by Pat McKenna/Mark Bardack
Saratoga Live sees ratings soar on FOX Sports Networks
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) today concluded its 2018 season at Saratoga Race Course with the second highest all-sources handle in history, despite a summer meet that was inundated with more than 10 inches of rain.
Total all-sources handle generated during the meet was $659,083,459, in spite of the fact that 50 races were forced to be taken off the turf, nearly double the number from 2017 and almost as many as the prior two years combined. A total of 27 races were taken off the turf in 2017 and 25 in 2016.
The 2018 season also witnessed the largest all-sources handle in Travers Day and Woodward Day history, and the second largest wagering ever on Opening Day.
Klaravich Stables was the meet's leading owner with 21 wins. Chad Brown captured the H. Allen Jerkens training title, breaking his own Saratoga record for wins with 46 victories. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. clinched his second Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title with 52 wins.
The season featured the successful debut of The Stretch, where guests in the Grandstand enjoyed exclusive access to new and modern boxes, a two-tiered dining section, premium reserved seats and state-of-the-art technology within a casual setting. The opening of The Stretch took place as NYRA prepares to break ground on a new, three-story building called the 1863 Club to replace the current At the Rail Pavilion and temporary trailers at the end of the Clubhouse.
"Each year we try to introduce new and unique experiences for our guests in order to provide something for everyone to enjoy at Saratoga Race Course. This summer, we reinvented the far end of the Grandstand with the opening of The Stretch. Just as significant, our recent addition of copper to the roofline of the Grandstand and Clubhouse created a more uniform appearance, improved the experience for guests, and will help preserve this grand, historic building for future generations," said NYRA CEO & President Chris Kay. "Our nationally acclaimed Saratoga Live broadcast remains second to none, reaching new heights among viewers. At the same time, we are seeing increasing adoption of NYRA Bets, the most user-friendly wagering platform available anywhere. All of these elements combined to deliver the second largest all-sources handle in Saratoga history. On behalf of the men and women of NYRA, I thank the owners, trainers, jockeys, horseplayers and our fans, the best and most passionate in racing."
Ratings soared in the third season of NYRA's award-winning flagship television show Saratoga Live, increasing by 62 percent over last summer on FOX Sports 2 (FS2) as well as FOX Sports Regional Networks. Saratoga Live, presented by Claiborne Farm, is available to viewers in more than 75 million homes every race day. The ratings spike led to the decision by FOX Sports and MSG+ to add additional hours to the broadcasts on the final three weekends of the meet. Combined with telecasts on NBC and NBCSN this represented an unprecedented amount of live television coverage for the historic track. This season also marked the first of a three-year extension for the broadcast.
The summer included the return of one of the most popular bets in the nation - the NYRA Bets Late Pick 5, which covers the last five races of every card of live racing at Saratoga and is available exclusively to NYRA Bets members. On the Monday before Travers Day, the multi-race wager was taken down by a single-winning ticket, triggering a $150,000 payout to a lucky NYRA Bets member and marking the first time a NYRA Bets account holder has been able to take advantage of the guaranteed minimum payout.
Among the 69 stakes run during the meet, the highlight occurred on Travers Day when a near-capacity paid crowd of 49,418 witnessed Catholic Boy put away the competition with a four-length victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, giving Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano his record sixth victory in the race.The blockbuster Travers Day card generated a record-breaking all-sources handle of $52,086,597 - marking the first time all-sources wagering on Travers Day topped $50 million - and surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 4.9 percent.
On the final Saturday of the season, NYRA set another record for handle when $31,030,034 from all sources was wagered on Woodward Day, easily eclipsing the previous Woodward Day record set in 2017 by 11.3 percent.
Earlier in the summer, the strength of the state's breeding program was on display when New York-bred Diversify registered a 3 ½-length victory over fellow New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Whitney.
Throughout the season, NYRA welcomed 40 local and regional non-profit organizations to the Community Outreach Booth, where each group received the exclusive opportunity to share information about its mission and raise funds. On two occasions, fans who visited the Community Booth had the opportunity to have their photo taken with the new Triple Crown trophy, with proceeds to benefit The Lustgarten Foundation and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Toys holiday toy campaign.
The sterling silver and 14-karat gold Triple Crown trophy, which was commissioned by NYRA on behalf of Triple Crown Productions, was on display during a memorable ceremony welcoming four-time Eclipse Award-winning and two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert to the Walk of Fame. Baffert, who was introduced by his mentor and fellow Walk of Fame honoree D. Wayne Lukas, received his emblematic red jacket and unveiled his commemorative plaque on Travers Eve. The plaque is displayed at the Walk of Fame, which honors industry leaders who have made a lasting contribution to the sport of thoroughbred racing.
Younger guests and families enjoyed the Berkshire Bank Family Zone, which included new amenities such as a complimentary phone charging station and a giant Adirondack-style chair for photo opportunities. At the start of the season, NYRA welcomed Berkshire Bank as the official partner of the smoke- and alcohol-free interactive play area.
Adjacent to the Berkshire Bank Family Zone, fans gathered at the Coca-Cola Saratoga Pavilion to experience a number of special events, including Berkshire Bank Family Mondays; Fashion Saturdays; the Taste NY at Saratoga series, highlighting local beer, wine, spirits and food in partnership with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets; and a litany of other special events throughout the meet.
In 2018, NYRA launched an online portal called SaratogaVisit.com, designed as a one-stop shop for guests and tourists to learn about the world-class arts, entertainment and lifestyle attractions available in Saratoga Springs, led by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The objective is to inform and educate potential visitors about the city's diverse array of offerings and to convince travelers to not only book their trip to Saratoga, but to stay for a longer duration.
At the conclusion of the season, NYRA provided a look ahead to 2019 and its next major capital improvement project by introducing the 1863 Club, the official name of the new building to be located at the site of the current At the Rail Pavilion at Saratoga Race Course. The 1863 Club will replace the seasonal tent and trailers, located at the end of the Clubhouse, with a 36,000-square foot, three-story, climate-controlled building featuring differentiated hospitality options and modern amenities. In addition to the three floors of usable space for guests, the building will include a fully appointed kitchen.
On track handle for the 2018 Saratoga meet was $148,826,388.
Total paid attendance for the 2018 Saratoga meet was 1,124,149, marking the third consecutive season that paid attendance has exceeded 1.1 million fans.
Figures for all-sources handle (not including international settlements) at Saratoga dating back to 2010, the start of the 40-day meet, are as follows:
*39 race days, due to weather cancellation
Live racing returns Friday, September 7 to Belmont Park. Belmont Park's Fall Championship Meet will feature seven Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifiers held over two outstanding weekends of thoroughbred racing. In all, 44 stakes worth more than $10 million and fan-friendly activities are among the highlights as live racing returns to downstate New York for Belmont's 36-day meet, which runs through Sunday, October 28.
For more information, visit NYRA.com.