The event will feature world-class steeplechase racing coinciding with a daylong festival featuring music, food, vendors, equine shows, a 9-furlong fun walk on the dirt track, and carriage rides. Sponsors and their guests will even have access to the historic infield at Saratoga for the first time in over 100 years. Event organizers were visibly excited during the announcement, which they think could bring thousands of steeplechase and equine fans to Saratoga. An influx of tourists of that size would certainly provide a nice after-season boost to the local economy.
“I think Saratoga just got much more exciting with this terrific line up for a super Saturday in September,” said Barry Potoker, local businessman and co-chairman of the new event along with Bob Giordano.
“On September 15, a new light is going to shine on the facet of this gem I call Saratoga. It will be a day when the curtain rises for an encore after the last races on Labor day weekend,” said Giordano, who you might recognize as the “May I Help You” guy from the Race Course.
For those unacquainted, steeplechase is a form of horse racing that dates back to 18th century Ireland, and features horses jumping over gates while attempting to match a predetermined “optimum time” set for the course. Penalties are issued for exceeding the optimum time, but there is no advantage to turning in a particularly fast time. The event is based on similar events that take place along the East Coast, like the Far Hills Races in New Jersey.
There will be four traditional steeplechase races, with purses totaling $100,000. This includes the Steeplechase Cup, a main event with a $50,000 purse. There will be no wagering on the races through the race course. Purse money is being funded through sponsorships.
While steeplechases are occasionally held during the meets at Saratoga and Belmont Park, this is the only world-class steeplechase event in New York state. Tickets are expected to cost only $20 for the inaugural festival, which when compared to ticket prices for similar events, is a bargain. Organizers are hopeful that this event will be a huge success, and already seem to have the support from the business community.
“We want a crowd; we want it to be fun. We want everyone to say ‘we can’t wait until next year,’” said Girodano. “Over $50,000 has already been committed to this project after one small press release on March 8.”
Proceeds from this event will benefit two organizations with local connections and great causes. Saratoga Bridges, a nonprofit organization offering support to the disabled and their families, and the Retired Thoroughbred Foundation, a group working to save Thoroughbred race horses from abuse or neglect once their days on the track are over.
“I think the unique part of this is many people aren’t aware that Thoroughbreds compete in the steeplechase community,” said Jeff Cannizzo, the Executive director of New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. “It’s going to be very interesting to see the racing at Saratoga up close and personal on the infield grounds, which hasn’t happened in anyone’s lifetime here.”
Those attending the first Steeplechase Festival at Saratoga can expect a wealth of options when looking for something to do. Special sections will be set up for tailgating and returning college students. A vendor village will run parallel to the infield on the ground level, and there will be open seating in the clubhouse all day.
For more information, visit the event’s website at www.steeplechasefestivalatsaratoga.org.