As you are now aware, opening day at Saratoga this year is July 11th. The earliest start in the history of the meet. Pending construction which is slated to begin shortly, about 150 feet from the Belmont Park paddock area may have been a factor in the earlier start to racing at The Spa.
So while safety concerns certainly came into play when the New York Racing Association decided to pull up and out of Belmont and move north sooner than usual, the issue of extending the historic race meet at Saratoga has been openly debated as an inevitability for years.
One of the main arguments against tinkering with America’s premier boutique racing meet has always been aesthetic; can there be too much of a good thing? If stretched too thin, will it cease to be a good thing? Will the Saratoga vibe, ambiance, charm, and racing product all suffer to some watered-down degree now that the season will last nearly eight weeks? DRB thinks not.
From an economic standpoint though, the earlier start seems to make sense because of the breathing room it produces in the overall racing calendar. By keeping the number of race dates at 40 while building in a one-week earlier start date, NYRA has chosen a minimally disruptive path toward elongating The Spa’s season.
Opening week will feature four dates of racing; closing week will have six (winding up on Labor Day as in recent seasons), and the weeks in between will all feature five-day weeks, with Mondays and Tuesdays now dark.
Not having to fill an extra ten races per week should result in more robust (and playable) field sizes. Saratoga was the last major-meet holdout to six-day race weeks, and the strain showed in recent seasons, both in terms of quality and quantity. Adjusting to primarily five-day weeks is a sensible move.
Each year the Saratoga season means long days for the backstretch workers, the additional non-racing day each week should afford everyone behind the scenes a bit of a breather.
Away from the track, the business community is generally all for the earlier start because that means more customers in restaurants, bars, and hotel rooms. Theoretically, these customers will be there one less day a week than in the past, but the extra week of racing seemingly makes up for the lost day. DRB foresees no boom, nor bust for Saratoga commerce with the schedule change.
The Daily Racing Blog is on-board with the earlier start of the Saratoga racing season. For those who can’t find the time within busy summer schedules, or those who have never been to the track, it offers an additional week to visit the best racing in America. The number of race days remains at forty, so the quality will not be diminished. There will be bigger, more competitive fields which will offer plenty of Value opportunities.