Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s 75th Racing Season begins this Weekend
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Happy birthday to one of the best-looking and healthiest 75-year-olds we know!
Friday, March 4 will mark the beginning of Saratoga Raceway’s 75th anniversary season of live harness racing. The first post for Friday is set for 6:45 p.m. In honor of the 75th anniversary, 75-cent deals on hot dogs, sodas and programs will be featured on Friday and Saturday of opening weekend. Those two days will also feature $75 mutuel voucher giveaways after each race to patrons who submit an entry form found in their racing program. Sunday, March 6 will feature a commemorative t-shirt giveaway for fans. Guests will receive a coupon in each racing program, which can be redeemed for a free “75th Year of Racing” shirt.
In 75 years, this historic half-mile oval has accumulated a lot of highlights. Here are some of the brightest:
On June 26, 1941, the first night of live racing, 4,048 patrons attended the first race program at what was then called Saratoga Harness. Historically, Saratoga Harness is now the third oldest harness track – and the first ever specifically constructed for that purpose - in pari-mutuel harness racing. ‘Lucile Glow,’ a three-year old trotting filly, won the first ever race at the track with a time of 2:12.1. Since then, the harness track has featured almost 11,000 racing programs that have created a tremendous amount of historic moments with racing fans spanning generations.
As Saratoga Harness grew and prospered, so did the sport of harness racing. In 1941, Saratoga Harness conducted 26 racing programs, with racing fans wagering an average of $27,050 on each program. Each year, the attendance and handle continued to grow as the popularity of harness racing increased. With the exception of 1943, when racing was cancelled because of World War II, racing at Saratoga Harness experienced unparalleled growth. Total handle grew from $9.5 million in 1950 to $17.2 million in 1960 to an even more impressive $45.7 million in 1970. The number of racing programs soared from 90 in 1950 to triple digits in 1960 and close to 200 in 1970.
The quality of racing also improved mightily, as Saratoga Harness attracted the top standardbreds in the country with the arrival of Grand Circuit racing. Darn Safe became the first trotter to break the two minute mile mark on a half-mile track in 1957 with a 1:59.4 mile, and Laverne Hanover became the first two-year-old to better the (then) magic two minute mark with a sparkling 1:59.4 effort, as Saratoga Harness began to earn its moniker as “the world’s fastest half mile track”.
The great Nevele Pride graced the Spa oval on September 6, 1969, and trotted a mile in 1:56.4, at the time the fastest mile in history on a half-mile track. Hall of Famer Stanley Dancer was in the sulky that afternoon, and that mark would stand up until 1988, when Mack Lobell won a Breeders Crown event at Saratoga Harness in 1:56 for John Campbell.
It is estimated that Saratoga Raceway has welcomed over 24 million guests over the course of their 75 racing years, and throughout that span of racing, total on-track handle has exceeded $1.5 billion.
Simulcast of the Saratoga Harness signal also continues to increase in popularity, reaching an all-time record of $36 million wagered worldwide in 2015. Over 300 venues across the world will carry the simulcast signal in 2016.
“We couldn’t be more proud of the past 75 years of racing,” said Director of Racing Operations, John Matarazzo. “It’s an incredible milestone for us, and we look forward to continuing the tradition of excellence that has been the track’s hallmark from the beginning.”
A highlight of the upcoming race season will be the eighth annual Joe Gerrity, Jr. Memorial Pace, which will feature one dash for a $260,000 purse on July 23. The Gerrity Memorial Pace always attracts the best pacers in the Northeast. Last year’s pace was won by ‘PH Supercam,’ who finished in an impressive 1:50.1. Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s 2016 racing season will offer $14 million in purses, and their spring schedule will consist of live racing Fridays and Saturdays at 6:45 p.m., Sunday matinees at 12:45 p.m. and a 4 p.m. twilight post for the Thursday cards.
In keeping with another long-standing tradition, parking and admission on all race days are free.
For a full racing schedule and additional information, visit www.saratogacasino.com or call 800-727-2990.