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Saratoga Springs still not over Belmont buzz as racing returns



Saratoga Springs still not over Belmont buzz as racing returns


While it was not quite “just yesterday” that the New York Racing Association last raced at Saratoga Race Course, the 4 1/2 weeks between meetings this year versus the typical 45 weeks most years has given this week’s opening week a different feel among locals.

With Belmont Park experiencing the ultimate “Extreme Makeover: Racetrack Edition”, NYRA conducted most of Belmont’s Sprint-Summer meeting at Aqueduct with one huge exception: Belmont Stakes week was June 6-9 at Saratoga. That required everyone involved in Upstate New York racing to “Move That Truck,” and the range of reactions were varied across NYRA personnel, employees and Saratoga Springs-area/Capital Region locals.

One thing is for certain. The financial impact both on track and within Saratoga County made an impression.

“We think [Belmont Stakes week at Saratoga] had upwards of a $50 million economic impact,” Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus said. “That’s from Albany all the way up through Lake George.”

Shimkus, who wore a Tiz the Law cap and a big smile when he spoke with Horse Racing Nation at the conclusion of the Belmont Stakes week, noted that the annual impact of Saratoga’s racing industry is about $370 million, so adding about 13 percent to that with just four more racing days is a big deal to the area.

“Heidi West from Lifestyles [of Saratoga] told me she was up 43 percent” Shimkus said. “Patty Novo from Taverna Novo on Beekman Street said Friday (June 8, Belmont Stakes eve) was her best day ever.”

Not every business was a part of the boon, however. Jacob Myers and Zach Scarborough purchased the local restaurant, Comfort Kitchen earlier this year. The comfort food establishment looked more like a ghost town instead of the bustling track scene down Union Avenue. 

“I’m assuming since they’re not allowing re-entry, people aren’t privy to downtown during midday hours,” said Myers, noting that other fellow lunchtime/early afternoon establishments also saw a drop in business with live racing.

NYRA capped attendance at 50,000, but many among the throng felt like there were more there. And those there could not leave and return, which would have been good for businesses such as Comfort Kitchen. “The paid attendance was 50,000,” Shimkus said. “It felt like more.”

Brayden Esposito, a 25-year-old fan from nearby Voorheesville, N.Y., agreed. “The energy in the crowd was the best I’ve ever seen.”

The concentration of racing one four-day week came at a cost, though. Literally. While Saratoga Springs for racing at Saratoga is unlikely to ever be called “cheap” or “budget friendly,” the demand for space and amenities over the same four days versus spread across 8 weekends is completely different.

“Saratoga is very expensive to come up for four days,” jockey Kendrick Carmouche said. “Other than that, I really think next year they will improve more and learn how to accommodate the horse people who put on the show.”

That hospitality is something NYRA and Saratoga Springs is known for during the annual 40-day meeting, and Shimkus is already looking forward to making next year’s Belmont Stakes Festival even better.

“We are already Monday Morning Quarterbacking what we can do differently and how we can make it even better,” he said.

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