Saratoga Casino and Raceway has been called a few names through its 70 year history. The track, originally dubbed just Saratoga Raceway, was opened in 1941 as a facility for American harness racing and was the third racetrack to have pari-mutuel wagering. According to the history books, the Saratoga harness racing legend was born when two horses named Lady Suffolk (aka The Old Gray Mare) and Moscow were set against each other in a staged race.
During the height of racing, thousands of fans would visit to cheer on the horses. The track would offer grand-circuit racing, attracting some of the biggest names of racing at that day to the half-mile facility. The track was notorious in the early 80's for being where Niatross collapsed and fell on the inner rail on the stretch run home, losing his first race ever. But the advent of off-track betting and the economy led towards sour times for racing at the Raceway. Not wanting to surrender, the management changed the name of Saratoga Raceway to Saratoga Equine Sports Center in the 1990s, to reflect the plans of bringing in more horse-related activities to the facility. But the name change did not bring renewed interest in the sport. During the worst, races from other tracks in the state would have to be simulcast on the track's program in order to bring a nine-race card.
This all started to change in 2001 when New York State officials approved a measure allowing for VLT's to be installed at several race tracks in the state. In early 2002, Saratoga County officials approved the installation of the terminals at Saratoga Raceway. During the 2003 racing season, work was being done to the ground floor of the grandstand, transforming it from the racing facility it was to the gaming floor it is today. As a result, racing patrons watched the horses run from either the clubhouse, or the second floor of the grandstand. On January 28, 2004, Saratoga Raceway became the first racing facility in New York to open the video lottery games to the public, as thousands of patrons came to usher in the new era at the Raceway.
In reflection of the new video lottery games, the Saratoga Equine Sports Center changed its name in 2004 to Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, which would last until the start of 2011, when the facility changed names once more to Saratoga Casino and Raceway, reflecting the plans to introduce electronic table games to the facility and increase the diversity of gaming options at the racino.
The effects of the racino could immediately be found at the racing side of the facility. Purses started to increase dramatically. Prior to the VLTs, horses running in the highest level, the "Winners over $5,000 Lifetime" condition, was competing for approximately $4,500 in purse money. Today, horses running in the highest level, the "Open Handicap", now compete for approximately $16,000 in purse money. Horses who ran for the lowest class offered, a $2,500 claim, ran for $1,100 in purse money. Today, the lowest condition is offered for $3,200.
The racino measure also allowed Saratoga Casino and Raceway to offer the New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions in 2005 and 2006 while Yonkers Raceway was being renovated to allow for video slots. The two nights gave Saratoga Casino & Raceway the highest single-day purse offerings, with over $1 million up for grabs. The New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions will return to the racino for a third time on October 1st, 2011.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway's biggest race of the year is the Joe Gerrity Jr. Pacing Series, which is a four-leg series that takes place in August. The final of the 2011 edition takes place on Saturday, August 20th, and will feature horses racing for $125,000 in purse monies.
In May 2012, the track's parent company, Saratoga Harness Racing, agreed to buy Fitzgeralds Casino in Black Hawk, Colorado for $28 million. The sale closed in January 2013, with plans to spend $40 million on expansion and rename the property as Saratoga Casino Black Hawk.
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