Tropical Storm Isaias came to Saratoga Race Course, but it could not conquer the Spa’s renovated main track.
Even though 2.56 inches of rain fell on the racetrack during the violent Aug. 4 storm, by the following morning the track was good for training in a dramatic change from the past when horsemen would have been greeted with a soaked, sloppy racing surface.
“I got a text from (trainer) Dave Donk this morning,” said New York Racing Association senior vice president of operations and capital projects Glen Kozak. “Normally, he would hear the clopping sound of horses splashing around after a rain like that, but it sounded like a normal day to him.”
Kozak said the main track would have been wet-fast at best for the start of racing after a similar storm a year ago.
“The old track would have had dark spots along the inside rail where it was slower draining,” Kozak said. “Our guys did a great job prepping the track yesterday for the storm, and it handled it beautifully.”
That Saratoga’s main track could be good for morning works and fast by the first race on an Aug. 5 card in which turf racing and a steeplechase race were canceled only added to the rave reviews from horsemen about the work Kozak and his team did in advance of the July 16 opening day at the Spa.
Following the game plan they used to install a new main track at Aqueduct Racetrack in 2018, NYRA added a new safety rail prior to the start of the Spa’s 40-day meet and then took advantage of that opportunity to improve Saratoga’s drainage and create the proper amount of elevation in certain areas.
“We’ve been able to create a consistent baseline around the rail,” Kozak said.
Even before the Spa endured an inch or more of rain for the fourth time since the surface was opened for training, horsemen had been quick to voice their approval.
“The only other track I’ve seen that could absorb that much water is Keeneland,” said four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, a three-time training champ at the Spa. “It’s definitely more similar to Aqueduct than Belmont Park, and it reminds me a bit of Keeneland. You really have to acknowledge the leadership of (NYRA president and CEO) David O’Rourke, (senior vice president of racing operations) Martin Panza, and Glen Kozak. This is my 13th year here training horses on my own, and this is one of the best racetracks I’ve ever trained on or raced on.
“It’s a tighter racetrack. The times aren’t necessarily faster, but I like it better.”
Trainer Linda Rice, who had seven winners at the meet through Aug. 2, also offered praise for the new track.
“NYRA and Glen Kozak have done a wonderful job with this track,” Rice said. “I’ve been very pleased with it.”