) served as consultants on the Oklahoma renovation, performing regular testing of the quality and composition of the new surface. Prior to its reopening, Peterson and the RSTL team will perform final inspections using ground-penetrating radar and the Biomechanical Surface Tester, which replicates loads and speed of a Thoroughbred’s leading forelimb at gallop.
The team assembled by NYRA to contribute expertise to the renovation included GRW, the architectural and engineering firm based in Lexington with deep experience in racetrack design. Michael Depew, a soil scientist and agronomist, provided additional consulting services.
Of course, it’s not just the horses and riders NYRA’s looking to keep safe this spring and summer, it’s also the fans, however many are allowed past the turnstiles. Though New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month announced that live entertainment and sports venues could open at 20 percent capacity outdoors and 10 percent indoors, that did not apply to racetracks like Saratoga just yet. In the interim, NYRA will put in place a number of health and safety protocols to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID among employees, horsemen, backstretch workers and the community during spring training, which could mimic protocols eventually used for incoming fans. Masking and social distancing will be mandatory at all times at Saratoga Race Course and the Oklahoma. Also, beginning on April 17, all personnel will have to provide a negative COVID test or proof of full vaccination in order to get on either property. This includes both local and regional personnel, all of whom will be subject to a daily temperature check prior to entering the track.
The 40-day summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course, which will feature 76 stakes worth $21.5 million, will open on July 15 and conclude on September 6.