Is Horse Racing Dead? Not in Upstate New York

All-sources handle record set as wagering tops $700 million during 2019 meet at Saratoga Race Course

Source: NYRA Press Office

by Pat Mckenna; Mark Bardack

Milestone record achieved during reconfigured racing calendar and despite cancellation of a Saturday racing card

For the first time in history, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) generated more than $700 million in all-sources handle during the 2019 meet at Saratoga Race Course, which was conducted over a five-day race week and included the cancellation of a full Saturday card of racing.

Wagering from all-sources totaled $705,343,949 a staggering increase of more than $46 million, or 7 percent, over last year when racing was conducted for the full 40 days during a six-day week. This year’s handle eclipsed the previous record set in 2017 by nearly $29 million or 4.2 percent.

The milestone record was achieved despite the cancellation of a full racing card on the second Saturday of the season due to extreme heat, in addition to the cancellation of the final seven races on July 25 due to severe storms.

The record was also set during a season in which the Saratoga calendar was reconfigured to include a five-day race week, a departure from the traditional six days, and the earliest opening in modern history. The change was made to accommodate construction of a new arena for the New York Islanders at Belmont Park.

Average Daily Handle Up Nearly 10%

Average daily handle for the 2019 Saratoga meet was $18,085,742, an increase of 9.8 percent over the 2018 average daily handle of $16,477,086.

NYRA sets new all-sources handle record as wagering tops $700 million during 2019 meet at Saratoga Race Course

copyright NYRA

“This has been a truly outstanding meet highlighted by the traditional recipe that sets Saratoga apart: world-class thoroughbred racing and entertainment. We would not be in this enviable position without the dedication of the owners, the talent of the horsemen, and the unmatched enthusiasm of our fans. I want to thank the local community for their support and everyone who contributed to our success this summer,” said NYRA CEO & President Dave O’Rourke. “This summer also marked the loss of one of Saratoga’s most ardent benefactors, Mrs. Marylou Whitney. Saratoga and NYRA will forever be grateful for her contributions to racing.”

Klaravich Stables was the meet’s leading owner with 19 wins. Chad Brown defended his H. Allen Jerkens training title with 41 wins. Jockey Jose Ortiz claimed the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title with 60 wins.

The 2019 season witnessed several other highwater marks, including record all-sources handle of $31,835,863 on Whitney Day and $52,129,344 on Travers Day.

This year’s banner Travers Day coincided with the 150th edition of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, which aired for the first time on the FOX broadcast network and was watched by more than 1.3 million viewers nationwide.

Saratoga’s record handle can also be attributed, in part, to the unabated growth and popularity of Saratoga Live, NYRA’s highly-acclaimed and award-winning television program. Distributed to a nationwide audience across FS2, Saratoga Live featured more than 190 hours of live programming this season compared to 80 hours when the broadcast was first introduced in 2016. FS2, part of the Fox family of networks, carried full-card coverage during most of the meet’s 39 racing days. NYRA’s investment in content and distribution has been rewarded with an increase in year-over-year viewership of more than 140 percent.

This year’s Whitney Day celebrated the life and legacy of Mrs. Marylou Whitney, the beloved owner, breeder and philanthropist who passed away earlier in the meet.

Whitney Day featured a visit by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced plans to build the Marylou Whitney Backstretch Pavilion, a permanent structure on the Oklahoma training grounds to house the Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program. Launched more than a decade ago by Mrs. Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, the program provides meals, entertainment and support for thousands of backstretch workers.

On the eve of Whitney Day, NYRA officially dedicated the Clubhouse entrance in Mrs. Whitney’s honor. Fans each summer will now pass through the “Marylou Whitney Entrance” upon their arrival at Saratoga Race Course.

The 2019 meet marked the debut of the Empire 6, NYRA’s new jackpot-style multi-race wager, which provided one of two mandatory payouts on closing day. A total of $5,379,911 was wagered on closing day of the Empire 6 for a total pool size of $6,173,478 which included the jackpot carryover. Monday’s five figure payout of $23,794 rivaled several other large Empire 6 payouts over the course of the meet including: $37,064 on August 21; $25,145 on August 14 and $12,547 on August 18.

The 2019 season saw the successful debut of the newest hospitality venue at Saratoga Race Course: the 1863 Club. Constructed over the course of only 10 months, the 36,000-square-foot, three-story, climate-controlled building welcomed thousands of fans who experienced its modern amenities and sweeping views and sightlines of the track during its inaugural season.

The Saratoga meet began with an Opening Weekend celebration to honor New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Mariano Rivera. The legendary Yankees star visited the Spa just prior to his induction into Cooperstown as the first unanimous selection in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. During the event, NYRA presented Rivera with commemorative framed blue and white pinstriped silks featuring the closer’s famed number “42”.

On-track handle for 2019 was $146,618,750.

Total paid attendance for the 2019 Saratoga meet was 1,056,053 over 39 days, marking the fifth consecutive season that paid attendance has exceeded one million fans.

Figures for all-sources handle at Saratoga dating back to 2010, the start of the 40-day meet, are as follows:

All-Sources Handle

2010 $551,660,724

2011* $526,251,819

2012 $588,351,964

2013 $586,617,240

2014 $571,163,485

2015 $648,272,805

2016 $647,322,503

2017 $676,709,490

2018 $659,083,459

2019* $705,343,949

*39 race days, due to weather cancellation

Live racing returns Friday, September 6 to Belmont Park for the 37-day fall meet, which includes 45 stakes worth $11.525 million in purse money – an increase of $1.45 million over 2018 – starting at Belmont Park from September 6 to October 6, and concluding at Aqueduct Racetrack, with Belmont at the Big A from October 11 to October 27. The fall championship meet will be highlighted by eight Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifiers held over two weekends.

For more information, visit for the report on horse racing in upstate New York.

New Race Condition at Saratoga Meet

Saratoga starting gateThe New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) had announced it will offer a series of races restricted to 2-year-olds purchased for $45,000 or less at their most recent auction starting in July at Saratoga Race Course.

“We are happy to try something new at Saratoga,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations. “We feel the Maiden Allowance Auction Series will further support our smaller trainers and owners, who play an important role in our racing program, and also provide an opportunity for new owners to get into the game and showcase their horses at Saratoga.”

The Maiden Allowance Auction Series expands on the current condition book to encourage prospective owners from all racing jurisdictions to buy horses with the incentive of a chance to compete at the Spa.

The open juvenile races, to be restricted to horses that went through the ring for $45,000 or less at their most recent auction, will be offered in the first condition book of the Saratoga meet for purses of $75,000.

With the summer sales season approaching, a number of opportunities to buy young horses are on the horizon including Fasig-Tipton’s The Saratoga Sale, set for August 5-6; as well as their New York-bred Yearling Sale, set for August 11-12, both in Saratoga Springs, New York.

“These races will provide a great opportunity for owners and trainers to experience the thrills and excitement of winning a race at Saratoga with a modestly priced auction purchase,” said Boyd Browning, president and CEO of Fasig-Tipton Co. “Buyers are needed at all price ranges at Thoroughbred auctions and this is the type of program that incentivizes owner participation. We applaud NYRA for introducing this program and look forward to seeing these races at Saratoga.”

The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s June Two-Year-Olds & Horses of Racing Age Sale, slated for June 12-14, will also offer prospective buyers an opportunity to enter the market at an affordable level.

“This is a win-win situation for NYRA and the owners of moderately priced horses,” said Tom Ventura, president of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company. “The owners will have an opportunity to race their horses for a quality purse, without having to run in a maiden claiming race, while also avoiding the heavy heads that are targeting the Saratoga meet. With more horses breaking their maiden, NYRA will have a larger pool of horses to fill next level allowance and stakes races. It should have a trickle-down effect in the sales ring, in a part of the market that could always use more buyer participation. Buyers will certainly appreciate a chance for an early return on their investment, while limiting the competition. Hats off to NYRA for creating an innovative option for owners.”

The new condition will also include up to $13,500 in New York Breeding Fund open company owners awards for New York-breds finishing 1st through 3rd in the new Maiden Allowance Auction Series.

“Creating added value for middle market horses is a positive move for everyone,” said Jeff Cannizzo, executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders, Inc. and NYRA board member. “Establishing more maiden winners is positive long-term for New York. Doing this in Saratoga makes it sweeter for owners and breeders. New York-breds become even more lucrative at this level and will earn up to 20% open company owners awards on top of the purse. This is positive for breeders and owners here in New York where there will be many New York-breds eligible for this new condition. In 2018, New York-breds alone won 34 percent of the races at Saratoga and $11.4 million in purses.”

The 2019 Saratoga meet will feature 76 stakes across 40 racing days, highlighted by the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers and the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney as the anchors of two of the biggest racing days in North America.

“It’s great to see innovative programming in the condition book,” said Joe Appelbaum, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA). “NYTHA applauds the effort to provide more opportunities for a range of horsemen to succeed at Saratoga. We would expect this initiative to fill races, be highly competitive and to provide a path to a more robust racing program.”

The 2019 Saratoga meet begins on Thursday, July 11 and runs through Labor Day, Monday, September 2. Following Opening Weekend, Thursday, July 11 through Sunday, July 14, racing at Saratoga will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays. Closing week will run Wednesday, August 28 through Labor Day, Monday, September 2.

Source: NYRA