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Viewing stand put on hold at Spa track

Plan spurs safety concerns at training oval

Monday, April 29, 2013
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— Organizers have put on hold construction of a spectator viewing stand at the Oklahoma training track that was supposed to be completed for the Saratoga 150 Festival.

The New York Racing Association had started clearing and preparing the area for the public viewing stand at the end of the Oklahoma training track closest to East Avenue in Saratoga Springs.

But horse trainers and owners complained about the location of the multilevel viewing stand, saying that horses, especially 2-year-olds, would be “spooked” by the structure and people moving up and down inside the stand.

“NYRA is in the process of reviewing plans for the Oklahoma viewing stand in light of concerns recently raised by Saratoga horsemen,” said Ashley Herriman, a NYRA spokeswoman.

“The safety of horses and riders during the training and racing is our first priority and we want to ensure that all stakeholders are comfortable with the planned viewing area before proceeding,” she said in a statement.

The Oklahoma training track, which opened in early April, is where thoroughbred horse owners and trainers exercise and clock their horses, usually early in the morning.

For many years, members of the public were allowed to enter the backstretch area near the Oklahoma track and watch the workouts. This all changed with increased track security measures after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. These measures required proper credentials for all people entering the backstretch areas of the main Saratoga Race Course on Union Avenue and the Oklahoma training track across Union Avenue from the main track.

The Saratoga 150 committee, the group planning many special events this year to celebrate the 150th birthday of thoroughbred horse racing in Saratoga Springs, wanted to have a place where the public could again watch the morning workouts.

East Avenue access

The spectators would access the proposed viewing stand from East Avenue and wouldn’t need to enter the backstretch areas.

“There is no question that NYRA is taking the concerns of the horsemen seriously,” said trainer Rick Violette, who is president of the National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association as well as an ex-officio member of the NYRA board of directors.

Violette said NYRA doesn’t want to do anything to endanger the horsemen or the horses using the Oklahoma track.

He pointed out that the Oklahoma training track is very narrow compared with the wider main track of the Saratoga Race Course.

Anything that might cause a horse in training to “zig or zag” from its usual course could spell trouble for the horse and exercise rider and other horses and riders.

Building a new structure near a turn in the Oklahoma track could cause horses to act erratically, Violette said during a telephone conversation Monday.

“Morning [at the Oklahoma track] is organized chaos with horses going clockwise and counterclockwise,” he said. “It’s a dangerous sport, you don’t want to add to that danger.”

He said the intent of the viewing stand was “terrific” because it allowed the public to watch the workouts without “invading the backstretch.”

But the location of the stand at a turn in the track is not appropriate, Violette said.

“We will get it fixed. There will be some kind of mutual agreement,” he said.

“We remain fully committed to the project and will be meeting with horsemen in the near future to discuss the issues they have raised so we can mutually agree on a way forward,” Herriman said.

Celebration nears

The Saratoga 150 Festival starts in May with a major family-oriented Kickoff Celebration on Friday, May 24, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, said Ed Lewi of Saratoga Springs, one of the committee members.

The festival also includes such events as this week’s Saratoga Springs Horse Show, on the north side of Union Avenue east of NYRA’s Oklahoma facilities.

This will be the 54th consecutive edition of what formerly had been called the St. Clement’s Horse Show. The highly rated equestrian show brings talented riders and horses in hunters, jumpers and equitation competitions starting Wednesday and running through Friday. A second leg of the show runs May 8 through 12.

Admission is $3 for adults (with children 12 and under free).

 
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