Saratoga Race Track planning to boost course attendance for 2014 summer

Higher purses, nearly $2 million in capital upgrades and numerous special promotions are among the strategies planned to boost Saratoga Race Course attendance, which dipped slightly a year ago despite the large 150th anniversary of Saratoga racing celebration.

New York Racing Association executives discussed all aspects of the 2014 meet, which opens July 18, during a Monday news conference at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on East Avenue.

Attendance totaled 867,182 last summer, its lowest point since 2009. For the past five years, crowds have been 12 percent to 15 percent below the record mark of 1,049,309 set in 2003. However, NYRA board member Charles Wait of Saratoga Springs said attendance numbers alone can be misleading.

"The local economy did really well last year," he said. "We had the highest room occupancy and highest daily average room rates ever. My guess is that it will be a strong season and that attendance will be higher than last year. The keys are a good racing product and giving fans a good experience."

Toward that end, the meet will have a record $17.45 million in stakes purses, with 15 Grade I races alone. NYRA hopes to create two nationally prominent days of racing at Saratoga by boosting the Whitney and Travers purses to $1.5 million and $1.25 million, respectively.

"The country looks to Saratoga for the best racing," said Martin Panza, senior vice president of racing operations. "We want to bring (more) horses here from California, Kentucky and Florida. The foundation is being set now to grow these events. We want to create more big events in New York."