Several hundred fans are getting to meet their favorite athlete or TV celeb this summer at Saratoga Race Course as part of NYRA’s new series called Stars at the Spa. The two-tiered program will bring in an A-list former Knicks player, a former powerhouse Yankee, and one of the most famous Real Housewives of all time.
“Stars at the Spa was developed as a way to bring in a more diverse crowd of people,” says Zachary Richards, NYRA’s Senior Manager of Events and Marketing. “Maybe someone has never been to the track, or they have been and are looking for an excuse to return. This is a way to enjoy both a full day of racing and time with athletes and celebs. It’s immersive.”
The series comes on the heels of a star-studded Belmont Stakes, which had reality star Pauly D, cast members from Broadway’s Aladdin (which hits Proctors this October), a handful of Housewives, and various Islanders and Jets players on hand for the festivities. On the calendar for Saratoga: Charles Oakley on July 24, Teresa Giudice on July 31, and Bernie Williams on September 4, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. On each date, 50 ticketed guests will dine with the celeb at a private luncheon at the track’s new Paddock Suite. Afterwards, 200 general admission fans will show up for a meet-and-greet that includes a photo with the athlete or TV star as well as a signed headshot.
“Each of these celebs draws in a totally different crowd,” Richards says. “We wanted a diverse range of people who are significant to New Yorkers. People come to Saratoga from all over the world, but the biggest presence is other New Yorkers, especially from the Tri-State area. We wanted celebs who the family grew up watching on TV or watching them play.”
Richards says that he really wants Stars at the Spa to be an interactive experience, pointing to the popularity of Third Racecall, which invites fans to a Q & A with track announcer John Imbriale and to watch him call the third race of the day (ticket sales go to the Backstretch Employee Service Team of New York). This year will also see the return of the Budweiser Clydesdales in August, thanks to Bud Light and Saratoga Eagle, and a Jim Dandy appearance by fashion force Carson Kressley, a bona fide horse racing fan who will be in town for a fashion party co-hosted by Saratoga Living. (In fact, Richards wasn’t shy about giving the magazine credit—he said the idea for Stars at the Spa came to him after hearing about Saratoga Living’s meet-and-greets with former Real Housewife Dorinda Medley.)
“I cannot wait to be back!” says Kressley, who grew up coming to The Spa with his family in the ’80s. “Each trip back is very special and nostalgic for me. Not to mention I love all the history and style that is Saratoga: the old grandstands, the potted geraniums, the striped awnings. It’s an atmosphere like none other and I just love it.”
That level of excitement surrounding Saratoga’s meet is what Richards is enthusiastic about building upon. “You come to meet the celebrity,” Richards says, “and then stay to enjoy a great day of racing.”