“This year’s Saratoga meet was extremely successful on so many fronts,” said NYRA President and Chief Operating Officer Ellen McClain. “The quality of our racing product was unparalleled, with 35 graded stakes races highlighted by the exhilarating dead heat between Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Travers. Our customers responded to our racing with great enthusiasm, resulting in handle increases on track and around the country. Additionally, we introduced a number of new fan initiatives that were very well received and we hosted the industry’s first ever social media day. We were also proud to continue our role as a dedicated partner to the local community and many important charities.”
Daily average attendance for the meet was 22,526, up 0.8 percent from 22,353 for the 39-day meet in 2011. (Racing was cancelled last year on Sunday, August 28 due to Tropical Storm Irene.) Total attendance was 901,033, up 3.4 percent from 871,772 in 2011.
Daily average on-track handle was $3,207,356, an increase of 3.3 percent from $3,105,171 in 2011. Total on-track handle was $128,294,220, up 5.9 percent from $121,101,665 last year.
Daily average on-track handle combining wagering at Saratoga with wagering downstate at the Belmont Café and the Aqueduct simulcast center was $3,765,950, up 4.7 percent from $3,596,862 last year. Total combined on-track handle was $150,637,998, an increase of 7.4 percent from $140,277,616 in 2011.
Daily average all-sources handle, which includes wagers on Saratoga races both on-track and from simulcast facilities nationwide, was $14,708,799, up 9.0 percent from $13,493,636 last year. Total all-sources handle was $588,351,964, an increase of 11.8 percent from $526,251,819 in 2011.
There were 417 races run during this year’s 40-day meet compared to 397 over 39 days in 2011. Average betting interests per race were 8.4 (3,492 total) compared to 8.2 (3,269 total) in 2011. Turf races totaled 197 with 27 taken off the turf and moved to the main track, compared to 158 on and 41 off in 2011.
Top Quality Racing
Among the 35 graded stakes races were 16 prestigious Grade 1 events. Signature moments included the historic Travers dead heat between Alpha and Golden Ticket, Questing’s nine-length tour de force in the Alabama, and To Honor and Serve’s gutsy victory over Mucho Macho Man in the Woodward.
The number of allowance races, routes, and grass events all increased during the 2012 Saratoga meet. There were 90 total allowance races, up 13.9 percent from 79 last year; 185 routes, up 14.2 percent from 162 last year, and 197 turf races, up 25 percent from 158 last year.
“The quality of racing here at Saratoga is the best in the world,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Alabama winner Questing and Travers winner Alpha for Godolphin Racing. “We’ve had a terrific meet, the crowds have been fabulous, and the handle has been great. [His Highness and Godolphin Founder] Sheikh Mohammed [bin Rashid Al Maktoum] commented that he loved the family picnic area and all of the people that come out; just regular families. It’s a great atmosphere here at Saratoga.”
“Saratoga is the premier meet in the country, and I think this has been one of the best meets in history,” said trainer Dale Romans, who is third in the country with 14 graded stakes wins, including one at Saratoga. “It’s been a very exciting summer and the racing has held up very well. The atmosphere is great, and all of the fans seem like they are having a great time and enjoying the place. They keep coming back.”
“It’s been a terrific meet, and I’m sure a lot of it is a product of the increased purses,” said Todd Pletcher, Saratoga’s leading trainer. “Increased purses bring better horses, more interest, and higher handle. Any time that New York succeeds it’s good for the industry. It’s been a great meet for fans, as well.”
New Fan Initiatives
The fan experience took center stage this summer at Saratoga with the Racing 101 Fan Hub, a new initiative designed to educate casual fans about the sport of thoroughbred racing.
Located in the Saratoga backyard during Whitney weekend (August 4-5), Alabama weekend (August 18-19), and Travers weekend (August 25-26), the Racing 101 tent offered patrons the opportunity to receive personal, hands-on tutorials on the fundamentals and intricacies of wagering from a number of professional handicappers.
Racing 101 was a joint venture between NYRA and America’s Best Racing, a multimedia platform developed by The Jockey Club to increase the profile of the country’s top thoroughbred racing events.
NYRA hosted the industry’s first social media day on Sunday, August 26, inviting local and regional bloggers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers and social media gurus to attend a special on-track meet-up and network in-person while enjoying a day of world-class thoroughbred racing.
A number of well-known NYRA jockeys, broadcast analysts and social media personalities visited the dedicated social media area in the Saratoga backyard to meet fans and followers throughout the day, including Andy Serling (@andyserling); Maggie Wolfendale (@maggiewolfndale); John Velazquez; Ramon Dominguez; Julien Leparoux (@julienleparoux); and Richard Migliore.
During social media day, NYRA’s Facebook page gained upwards of 500 likes to increase its total likes to more than 20,000 and the @nyranews Twitter handle gained nearly 100 new followers, pushing the total to more than 7,300.
The new Saratoga All-Access You Tube series that NYRA created this year featured exclusive, behind-the-scenes content, including a narrated tour of the jockey house by NYRA’s Richard Migliore and a feature on the starting gate crew and gate schooling process, among the more popular offerings.
NYRA made significant upgrades to its food and beverage offerings for the summer meet at Saratoga, highlighted by the creation of a new craft beer garden which served as the centerpiece of a revamped hospitality area near the Carousel. Located under two open-air tents, the Saratoga Beer Garden offered a dozen domestic craft beers for $5 each and was well received by patrons in its inaugural season.
Also new for this year’s meet, early risers were able to share a special morning with their favorite jockeys at the Times Union Trackside Breakfast. Each Thursday, Saratoga’s popular jockeys appeared at breakfast to greet fans, take photos and sign autographs.
Community Outreach and Charitable Giving
The 144th Saratoga meet saw an unprecedented amount of NYRA community involvement and charitable giving.
The Saratoga community outreach booth was booked for the entire race season. For 40 days, different organizations were provided a key location on track to create awareness about their missions and collect donations.
NYRA once again hosted a PINK OUT on Fabulous Fillies Day, Friday, August 17, and the Sizzling Hot Pink Saratoga Hat Luncheon once again raised $100,000 for The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
The Travers Celebration, the official party of the Travers, generated $110,000 which will be split among the event’s three beneficiaries: B.E.S.T., the Times Union’s Hope Fund, and PDJF.
The charitable giving culminated at the track on Friday, August 31, as NYRA organized “Remembering Irene and Lee – The Recovery Continues” to collect on-track donations and make a $5,000 donation to nearby Prattsville, Schoarie, Schenectady and Middleburgh counties, which were devastated by last year’s tropical storms.
National Television Coverage
For the second consecutive summer, the Saratoga meet received extensive live national television coverage. The NBC Sports Group was on site for five “Summer at Saratoga” broadcasts, all produced by the Saratoga Springs-based Carr-Hughes Productions.
On Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12, the NBC Sports Network featured live thoroughbred racing at Saratoga after its coverage of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The following weekend, the prestigious Alabama and Sword Dancer were featured on the NBC Sports Network.
The final two weekends of racing at Saratoga were televised on NBC, with a two-hour Travers Day broadcast on Saturday, August 25 and coverage of the Woodward and Forego on Saturday, September 1.
Additionally, the MSG Networks, the local television home of the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, and Buffalo Sabres, provided live coverage from Saratoga on Saturday, July 28 and Saturday, August 4 as part of The New York Racing Series on MSG+.