David O'Rourke Joins TDN Writers' Room Podcast To Talk Saratoga

David O'Rourke | Coglianese

After a very successful mini-meet highlighted by the running of the GI Belmont Stakes, NYRA is set to return to Saratoga for the start of the 2024 meet. Guiding the ship will be NYRA President and CEO Dave O'Rourke, who will be hoping for sunny skies, no breakdowns and record attendance and handle numbers. That's a lot to ask, but it is Saratoga, where magical things happen. To talk about the meet, O'Rourke joined this week's TDN Writers' Room Podcast Presented by Keeneland. He was the Green Group Guest of the Week.

With the goal of having as few fatalities as possible, O'Rourke said that NYRA continues to work on the safety aspects of its tracks.

“This is a high-octane sport and safety has to be number one,” he said. “So in terms of our tracks, they have all just been tested. (track surface guru) Mick Peterson was just out here. They all look good. The feedback's been very good. The weather for this meet should not be nearly as wet and rainy as it was last year. Then we have the HISA protocols to work with and they have been refined. There's been some changes when it comes to, one, injectables and, two, timeliness. With HISA, you're really starting to see the effects of having a unified structure here for safety. ”


A Tapeta surface is expected to debut at the new Belmont Park in late 2026. Any chance NYRA would ever install one at Saratoga?

“We are looking at the engineering to see what it would look like,” O'Rourke said. “You would think it'd be on the inside, obviously, like a seven-eighths track. You'd widen the actual outer turn, of course, but then you might be limiting your turf program. But in other ways, you might be extending it because you can come off it and you're not going up to rough up the turf courses in foul weather. That's in discussion. It's very early on. That's a big change for up here. It would have to be done right.”

This will be a first for NYRA, where races were run at Saratoga before the primary meet started. This gave O'Rourke and his team a chance to do a dress rehearsal, and they were very happy with how well the Belmont meet went off.

“It was amazing, actually. It was it was incredible,” he said. “That really sets up some momentum rolling into the meet. The fans are at the core of this. It's an entertainment product, and the fans up here are so bought in. We're looking for amazing crowds. There's just so many aspects to this in terms of really throwing a party for 40 days when you get down to it. Everyone has so much fun up here. We just hope it stays dry. That's always the challenge with Saratoga, the weather, and that's the one thing you can't control.

In our breeding spotlight section we took a look at the WinStar stallion Nashville.

Elsewhere on the podcast, which is also sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders' Association, West Point Thoroughbreds, WinStar, XBTV.com and the KTOB, the team of Randy Moss, T. D. Thornton  and Bill Finley discussed the latest chapter in the war over HISA, which included a favorable court ruling from The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for the anti-HISA forces. But Thornton, who has been covering the story for the TDN said not to expect any changes any time soon and that the matter might not be resolved until it hits the Supreme Court some time next year. The group also previewed the Saturday card at Saratoga, which features four stakes, including the GI Diana Stakes.

Click here for the audio version of the podcast and for the video.

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