On Monday, I got a release informing me that today, NYRA would unveil its proposed capital improvements for Saratoga Race Course, and that tonight, it would hold a community forum to get public opinion on the proposals.
Really? Really? On one of the FOUR days of the whole meet that I won’t be there? Really?
Having read, written, heard, and talked extensively about Saratoga’s architectural history this summer, I find something wildly unfair in the timing of this whole thing.
If you paid any attention to what Paul Roberts said in his lecture about Saratoga on August 10, you knew that some pretty big changes were in store. While extolling Saratoga’s architectural virtues and history, he also emphasized, “Saratoga is a story of constant change,” change necessary to meet the needs of the racing public.
I’ve been bracing myself ever since.
A NYRA press release details the proposals and includes renderings that will be on display at the track this weekend. Not having had a chance to see the renderings in full or up close, or to talk to anyone to get more information, here are some quick reactions. Click on the photos to enlarge them.
The new jockeys’ house above the current saddling stalls is visually interesting and it could be fun to watch the jocks hanging out up there between races. But to many of us, the walk to the paddock along the horse path from the current jockeys’ room is a staple of the Saratoga experience. The opportunity for photos, to get a close-up look, to steal an autograph, and yeah, even to trash talk a little are part of what makes Saratoga unique. The jockeys’ accessibility is an oft-lauded part of being at the track, and if that disappears, as it seems it will, I think it’s a loss.
Re-pitching the apron is a no-brainer good idea. Boxes at the top of each stairway? Withholding opinion until I can see more.
No problem at all with replacing the hideous At The Rail Pavilion and luxury suites on the clubhouse turn…if what replaces them is less hideous. Comfortable, upscale areas for patrons are a fact of life at modern sporting facilities, and Saratoga should have them. Just please, please, please let them be designed with some architectural authenticity and charm….which the current facilities utterly lack.
More backyard, less parking? Oh, yeah.
New box seats? Cautiously optimistic. The current boxes are delightful in their creaky, tiny, antique, uncomfortable way. I’d hate to see them completely re-designed, but increasing comfort while retaining their historical elements makes sense to me.
A new building at the top of the stretch has the potential to recall the old betting ring and field stand that stood there for decades. A fine idea in concept; its success will depend on the execution.
I am charmed by the description of the re-purposing of the saddling shed. If we’re not going to saddle horses in it, then why not drink Champagne under it? Allowing patrons access to this Saratoga landmark instead of restricting it to offices is a terrific idea.
The backstretch housing at Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows has clearly influenced the designs for Saratoga. Look, the people who work on the backstretch deserve the most comfortable, modern facilities that NYRA can afford. But the architectural models from Florida will look disastrous here. The designs make me uneasy, though I imagine that designing and constructing buildings that look like 19th century barns is just wildly impractical. Still…
I reserve the right to back off any and all of these opinions once I get back upstate to see the designs more closely and to talk to people at Saratoga. One thing, though, is pretty much certain: that Saratoga track guide I wrote this summer is going to need some serious revision.
My recent writing on this and related topics:
“Saratoga keeps traditional feel even as it modernizes,” Daily Racing Form
“Saratoga Race Course deserves respect, rehabilitation,” Saratogian
“Roberts on Saratoga: ‘There’s none in the world like it,’” Brooklyn Backstretch