The 69th season of live racing at America’s oldest lighted harness track gets under way on Monday (July 27) with post time set for 6:35 p.m. That is the first of 70 live racing dates to be contested during the Batavia Downs summer-fall session that runs through Dec. 12.
The racing schedule begins with a Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday rotation for the month of August and switches to a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday slate for the remainder of the meet.
For the first time in track history, there are eight matinee cards to be held during the year. Besides the five Sundays in August, afternoon starts are also set for Labor Day (Sept. 7), Columbus Day (Oct. 12) and Breeder’s Cup day (Oct. 31). And two twilight Tuesdays have been penciled in for Sept. 15 and 22.
Post time for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are 6:35 p.m. until Oct. 21 when it gets pushed up to 6:15 p.m. for the remainder of the meet. All matinees start at 1:15 p.m. and the two Tuesday cards start at 4:30 p.m.
Todd Haight, general manager/director of Live Racing at Batavia Downs, is both busy and optimistic this week leading up to opening night as he handles many of the last minute details needed to make the meet successful.
“A new era of racing begins at Batavia Downs this year as we have inaugurated changes that will take racing here well into the future. Between the construction of the new trackside hotel, paddock changes, increased purses and our goal to present our live patrons with little down time between races with all our special events, the 2015 meet should be one to be remembered,” Haight said.
The changes Haight spoke about will be evident to both fan and horseman alike upon entering the Batavia campus, most noticeably the construction of a new four-story hotel at the top of the stretch that will overlook the track. Slated to open on New Year’s Eve, the property will be going up as the meet goes on.
In order to facilitate that project, the existing paddock alignment has changed. It is now a four-race enclosure with 16 new wash stalls just adjacent in Barn 1. Horsemen are advised to become familiar with the new paddock schedule, which is available on the Batavia Downs' Web site.
Purses have increased for many classes due to the increased handle on the gaming floor. To start the meet, the Open trot and pace will each go for $10,000.
Some of the best racing in the sport will be contested at the Genesee County oval this year, headed by a full complement of New York Sire Stake (NYSS) events. The best juveniles from the Empire State will compete here on July 27, Aug. 2-5-9-22 -30 and Sept. 4 and 16.
Then on Saturday (Oct. 3), the Downs will host the second richest night of racing ever (behind the Breeders Crown in 1988) when the $50,000 Robert J. Kane Memorial Invitational Pace and four $50,000 NYSS consolation events will headline the program. Horsemen will be competing for purses totaling almost $300,000.
Race Secretary Joe Zambito has put together another solid condition sheet and is anxious to get the meet under way.
“It’s a very exciting time at Batavia Downs with so many positive changes taking place. Our defending driving champion and seventh highest percentage driver in North America, Kevin Cummings, is back to protect his title along with our other veterans including Jim McNeight,” Zambito said.
“Our young guns are led by 'Driving Drew' Monti, Shawn McDonough and Dave McNeight III. And this year we welcome Craig Gilmour, who is shipping in with a 25-horse stable.”
Fans attending the live races will also notice some changes along with one of the most aggressive promotion lineups available at any race track.
This year there is no quinella wager; superfecta minimums have gone from .10 to .20; and the track introduces their new “Early Bird Daily Double,” available only in the Paddock Room to patrons attending the races live. Bettors who wager a total of $10 or more on daily-double wagers will receive $10 in free play for the Batavia Downs' gaming floor.
Twenty-three of the 70 racing dates feature promotions and giveaways that offer something for everybody.
On opening night there will be free racing programs and magnetic racing schedules (while supplies last) and that will be followed by Dollar Friday’s ($1 hot dogs, soda and beer) all during August. But the most anticipated events come after that.
Aug. 23 is Family Fun Day and features the ever popular dachshund or “Wiener Dog” races. A daylong schedule of special events designed especially for children will start at 2 p.m. and run through the afternoon. The 80-dog field starts their heats after the last live harness race. All events are sponsored by Genesee Feeds of Batavia.
Sept. 5 is a special driver bobble-head giveaway, sponsored by TAG Jewelers. More information on this (including the driver featured) will be released shortly.
Sept. 7 is the annual Labor Day matinee featuring the driver’s bike race, which got its start back in the 1970s. Eight of the Downs favorite reinsmen turn in their sulkies for 10-speeds to see who can peddle their way to victory. The eight bicycles used in the race will be randomly given away after the race to the fans who select the winning driver.
For more information on all the events at Batavia Downs this year, logon to www.bataviadownsgaming.com. There you can get full race schedules, entries, results and you can watch all the race replays immediately after each race has been declared official. Live streaming video of all the races is available by becoming a member of Bataviabets.com.