By the numbers: Saratoga meet leaders, record handle

By the numbers: Saratoga meet leaders, record handle
Photo: Courtesy NYRA

For the first time in its history, the 40-day summer meet at Saratoga Race Course generated all-sources wagering handle of more than $800 million, the New York Racing Association announced Monday.

Having established the new record on Wednesday, 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 from 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 because of the COVID 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, Aug. 7.

• Nearly 1.1 million viewers tuned in across the country to watch Essential Quality capture the 152nd edition of the 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.

• Brad Cox became just the third trainer in history to capture the Whitney and Travers in the same summer with two different horses (Knicks Go and Essential Quality).

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.

A total of 416 races were run this summer – 242 on dirt and 174 on the turf. Forty-five races were taken off the turf because of inclement weather as Saratoga battled historic rainfall throughout the summer. Average field size was 7.7. In 2020, 409 races were run – 226 on dirt and 183 on the turf. Thirty-two races were taken off the turf. Average field size was 7.4.

NYRA continued to invest in Saratoga 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 lounge boxes to Section T of the grandstand.

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