SARATOGA SPRINGS — For 40 days, from July 18 to September 1, the upgraded 2014 Saratoga Race Course Meet will be packed with special events, higher purses and a push for a comeback year.
Despite the 150th anniversary celebration last year, race course attendance dropped to 867,182 (lowest since 2009).
This year’s meet will have a record $17.45 million in stakes purses and include 15 Grade 1 races, topped by the $1.25 Travers on Saturday, August 23 and the Grade 1, $1.5 million Whitney on Saturday, August 2. Previously, the Travers and the Whitney were worth $1 million and $750,000, respectively.
The day after Travers, the Saratoga Race Course will host Saratoga Showcase Day, featuring the best New York-bred horses.
Upgrades this year include 500 high-definition televisions, three new large video walls, an enhanced sound system, 100 more picnic tables, an improved events pavilion, an expanded child-friendly playground area, enhanced Wi-Fi on the grounds, expanded outdoor dining, and Trakus. Trakus is a wireless tracking system that allows viewers to follow the exact position of each horse throughout a race.
Aside from the four give-away days, there will be multiple special events throughout the season. There will also be solidified days in each week for Taste NY.
Taste NY: Wine & Spirits will be every Thursday, starting July 24. The opportunity to sample varietals of wine from a number of New York State wineries will be available for $30 from noon to 4 p.m. in the Saratoga Pavilion.
Taste NY: Craft beer and Cider starts July 18 and continues each Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Tastings of the beverages from New York State breweries will be held in the Saratoga Pavilion. Admission is $20 and includes 20 sampling tickets.
Taste NY: Food & Artisans will be every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Saratoga Pavilion, starting July 20.
Lord & Taylor Fashion Saturdays starts July 19. Track patrons are invited to dress their best for the chance to be crowned Most Fashionable at Saratoga. Two winners every week will receive a $250 Lord & Taylor gift card.
The International Heritage Series begins Wednesday, July 23. The inaugural International Heritage Series is a weekly celebration of global culture and heritage featuring traditional music, dance, entertainment, crafts and food each Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Saratoga Pavilion. The International Heritage Series lineup will include: Latino-American Day on July 23; Italian-American Day on July 30; Irish-American Day on August 6; African-American Day on August 13; and Asian-American Day on August 20. The final installment of the series will celebrate the history and culture of Saratoga Springs with Saratoga Heritage Day on August 27.
2014 will also feature the Saratoga Race Course being prominently featured on television, with NBC, the NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1, and MSG+ all signed on to present live coverage throughout the meet.
Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza said he hopes to create more nationally recognized races, while getting more horses from California, Kentucky and Florida to compete at Saratoga Springs.
NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay said this year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Tonalist, may very well race twice at this year’s Saratoga meet, while Palace Malice (winner of 2013 Belmont) is expected at the Whitney. Saratoga also will be the summer home of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
This year’s meet will have a specific amount of races in each daily program. Mondays will be nine races, Wednesday through Friday will include 10 races each day, Saturday’s will have 11 post times, and Sundays will vary between 10 and 11. There will be no twilight races.
All post times 1 p.m., except 11:35 a.m. on Travers Day (13 races).
Longtime track announcer Tom Durkin will call his final race August 31, wishing to retire so he can watch the final Labor Day program as a fan. Fans are invited to celebrate his career on the 31st as he calls his final race, during Tom Durkin Day.
New this year also, grandstand admission increased to $5. Clubhouse admission is $8, while children 12 years old and younger get in free with an adult. Travers Day general admission will be $10, while grandstand will be $15 that day.
Grandstand and clubhouse season passes are available now through August 1 at participating Stewart’s Shops in the Capital Region. At Monday’s New York Racing Association summer announcements press conference at Fasig-Tipton, Kay said 2,411 season passes had been sold—more than doubling last year’s total. A pass is good for all 40 days (can be used once per day). Grandstand season passes are $30 and clubhouse passes are $50.
The 34th annual Saratoga Race Course Open House will be Sunday, July 13 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.