Saratoga Summer Meet a Smash, $878.2M Handle Sets Track Record

NYRA wrapped up its summer horse racing season on Labor Day at Saratoga, and by all accounts it was a highly successful meet at the Upstate New York track.

Jockey Junior Alvarado guides Olympiad to victory in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Sept. 3. Saratoga concluded its summer meet on Labor Day and reported a record handle of $878.2 million for the 40-day meet. (Image: NYRA)

A record $878.2 million was wagered over the course of the 40-day meet, according to a NYRA release. That smashed the previous record set a year ago of $815.5 million by nearly 8%. On-track betting, which includes wagers New York residents made through the NYRA Bets advance deposit wagering (ADW) platform, accounted for $152.3 million of the handle, up 10.5% from the $137.8 million wagered on-track last year.

Nearly 1.1 million fans paid to attend a race day at the historic track in Saratoga Springs, marking the seventh straight year, 2020 excluded, that the track drew a seven-figure attendance total.

“This summer’s record handle, incredibly strong attendance and the highest ever viewership of Saratoga Live on FOX Sports demonstrate the enduring and expanding appeal of Saratoga Race Course,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke in a statement.

The meet included 417 races, of which 218 were run on the dirt track, and the races drew an average field 7.8 entries. That’s comparable to last year’s totals of 416 overall races and a 7.7 entry average.

The lone discrepancy was in the number of dirt races. In 2021, 242 races were held on dirt. Inclement weather led to 45 turf races moving to the dirt in 2021, compared to just 16 for that reason this year.

Epicenter Stars at the Spa

The highlight of the meet came on Aug. 27, when Epicenter earned his first Grade 1 stakes win with a convincing 5-1/4 length victory over a tough field in the Travers Stakes.

After experiencing a couple gut-wrenching defeats in Triple Crown races, a trip to the Spa was just what trainer Steve Asmussen’s colt needed. The Travers was one of two wins Epicenter posted during the meet. The other came on July 30 in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

The Travers Stakes also broke a record as the handle for the 13-race card reached $52.1 million.

Barring injury, Epicenter is heading for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 in Lexington, KY, where he’ll likely try to give Flightline his first career loss. It’s also possible that Epicenter may run once more before the Breeders’ Cup.

NYRA Racing Resumes Next Week

In New York, racing returns Downstate next week. However, rather than race the traditional fall meet at Belmont, the action will take place at Aqueduct in Queens due to some construction underway at NYRA’s Nassau County track.

Dubbed “Belmont at the Big A,” the 28-day meet will start on Sept. 15 and run through Oct. 30. The meet will feature 41 stakes races, including 23 graded stakes. Purses for those stakes races will total nearly $10 million.

Among the stakes races on the card is the Oct. 1 Champagne Stakes. The mile race serves as one of the early prep races for the Kentucky Derby. The winner of that race will also earn an automatic entry in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

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