The main takeaway from Wednesday’s meeting of the New York State Franchise Oversight Board is that the Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park of today will look quite different by the end of 2024, with the bulk of the meeting spent outlining a series of proposed and ongoing capital improvement projects, which the board approved.
Arguably the news of most significance is planned installation of a new one-mile synthetic track to the inside of Belmont Park’s inner turf course. This synthetic surface–the specific material of which is currently unknown–will serve as a fourth racing surface at the facility.
At the end of last year, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) finished installation of the Tapeta Footings synthetic surface at the facility’s pony track.
Glen Kozak, NYRA executive vice president of operations and capital projects, explained that the initial positive feedback to this surface from the horsemen helped cement the decision to install the second synthetic surface at Belmont Park.
“The feedback from the horsemen has been excellent,” said Kozak, who explained how even in very inclement weather, training delays have been minimized.
On one day last week, “we got an inch and a half of wet snow that finished up as sleet, and we delayed training,” said Kozak. After removing the wet snow and working the track, “in a matter of 45 minutes, we had it available for training.”
With work recently completed on a vehicular tunnel accessing the Belmont infield, this opens the door to simultaneous renovation of the inner turf course when the facility’s 2023 spring-summer meet concludes in July.
Work on both the inner turf track and the new synthetic surface are expected to be completed by spring of 2024.
According to the NYRA representatives, the new synthetic track’s primary race-day purpose is to provide a viable option during the harsh winter months. However, it will also be used as a substitute during the summer months when racing is taken off the turf.
Other construction projects outlined for Belmont include a new backstretch dormitory near the existing two such buildings.
“What we’re proposing is a single-story dorm, double-sided,” said Kozak, who added NYRA doesn’t have the final specifications for the building yet, but that it would be “consistent” with dorm number two. “We’d like to get to 100 beds,” he added. “Three occupants per room.”
The plan, said Kozak, is to ultimately decommission some of the older existing living quarters.
Separately, NYRA plans to make upgrades and refurbishments to certain barns, including the quarantine barn. The barn area fire alarm system will be modernized. Another plan, said Kozak, is to connect the entire backstretch with Wi-Fi.
These projects form part of NYRA’s multi-year, $40-million renovation and modernization initiative at both Belmont and Saratoga.
Over at Saratoga, NYRA will construct a new residential building adjacent to the lowlands on the Oklahoma training track side of the facility. This follows approval of the designs from the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.
In addition, NYRA will continue renovations to existing housing on both the Oklahoma and main track sides of the facility.
Other projects include planned restoration of the “Resident Manager’s House,” refurbishment of the grandstand and clubhouse, additional spa verandas near the existing ones, and construction of a new hospitality area near the Wilson Chute.
Interestingly, NYRA is looking to replace the temporary tent where horses are saddled with a permanent building due to the “safety issues” inherent with the current structure. “It’s basically a tent built over wooden stalls,” said Kozak.
The saddling stalls are “probably the most visible spot on the track,” said Kozak. While plans are fluid, the intent is to use rubberized paver on the floor, enlarge the area at the front, and design a barrier to muffle traffic noise from behind.
“We’ve already engaged Saratoga Preservation to go over and get feedback from them,” Kozak said.
Earlier in the meeting, David O’Rourke, NYRA president and chief executive officer, announced plans for a single admission price at Saratoga of $10 a day, or $7 when purchased in advance.
The thinking behind the idea, O’Rourke said, was to give fans access to the entire property rather than just the clubhouse or grandstand.
In Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA)-related news, the Franchise Oversight Board remarked how NYRA already conducts an out-of-competition (OOC) program alongside the state’s drug testing program.
When asked if NYRA will continue that OOC testing program when HISA goes into effect later this month, O’Rourke said that NYRA “will continue it in collaboration” with the new federal authority.
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