Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Belmont at Saratoga sets records for track, local business

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“It was an incredibly memorable and exciting weekend at Saratoga Race Course,” said Pat McKenna, the vice president of communications for NYRA, in an emailed statement Monday. “NYRA would like to thank the fans who visited in record-breaking numbers throughout this historic edition of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and the millions more who watched all the action on FOX Sports. Despite the sky-high anticipation for a first-ever Triple Crown event at Saratoga, the Festival exceeded all expectations and provided a global stage for the sport’s most revered venue.”

The four days of racing were kicked off with a concert downtown on Wednesday headlined by Blues Traveler that expanded down the main arterial of the city, with people packing into the area to watch three bands take the stage set up adjacent to the Saratoga Springs City Center.


Horseracing photos from Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Saturday

HUGE CROWDS

Anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 people flooded city streets for the show that also featured Tops of Trees and The Pat McGee Band, according to Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus.

That concert set the stage for Thursday’s opening day at Saratoga Race Course, where just over 22,000 people turned out, up from the 2,822 people who attended the first day of racing in 2022 at Belmont Park, according to data provided by NYRA. The first day of racing was canceled at Belmont in 2023 due to smoke from wildfires in Canada descending on the northeastern United States.

Belmont Stakes Day at Saratoga was a sell-out with 50,000 people in attendance, compared to just over 48,000 at Belmont Park in 2023 and 46,103 at Belmont Park in 2022.

Both Friday and Sunday also saw exceptionally larger on-track crowds — more than double the attendance for Friday and 10 times as much on Sunday compared to the last two years.

While the crowds were huge, police didn’t report any major issues.

“We could not be more pleased with how smooth things went throughout the week, starting with the Belmont on Broadway to the last race on Sunday,” said Saratoga Springs Police Chief Tyler McIntosh. “The exceptional safety and success of the event can be attributed to the extensive planning over the last several months and the amazing interagency teamwork throughout the Belmont Festival.”

Besides city police, state police, the county sheriff’s department, the city fire department and a number of other state and federal agencies were involved in making sure Belmont on Broadway and the four days of racing were safe for attendees.

Assistant Fire Chief Robert Murphy said they upstaffed for Belmont, which worked in their favor.


Belmont Stakes at Saratoga: Saturday’s card generated record all-sources betting handle

“Crews saw an overall 12% increase in call volume over the same time period last year,” he said. “While all calls for service were handled without delay, 79% occurred simultaneously — a 61% increase over the same period last year — ​validating our upstaffing plans and making ​the recent opening of our third fire station all the more timely and critical.”

He also said they made sure there was staff for the increased nightlife downtown to prevent overcrowding and unsafe conditions.

The CDTA, which provided shuttles for Belmont on Broadway and the track, said it transported over 5,000 people over the five days.

“As with any large-scale event like this, there are always going to be some hiccups, but our team navigated them professionally and courteously,” said Jaime Kazlo, the director of corporate communications for CDTA, in an email Monday. “We saw high volumes of traffic throughout the five-day event, and especially on Belmont Saturday. We did encounter some unexpected road closures over the weekend which did cause some service delays, but we appreciated the public’s patience and understanding.”

Kazlo said CDTA expects to run the shuttle service for next year’s Belmont at Saratoga as well.

SUCCESS

Overall, officials said the events were a huge success.

“We took a guess at what would work and I think we hit a home run,” Shimkus said.

Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association Vice President Heidi West said the association hasn’t met to fully discuss Belmont yet but that overall they thought it was very successful.

“It’s just been spectacular,” she said. “Across the board, we all kind of agreed that the atmosphere was festive and fun. You know, no real incidents, it wasn’t difficult to manage or get around town or get to the track or away from the track. We just thought it was a very smooth event and we thought that the city did a great job with the police force and all the decorating downtown.”

But it wasn’t just Belmont on Broadway that exceeded expectations, Belmont Stakes Day at Saratoga Race Course generated a record $125,748,941 in all-sources betting handle on Saturday, compared to other years in which a Triple Crown quest was not on the line.


Photos of fashion at Belmont Stakes at Saratoga

“Overall, I’ve never seen the energy level and excitement as high as it was on Saturday,” Shimkus said. “I have a feeling a lot of people might have been like me, it didn’t dawn on me until I walked in on Saturday that it was my first time at a Triple Crown race and it just amped up the knowledge that I was seeing something special and unique, that I might have never seen. I might have never gone to Belmont if they hadn’t brought it to me.”

BUSINESS SURGES

Officials estimated that the week would generate around $50 million in regional economic revenue.

West not only operated her three businesses — Caroline + Main, Lifestyles of Saratoga and Union Hall Supply Company — on Broadway, but had a vendor tent at the track for the four days.

“I doubled what I normally would have done for the whole month of June so far and most particularly Wednesday through Sunday,” West said.

She said her employees told her that Friday was particularly busy at the store.

At the track Saturday, she set a record for sales.

“I’d never done numbers like that before at the track,” she said. “Because I have that outlet at the track, I can see the crowd moving, so when the track was busy, the downtown was slower, so I could see where the people were moving. Then you can see everyone leave Belmont or leave the track right after Belmont and then they all headed downtown to dine, shop and enjoy the evening in downtown Saratoga.”

Local restaurants also reported seeing tons of people. Ed Mitzen said it was also a record-setting weekend for Hatties, and Shimkus said he heard from various businesses on both Broadway and nearby streets who said they did exceptionally well during the week.

Maddy Zanetti, an owner of Impressions of Saratoga and The Dark Horse Mercantile, was still seeing people stop by Monday and worked to fulfill the many online orders coming in.


Photos of fashion at Belmont Stakes at Saratoga


Belmont Stakes at Saratoga: Saturday’s card generated record all-sources betting handle


Horseracing photos from Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Saturday

She said they had steady customers from about 7:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. during the festival.

“The only time that we were quiet was when the actual Belmont Stakes was going,” she said. “I’d say like that two-hour window around that, but the entire day was busy. Then, for us, Sunday’s always busy because people stop by before they go out of town.”

The Bunker, which hosted a watch party on Belmont Stakes Day, said, while they are still a newer business in the area, they saw record number of customers.

“Everyone was able to enjoy the race on our TVs in a great atmosphere,” said Emily Bini, the director of marketing and events for the company. “We had a DJ come in later Saturday night to keep up a great vibe. Guests were able to play golf, eat, and enjoy our specialty cocktails. We even had some groups rent a space to watch the race on our 10-foot screens! Everyone at the Bunker had a fantastic time and we cannot wait for Belmont 2025.”

NEXT YEAR

Saratoga Springs Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran said discussions are already underway for Belmont on Broadway next year and potentially a similar event in the summer prior to or during the typical Saratoga meet.

Belmont on Broadway cost around $250,000 to put on, Shimkus said, with that cost being split between various sponsors.

The city ended its Hats Off music festival, which kicked off the beginning of the summer meet and featured two days of musical acts in downtown Saratoga in 2017. The Final Stretch Music Festival was also canned. Both events cost around $20,000 to $25,000 to put on.

Shimkus said sponsors are needed for large scale events like Belmont on Broadway.

He said one takeaway he had from Belmont on Broadway was finding a way to utilize the street more once it’s shut down to bring more people to the city prior to the concert getting underway.

“Broadway was shut down and there were some people out there at one point in time playing Frisbee; we could use that space to make this more of a daylong event,” Shimkus said. “So maybe there’s some kids activities, for instance, during the day and the concert at night. So we had a resource right there on Broadway that was totally underutilized from about 11 o’clock, when the stage was built, until 6 p.m., when the first first band started. We had some space there that we could do some fun things with, that would attract more people to the downtown for that entire day.”

The idea would be similar to what is seen at Schenectady’s SummerNight, which takes place in July and involves a community festival with activities prior to a concert in the evening. The event is July 12 this year.

McIntosh said the police department will be producing an after-action report with everyone involved in the event “to refine and improve the operation even more for 2025.”

“We have a great foundation and strategy that has now been proven to be effective, which will lay the groundwork for the Belmont next year,” he said.


Photos of fashion at Belmont Stakes at Saratoga


Belmont Stakes at Saratoga: Saturday’s card generated record all-sources betting handle


Horseracing photos from Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Saturday

The Saratoga summer meet kicks off July 11. Shimkus said everyone involved strategically worked to showcase the city and county so that more people would visit for the summer meet as well.

“We all recognized months ago that the eyes of the world, through the media and online, were gonna be watching us, and our hope is that those folks who not only came and had a good time, but saw how much fun it was on television, and how historic this community is, how amazing Saratoga County is, decide to come back this summer, or come here for the first time this summer,” Shimkus said. “So this was a strategic decision to market Saratoga and the Saratoga Race Course in an unprecedented way, so that we can hopefully build crowds even more for the summer.”

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