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Islanders Arena Project Means Changes to NYRA Schedule, Including Longer Saratoga

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By Bill Finley

According to a source, the New York Racing Association Board of Directors has approved a resolution to adjust the opening day of the 2019 Saratoga meet to Thursday, July 11, eight days prior to what would have been opening day under the normal schedule. The meet will end on the traditional closing day, Labor Day, Sept. 2.

The number of racing days at the meet will be 40, the same as last year. During the second through fifth weeks of the meet, NYRA will race only five days a week, as opposed to six. Mondays and Tuesdays will be dark days.

NYRA cannot formally announce its racing schedule until it is approved by the New York Gaming Commission, but there is no reason to believe that agency will stand in the way of the proposed change.

The alteration of the Saratoga schedule is among a number of possible changes NYRA may have to make to its future racing schedules due to the construction of a new arena for the New York Islanders, which will be built adjacent to the far end of the track’s grandstand. Ground will likely be broken on the arena in late spring or early summer. The source said some of the construction will take place as close as 150 feet from the Belmont paddock. Operating a racetrack in what will essentially be a construction zone causes obvious problems and NYRA is seeking ways to lessen the headaches. By moving out of Belmont a week earlier than normal, that will ease some of the difficulties.

“There are equine safety issues that will arise both during morning training hours and during normal racing hours because of the proximity of the construction,” the source said.

So far, NYRA has yet to announce any of its racing dates or its stakes schedule past closing day at Aqueduct, Apr. 20. It had been waiting to get a clearer idea of when the arena construction would begin, but realized it needed to make an announcement about Saratoga so as to cause as little inconvenience as possible for horsemen, fans and employees.

“At this point, it is a little bit later than folks are accustomed to when it comes to our announcing not only the Saratoga schedule, but also the Belmont spring and Belmont fall schedules,” the source said. “We’re just looking at 2019 and confirming racing dates so people can finalize their plans for the summer and horsemen have some clarity when it comes to Saratoga.”

While the Saratoga 2019 dates were the only issue the NYRA Board voted on when it came to future racing schedules, it is clear that the arena project could affect NYRA’s racing schedule for some time, perhaps as much as two years. The Islanders arena is not expected to open until the start of the 2021-2022 hockey season.

For now, NYRA is focused only on coming up with a workable schedule for 2019 and what it needs to do to stay away from the construction as much as possible. The source said that it is possible that weekday cards at Belmont could start as late as 3:30 and that the Belmont fall meet could be shortened, with racing switching to Aqueduct earlier than normal.

“More likely than not there will be a condensed fall meet at Belmont Park followed by some version of the remainder of the Belmont fall meet being contested at Aqueduct,” the source said. “We want to be running as much as possible at Belmont Park. But once we get into the fall, it may become necessary to condense things and move over to Aqueduct. That piece of it has not necessarily been finalized. We understand this will require the patience of horsemen, patrons and all the various constituencies that make racing happen in New York. This is a significant project that will have an impact for some time.”

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