Summer meet eclipses $800 million in all-sources handle to set new wagering record at Saratoga Race Course
by Pat McKenna, Mark Bardack
For the first time in its history, the 40-day summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course generated all-sources wagering handle of more than $800 million, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced today.
Having established the new record on Wednesday, September 1, with five racing days remaining in the season, the 2021 summer meet ended with all-sources handle of $815,508,063, a 15.6 percent increase over the prior record of $705,343,949 set in 2019.
With paid attendance totaling 1,046,478, and excluding 2020 when fans were not permitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 marked the sixth consecutive season of more than 1 million in paid attendance at Saratoga Race Course. Average daily attendance during the 40-day meet was 26,162.
“Thanks to the energy, enthusiasm and support of the best fans in horse racing, the 2021 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course has been a tremendous success,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. “This has been a summer reunion like never before, and we’re especially pleased that the return of fans has translated into strong business for downtown Saratoga Springs and the entire Capital Region community. The summer meet at Saratoga is as strong as at any point in its storied history.”
Average daily handle over the 40-day meet was $20,387,702, which is the first time that average daily handle has eclipsed $20 million.
Pari-mutuel wagering funds the majority of the NYRA purse account, which directly supports horsemen competing at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack, as well as the hundreds of businesses reliant on a thriving thoroughbred racing industry. Beyond the purse account, these funds are invested in capital projects to improve and modernize NYRA facilities while prioritizing safety and integrity.
Among the many highlights of the 2021 Saratoga meet:
- Klaravich Stables led all owners with 21 wins; Chad Brown claimed the H. Allen Jerkens training title with 41 wins; and jockey Luis Saez captured the Angel Cordero Jr. riding title with 64 wins.
- The 2021 meet played host to a significant milestone as Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen became the all-time winningest thoroughbred trainer in North America when he won the 9,446th race of his career on Whitney Day, Saturday, August 7.
- Nearly 1.1 million viewers tuned in across the country to watch Essential Quality capture the 152nd edition of the Runhappy Travers on FOX, marking the event’s highest ratings since 2015 when Triple Crown champion American Pharoah made his one and only appearance at Saratoga. An audience of 1,089,000 watched this summer’s Runhappy Travers, which was broadcast on FOX for the third consecutive year.
- Brad Cox became just the third trainer in history to capture the Whitney and Runhappy Travers in the same summer with two different horses (Knicks Go and Essential Quality).
- NYRA was honored to welcome New York Governor Kathy Hochul to Saratoga Race Course on Runhappy Travers Day, where she presented the Man o’ War Cup to the connections of Essential Quality.
- Fans and viewers were treated to more than 220 hours of live programming duringSaratoga Live which aired on the networks of FOX Sports, the show’s most extensive and comprehensive coverage since its introduction in 2016.
- In addition to daily national coverage on FOX Sports, the 2021 season welcomed the addition of SNY as a regional broadcast partner forSaratoga Live.
- A charitable program under NYRA’s stewardship requires every owner competing at NYRA racetracks to donate $10 per start to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), which funds the aftercare organizations that provide homes for retired racehorses. As a result of the 3,253 starts recorded during the 2021 meet, TAA will receive a $32,530 donation. In addition, New York’s horsemen donate 1.5 percent of the purchase price of every horse claimed at a NYRA track to Take the Lead (TTL) and the TAA. Claiming activity during the 2021 summer meet will result in a donation of $18,690 to TAA and TTL.
- NYRA paid tribute to the work of frontline and essential workers with a day dedicated to honoring health care heroes and first responders. Additionally, the season-long NYRA Hometown Hero program, held in partnership with CDPHP, honored those who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, including registered nurses, law enforcement officers and vaccine site officials.
- A total of 416 races were run this summer, including 242 on dirt and 174 on the turf. 45 races were taken off the turf due to inclement weather as Saratoga battled historic rainfall throughout the summer. Average field size was 7.7. In 2020, 409 races were run, including 226 on dirt and 183 on the turf. A total of 32 races were taken off the turf. Average field size was 7.4.
- NYRA continued to invest in Saratoga as a world-class sporting venue with the debut of two new hospitality areas this season: the Spa Verandas at the Top of The Stretch, which replaced the former reserved picnic area with six partially-covered sections; and the Tailgate at the Turn, offering a drive-up picnic section along the first turn. NYRA also expanded the popular Cutwater Stretch with the addition of 15 new lounge boxes to Section T of the Grandstand.
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 the Saratoga summer meet.
The 28-day fall meet at Belmont Park, featuring 47 stakes worth $11.15 million in purses, will open on Thursday, September 16 and continue through Sunday, October 31.
For more information, visit NYRA.com.