I talked to some people in the know this weekend and found out that the Oklahoma Training Track at Saratoga Race Course will open for the season on Tuesday April 15, 2014. That is good news and yet another sign that summer and track season are not too far off.
In a very well timed soft opening on the year's first warm weekend, the Ice Cream Man on South Broadway opened today! It's open until 9pm seven nights a week. Look for a more official grand opening sometime around the beginning of May.
I have no problem with the Travers Day price increases; in fact they should have happened years ago. But the weekday, and to a lesser extent weekend, price increases demonstrates an out-of-touch NYRA that is insulting and bleeding the very fan base that keeps it going.
You could shoot a cannon ball from section M to section Y of the grandstand seats any given weekday and not hit anybody. So NYRA decides it makes sense to chase away the few dozen fans left? The weekends also have large gaps in most seats in both the clubhouse and grandstand, and the further you get near section Y, the more likely it is that the entire section's seats will be emtpy. NYRA doesn't get it: They should have lowered the prices, at least on weekdays. They might have made up the admission total in volume, increased handle, and retained fans rather than drove them away.
How about free seating on Wednesdays for senior citizens? That's the fan category that arguably most would appreciate a seat, and incidentally comprises a large percentage of the gambling community. Many of us wanted a new NYRA, myself included. The old NYRA was annoying to say the least, but this new NYRA seems intent to drive a dagger into the heart of the the fan base, and by extension our beloved Saratoga race course. All in the name of the dubious goal of weaning itself from VLT money. I'm nostalgic for the devil I knew. The old NYRA wasn't so bad after all.
If you have been waiting for NYRA to finally mail out the reserved seating applications for the 2014 Saratoga Race Course meet, you have to wait no longer and can even access the applications on line. That's the good news, the bad news is that there are price increases all around, from the admission to preferred parking to the price of the seats themselves. I guess we all knew this was coming.
Well, that's a tough question, and conflicting reports from various newspapers don't help that inquiry. The end of this March 5th article in the New York Daily News, which focused on the deplorable conditions at Aqueduct, reports "NYRA officials did say Wednesday that there will be no admission price increase at Belmont and Saratoga this year....". A Times Union article from the same day, however, reports that "Kay also confirmed that entrance and seating prices are planned to rise. Admission prices at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course will be formally announced soon, based on a report supporting such increases from a consulting firm’s market research."
My guess is that reserved seating prices in Saratoga Race Course's grandstand and clubhouse will rise, but general admission prices for most days will stay the same. If I am correct, I see a rise in seating prices as short-sighted because NYRA can't sell the seats it currently has. Other than Travers Day and perhaps one or two other days featuring major stakes races, I often see hundreds of empty seats. During the weekday it seems as if 90% of the grandstand and more than half of the clubhouse seats are empty.
Perhaps general admission prices for the Travers will rise; NYRA could double the admission price for the Travers and I think it would be justified. Of course I've been to the Kentucky Derby twice now and I spent a fortune for a crappy seat last year, so I am viewing Travers prices from that perspective.
In any event I am assuming NYRA will announce seating prices very soon - they are missing out on a lot of money coming in. In previous years you had to get your reserved seating requests in by December. Now it appears you will have until April to get them in. Keep an eye on the NYRA site's Saratoga ticket/seating page for updates.
Field Horne initially wrote a Saratoga guidebook I believe in 2005, and he has updated a few times since, including his current 2014 edition. Informative and enjoyable, it packs a lot of information in a compact book that is easily carried on the go. It has everything from Saratoga history to a complete (and up-to-date) listing of the Spa City's attractions, hotels, restaurants, and other points of interest. I got my book from PJ's/BarBQSA, so I am assuming it is available at various places in town. You can also order it online. Not a bad purchase for 9 bucks, which is actually $3 less than his 2009 edition was.
I think it's great that another Sports Network will be showing races from Saratoga this summer. Fox Sports 1 Network, a relative newcomer to the scene created by Fox Entertainment Group, will show the grade 1 American Oaks (July 20), the grade 2 Saratoga Special (August 10) and Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational (August 17). They will also show a few Kentucky Derby prep races at Keeneland and in Dubai, as well as a few others in the U.S. and Canada, including the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont. Click here for the full schedule of Fox's "Jockey Club Tour".
These televised races will be in addition to the Summer at Saratoga series on NBC and the NBC Sports Network that have been shown for the last several years. I hope Fox does as stellar of a job showcasing the sport in general and Saratoga in particular as NBC does.
This is certainly a good thing, and while I found blog entries on this news from the Times Union, Daily Gazette, and even The Buffalo News, there was nothing about this in the Saratogian. While I appreciate the great work of Michael Veitch and Jeff Scott, they are columnists writing select days of the week and aren't expected to report breaking news. I've said it before and now it's even more relevant with the Kentucky Derby preps heating up: the Saratogian needs someone like their former reporter Andrew Champagne, who let very little get by him in the horse racing world and wrote many informative articles.
On a related note, read this upbeat blog post by the Buffalo News' Gene Kershner, who is a regular at Saratoga in August. The Kentucky Derby is just 2-1/2 months away folks! Take care.
I've had some loyal readers for several years now so I hate dropping off the planet like this. Work, married life, and fatherhood are all going great - just exhausting. Our daughter Antonella is growing by leaps and bounds and she wakes up smiling every day :)
As my regular readers know, I haven't been blogging much lately. I will see if I get the energy and time in the coming weeks; perhaps the end of winter will fire up my creative spirits and I'll have something I just have to write. Family life of course comes first so for now I am taking a bit of a break from blogging. Take care everybody!