NYRA successfully completes unprecedented Saratoga meet
by Pat McKenna/Mark Bardack
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) successfully concluded its 2020 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course without interruption and with all-sources handle topping $700 million for the second consecutive year.
Highlighted by Tiz the Law's dominant performance in winning the 151st running of the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers, the meet was conducted without spectators and with only a limited number of essential personnel, horsemen and owners on-site due to the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All-sources handle for the 2020 summer meet totaled $702,535,468 compared to $705,343,949 wagered from all sources on Saratoga in 2019.
Average daily handle for the 40-day meet was $17,563,387. The 2019 meet, which was run across 39 days due to the cancellation of a full card due to weather, generated average daily handle of $18,085,742.
Pari-mutuel wagering funds the majority of the NYRA purse account, which is awarded to horsemen and, in turn, benefits hundreds of small businesses operating at NYRA tracks and others dependent on the thoroughbred racing industry.
"NYRA thanks the horsemen and women as well as the entire backstretch community whose professionalism and dedication in adhering to our COVID-19 protocols enabled us to conduct our summer meet without interruption," said NYRA President & CEO Dave O'Rourke. "We would also like to thank city and county leaders for their efforts in working with us to ensure the safety and well-being of all participants, and the Saratoga community for welcoming us without reservation. While the 2020 Saratoga meet was a success in many ways, it will most be remembered for the absence of our passionate fans and the irreplaceable energy that they bring to Saratoga each summer. Despite not being able to attend in person, horseplayers watched and wagered with tremendous enthusiasm, and we thank them for their continued support."
A total of 409 races were run this summer including 226 on dirt and 183 on the turf. 32 races were taken off the turf due to weather. Average field size over the 409 races was 7.4. This compares to 403 total races run in 2019, including 225 on dirt and 178 on turf. 38 were taken off the turf due to weather. Average field size in 2019 was 7.9.
Klaravich Stables was the meet's leading owner with 13 wins. Trainer Todd Pletcher claimed the H. Allen Jerkens training title for the 14th time in his illustrious career with 32 wins. The Ortiz brothers battled down to the final race of the meet as Irad Ortiz, Jr. edged out Jose Ortiz 59 to 58 to claim the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title.
NYRA Bets, the official betting partner for Saratoga Race Course, experienced significant growth during the meet. NYRA and locally-based Stewart's Shops partnered this summer to unveil a new method for fans to fund their NYRA Bets accounts through the introduction of NYRA Bets Gift Cards. Horseplayers responded enthusiastically and purchased more than 12,000 gift cards at Stewart's Shops between Opening Day and Labor Day.
During this season without spectators, fans turned to Saratoga Live, NYRA's highly-acclaimed and award-winning television program, in greater numbers than ever before. Average viewership of Saratoga Live on FS1 totaled approximately 120,000, while just under 1.3 million viewers watched the Runhappy Travers on FOX. Overall time spent viewing Saratoga Live increased by 300 percent during the more than 210 hours of live programming broadcast on FOX Sports throughout the meet.
NYRA was active on the charitable front to help support the Saratoga community during the pandemic.
NYRA Cares generated $13,380 for the Adirondack Trust Company Community Fund which will distribute the money to locally-based charities and non-profit organizations impacted by COVID-19. The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce raised the funds through an online auction of items provided by NYRA as well as through donations from fans.
NYRA donated $20,000 to four Saratoga Springs charities through the sale of Saratoga Race Course-branded face masks. NYRA worked closely with Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly in selecting the beneficiaries which provide food, shelter and other critical resources. The funds were divided evenly among AIM Services, Inc.; Franklin Community Center; Shelters of Saratoga and the SNACpack Program (Saratoga Nutrition Assistance for Children).
NYRA also made good use of its popular picnic tables which went unoccupied during the season by lending them to the Saratoga Springs City School District, the City of Saratoga Springs and the village of Schuylerville to enable students and residents to enjoy outdoor dining while maintaining social distancing.
"NYRA has not only been an outstanding partner from a philanthropic standpoint, but also as a leader in the continued effort to keep our community safe," said Mayor Kelly. "For months, we have worked closely with NYRA to ensure this year's meet would be a success despite the challenging environment. We thank NYRA for its commitment to the health and safety of all city residents this summer."
As a not-for-profit organization, NYRA's mission is to strengthen and grow the sport of thoroughbred racing in New York state, which drives an industry responsible for 19,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact, including $240 million alone in the Capital Region during a traditional Saratoga summer meet.
Live racing returns to Belmont Park on Friday, September 18 for the 27-day fall meet, which includes 38 stakes worth $5.58 million in purse money. Following opening weekend at Belmont, live racing will be conducted Thursday through Sunday, with the exception of Columbus Day weekend, when live racing will be offered on Monday, October 12 and will resume on Friday, October 16. The meet runs through Sunday, November 1.
New York state currently requires all racetracks to operate without spectators in attendance to combat the spread of COVID-19.
America's Day at the Races will present daily television coverage of the Belmont Park fall meet with coverage to air on FOX Sports and MSG Networks.
For more information, visit NYRA.com.