2018 racing season takes off at Batavia Downs

Jul 24, 2018

“And, they’re off.”

The commonly heard announcement at the start of a race could also refer to the beginning of the Batavia Downs racing season, which got underway Monday evening in the first of 70 scheduled racing dates in 2018.

The rain that visited Batavia put a little bit of a damper on the occasion attendance-wise, Director of Live Racing Todd Haight felt, but said the harness racing drivers like the changes made as part of the $600,000 in improvements to the paddock - such as the new barn that, combined with the already existing four-race paddock, will make it possible for six races to be in the paddock at one time.

“I’m very optimistic with all the improvements. We think we’re going to have a big season,” Haight said. The unfortunate thing, he said, was the rain Monday night in what has been a mostly dry summer.

Of the dozen races run Monday night, Andy Miller was scheduled to be in nine of them. The New Jersey resident has won over 9,000 races in his career, Haight noted as he went about his business on the first day of the 72nd year of racing at Batavia Downs.

Sitting up in the drivers’ lounge before the races got going, Miller said he has been in racing for over 30 years.

“The New York Sire Stakes - we travel around New York with Sire Stakes horses,” he said. “This (Batavia Downs) is one of the stops. It’s a nice place.”

Miller said he and his wife train a stable of about 50 horses.

“Over the last several years, we’ve brought several horses here and done pretty well,” he said. “As far as the ones my wife trains, we brought three horses. I drive in more races than just those three.”

Miller said races continue even in the rain.

“It doesn’t slow us down as long as it’s not lightning. You don’t want to be out there when it’s lightning,” the veteran driver said.

Another harness driver, Ake Svanstedt, said remarked on how much better the facilities are with the improvements.

“We have two fillies this year,” Svanstedt said. “Last year, we had four fillies. I won all four fillies on Opening Day. They had good horses last year.”

A local harness racer who returned to Batavia Downs Monday was Jeff Gregory, who grew up in Churchville, but has lived in New Jersey for the last 20 years. The 51-year-old said he comes up to Batavia periodically for Sire Stakes races.

“The physical improvements are nice. They’ve done a lot of work here, the new barn and the new upstairs,” Gregory said.

Gregory said Batavia Downs is close to where his father, Gary, lives.

“It’s just close to home. I get to see some people I grew up with that I haven’t seen in awhile,” he said.

When it came to competing in the Batavia Downs opener, Gregory said, “We’re hoping for the best. Like anything, you need some luck, but we’re hoping to do well ...”

Among those outside for the races were Dave and Kathy Rickwalt, who were there with their grandson, Anthony Andrews, 6. All three are from Akron.

“He’s a big fan (of horse racing). His mother asked him if he wanted to go to the races with us and he said, ‘Is that even a question?” Dave Rickwalt said.

While Anthony’s former favorite harness racer was Corey Callahan, Drew Monti is his current favorite.

“He’s been going to races since he was 2 1/2 or 3 years old,” Dave Rickwalt said.

By Brian Quinn, Batavia Daily News