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John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011


Racing and Living in Saratoga County? Priceless


PLANTATION, FLA., November 17, 2011--News flash: Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga Springs, New York is good business.

This is not an original thought, of course, and certainly wouldn’t in any way qualify as a shocking development. But it is interesting to know just how good good racing can be for business, not only in Saratoga but in Any Town, U.S.A.

What’s needed, of course, is a place where animals, almost any animal, is revered, woven into both the economic and social fabric of a region.

This is all providing, of course, that religious nut-logs, those who see evil lurking around every corner and fearful of things they don’t understand nor care to learn about, don’t stir the populace into a state of fanatic frenzy.

On an earnest note, true fans of Thoroughbred racing as a sport and wagering vehicle take this business very seriously indeed, knowing that the money bet on the inside of a racetrack turns into serious dough once you get outside the racetrack gates.

Two-hundred million dollars, especially in a conservative middle class environment like the one existing in nine upstate counties; Albany, Columbia, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington, is a considerable amount of money having a huge impact on the regional economy.

What anti-racing zealots fail to recognize is that racetrack dollars improve the quality of life of all the people, not just the “horse fiends.”

Further, none of this considers the more than 2,000 jobs--even part time work that has become a bigger deal in today’s economic environment--in Saratoga county alone, and the $15 million in tax revenue that gets divided among the city, county and state.

The Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency is pretty objective in matters of dollars and sense. This isn’t the same as a study conducted by people with a vested interest in the findings. If something doesn’t make economic sense, the IDA will be the first to let you know.

Gentrification is still in vogue in upstate New York. That notion might offend the sensibilities of some with roots in the area but gentrification brings with it fresh dollars and the Capital Region is no different than any other place in America.

Cash is still king.

The findings released earlier this week was based on economic data compiled in 2010 so that at least three years worth of the current recession are included in the study. These are not projections, but rather are facts.

The areas measured were traditional metrics combined with industry-specific elements: Overall spending, employment (service industries and racing-specific jobs), Thoroughbred breeding, real estate, tourism and hospitality, and tax revenues that go to local and state governments.

Then there is advertising revenue, too, dollars spent to promote the Saratoga race meet in media, both online and print, as well as the electronic outlets of television and radio. Saratoga racing creates awareness throughout the Northeast region.

The Spa City is three hours equidistant by car from New York City, Boston and Montreal.

As someone who has lived in Saratoga for nearly 10 years, I must say that if it were not for the taxes paid by the two racetracks to the City and County, especially the contributions of the “flat track,” I probably couldn’t afford to live here--property-taxed out of home and hearth.

To quote findings from the study, Saratoga Race Course generates an estimated $186 to $213 million of economic impact from three primary sources:

Sixty-one million dollars is attributed directly to track operations overseen by the New York Racing Association; $58 million in expenditures from the sport‘s practitioners including owners, trainers, jockeys and breeders; and tourist revenue for the region, from as little as $67 million to as much as $94 million annually.

Particularly interesting is that industry related jobs notwithstanding, non-industry jobs from 2005 through 2010 employment in related industries increased 30 percent in Saratoga County and by five percent throughout the nine counties, as compared to an eight percent increase in non-racing related sectors in Saratoga but a two percent decline in the rest of the region.

Whether or not it relates to Thoroughbred or Harness racing, Saratoga County has experienced phenomenal growth in the census period covering 2000 to 2010, with a population increase of nine percent compared to a five percent increase for the other eight counties.

Despite recently depressed home prices affecting many of the 99 percent recently, median home values in Saratoga are $250,000, which is 20 percent higher than the next highest value mark. Nearly half of the home market value, $107 million, comes from people connected to the Thoroughbred industry.

Nearly one of every 10 acres of agricultural space in Saratoga County is farm land belonging to people who either breed, own or race Thoroughbreds, sometimes all three.

More remarkable is the that despite flat purse values, the result of steep declines in betting, attendance and increased competition from neighboring states offering slots-infused prizes, farmland devoted to Thoroughbreds has increased from a ratio of six percent in 2004 to more than nine percent in 2010. Average purses are still the highest in the country at over $62,000.

Perhaps the greatest contribution the game makes to the area is the attitude it instills in the inhabitants. It’s virtually impossible to walk into any business establishment and not see rendering of the racetrack or racing scenes of a kind that fills the locals with a sense of pride, appreciation and community.

So how does one put a value on this? That’s easy. You don’t.

Written by John Pricci

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