On May 28, 2015, there was a public hearing in Saratoga with respect to proposed renovations to Saratoga Race Course. The full plan can be accessed here.
The plan offers some very positive proposals. For instance, there is the proposal to build a three story enclosed luxury dining facility where the existing At the Rail tent is now. This addition would be one desperately needed as it would put true luxury boxes within the confines of the track. The total renovations would take 9 years and cost 15 million dollars. One valid point raised in opposition to this proposal is that the amount of capital funding provided by VLT gaming for NYRA is 17 million over that same period, which would leave Belmont Park and Aqueduct Race Track, two facilities desperately in need of improvement with only $2 million in funding to do this.
Another, admittedly smaller, change contained in the redevelopment plan is one that would relocate the jockey’s room to a structure to be built where the saddling enclosure is now. I am old enough and have been attending Saratoga enough to vividly remember when the horses were saddled under trees in what is now the back yard. In 1981, NYRA determined that the risk of injury to fans was too great so the saddling enclosure was born. That being said, the jockeys always traversed a path to the paddock and from the track to the jockeys room. This has been tradition and should not be upset.
I submitted the following in opposition to the proposal:
My name is Todd Engel, I am a horse owner, attorney and Saratoga box holder and attendee for 38 consecutive years. I am submitting these comments with respect to the public hearing regarding the proposed renovations that the New York Racing Association (NYRA) plans to make to Saratoga Race Course. Specifically, I am targeting these comments to the relocation of the jockey’s room from a structure near the present administrative building to a structure, as I understand it, to be build above where the present saddling enclosure is now located within the paddock.
When I first came to Saratoga, I was a child. I would get the media guide published by NYRA each year very excited about the opportunity to get one of these world class athletes to sign my book. I would stand outside the jockey’s room with other kids my age and a little older, and as the jockeys descended to the paddock walk and put pen and book in their hands. After the race was run, I and other children would stand at the pathway at the Clubhouse exit as the jocks returned to their room either asking for goggles (the ultimate prize) or signatures from the jockeys missed on the trip to the paddock.
In between races, the back of the jock’s room was open for fans to watch and interact with the jockeys. Fans could see jockeys warming up on the exerciser, playing Ping-Pong, handicapping races and just relaxing. The fans could see the jockeys weigh in before the race. They would interact with the fans rarely something seen in professional sports.
The proposed plan for the renovations to the jockeys room will take this contact away from the fans. The plan is to have the jockey’s room above the fans in the saddling enclosure. This area is restricted to only horsemen, which would diminish the access to the jockeys by the children and general fans. This would be a travesty if it were allowed to materialize. Would jockeys have a more private place to go between races, yes. Would this change the inherent nature of Saratoga for the youngest fans, absolutely.
The move to the paddock does not take into account those fans who may not be credentialed. It fails to take into consideration and true appreciation of one of the most unique aspects of Saratoga; the accessibility by fans to the trainers and jockeys. Taking this away will detract from what has been the true essence of Saratoga, the ability to connect with horse, jockey and trainer. Remember the sage words of John Hendrickson, who in an article published by the Saratogian said these words “Saratoga is the people’s track.” Do not move the jockey room and make Saratoga just another track where prospective fans lose out on contact with pound for pound the greatest athletes in sport.