by Diana Pikulski
Seven-time Saratoga leading owner Michael Dubb is the founder of The Beechwood Organization, Long Island’s largest homebuilder which he operates with his son Steven. Dubb prides himself on attention to detail and building houses that feel like homes. Dubb, much like how he manages his highly successful racing stable, is on-site and hands-on in his design-build business.
These days you will find Dubb on the job in Saratoga Springs, a city for which he has had a growing affection. Dubb first visited Saratoga as a racing fan. His passion for Thoroughbred racing began at Belmont Park when he was a teenager. As a young adult, he made his first drive to Saratoga Springs and he knew right away that this city would have a special place in his life.
“I had been a fan of horse racing starting with the races at Belmont Park from about the time I was 15 or 16 years old,” said Dubb. “I had never heard of Saratoga. A friend said “Come up”, so I went up in my van and I had never seen anything like it, and the feeling I got from Saratoga decades ago has never left me.”
Recently, Dubb was approached to look at a unique and partially incomplete development called Oak Ridge. The development comprises over 150 acres, but as part of the master plan, the homes are to be clustered overall to only about 50 acres. The remaining one hundred acres of natural land has been preserved as open space, including trails that connect to walking trails throughout Saratoga. Dubb purchased the property and has now set upon finishing the project.
“As a home builder, I’ve built over 7,500 homes downstate in over 65 communities, and Saratoga has always been a place I came for pleasure and excitement and vacation, and I’ve done that my entire life,” said Dubb. “And just on a lark, I was asked to look at the Oak Ridge property and I had never seen property as beautiful as Oak Ridge. I was completely dumbfounded that property with this topography, and type of trees, and with this type of natural beauty still existed so close to Saratoga Race Course.”
The project feels more like a series of connected neighborhoods than a typical development which conjures up imagines of streets and homes that all look alike. The architecture and layout of Oak Ridge reflect the look and feeling of Saratoga Springs’ history including alleyways and carriage houses in some places.
“The previous developer, who’s a long-time Saratoga resident, Jeff Snyder, had a vision for this property, and his vision was exactly what my vision would have been,” said Dubb. “As creative developers, you try to have vision. You try to imagine something. So, the idea here was to really take old Saratoga and bring it to a location that’s just a couple miles from the heart of Saratoga. We’re actually 2.6 miles to the entrance to the racetrack.”
“If you gave me a homework assignment and said drive through downtown Saratoga, pick the best of the architecture, pick the best of the feel, I would come back and I would design Oak Ridge the way it is today and the way it will be in the future,” said Dubb. “This is really old Saratoga, but being built in the 2000s, as opposed to the 1800s and the 1900s, when Saratoga Springs was built.”
Like Saratoga Springs, Oak Ridge will have homes to fill different needs and lifestyles. Every home will be custom. There are carriage homes that range in size from 2,200 square feet to 3,200 square feet, traditional homes that will range in size from around 2,600 feet to 4,500 feet all with every conceivable luxury appointment and bell and whistle you would want in a house.
“And then, finally, we have super luxury lots reserved, known as ridge lots,” said Dubb. “And those houses really can be anywhere from about 4,000 feet to 6,000 feet and over. They can have anywhere from four bedrooms to six or seven bedrooms, as many bathrooms as you need, and those are perched on a ridge. And when you are in those homes, you are along the hundreds of acres of preserved land in your backyard.”
Dubb’s two life pursuits–being a successful design-builder and running champion racehorses–come together in his investment in Saratoga Springs. As a NYRA board member, he is also directly involved in operating the world’s most important racing jurisdiction. This same sense of dedication is apparent in his charitable endeavors. In 2000, through his friendship with Jerry Bailey, Dubb learned of the mission of the Belmont Childcare Association and decided to build and donate materials for the construction of Anna House, the state-of-the-art 7500-square-foot learning and day care center for the children of Belmont Racetrack’s backstretch workers. In 2011, to accommodate additional children, Dubb built a 1500-square-foot extension. It was his experience in helping the backstretch workers that inspired him to become a racehorse owner.
“I built the daycare center and we opened it in 2001, only a few months before 9/11,” said Dubb. “And from that point on, my roots and my attachment to the people on the backside was cemented. They’re great people and it brings so much pleasure for me to see them have a safe place for their kids, for their kids to go in, get that foundation. They learn to speak English, they learn computer skills, they learn chess, they learn gardening, arts and crafts. So, it’s so great to see them graduate ready for regular school in cap and gown from Pre-K, and instead of being behind the curve, they’re ahead of the curve.”
Dubb’s commitment to helping people with his skill and resources as a builder did not stop at the Belmont backstretch. At Saratoga Racecourse, he led in the renovation of several NYRA backstretch dormitories and the construction of new dormitories, and has committed to a day care center at Saratoga Racecourse.
“I designed the dormitory rebuild on the back of a napkin with Glen Kozack and brought it to NYRA and said, `We have to do this. The people deserve a better place to stay,’ said Dubb. “Now, I’m building a daycare center at Saratoga that I’ll be donating.”
If not for COVID-19 and the possible ban of owners as well as fans during the races at Saratoga this summer, Dubb would likely be there to watch at least two of his current champions race at the meet. Uni, who finished third on June 27 in the GI Just a Game Stakes her first time out in 2020 and is now a possible starter in the GI Four Star Dave, and Monomoy Girl who is currently in the midst of her 2020 comeback.
“We don’t know what the summer looks like in terms of fans or owners, and nobody does it this time,” said Dubb. “Because of the project, I will be in Saratoga at least once a week. And yeah, it would have been nice to have been able to be here, to watch the horses run. But we can only hope.”
NYRA’s decision to run the meet in Saratoga without fans rather than run all summer at Belmont Park was based on a bet in handle numbers. Senior Vice President of Racing Martin Panza told the TDN on April 25 that fans will bet more on a spectator-free Saratoga meet than they would on spectator-free meets at Belmont or Aqueduct. Even if the racing and the makeup of the fields was virtually the same, the other two tracks cannot compete with the Saratoga brand. Dubb is confident that Saratoga’s brand will carry the historic meet through the current crisis.
“From the point of view of the sport and fans, Saratoga is really the Riviera of racing and it will always be the Riviera of racing,” said Dubb. “When you look at the history of Saratoga, racing has been going on for countless decades and has survived world wars. It’s survived recessions. It’s survived depressions. It’s just a monumental place and racing in Saratoga is a monumental event.”
“Owners will always want to run in Saratoga. They’ll always want to see their horses run in Saratoga, and Saratoga will endure the challenges that 2020 is bringing their way.”
At this time, the Saratoga business community is in the process of reopening after the pandemic-induced shut down. Restaurants and retail shops are reopening at a steady clip and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce is hosting daily events to boost the return of visitors and commerce. Even racing without spectators is expected to stimulate the local economy which is so dependent on racing and the remarkable number of fans, and other additional people it brings to town. But the long-term impact of the pandemic on the Saratoga economy remains to be seen.
“This Summer in Saratoga will clearly be unlike any before,” said Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re adapting with many area communities and lots of restaurants setting up viewing parties and expanding outside dining to create a new experience for guests. The slogan for Saratoga Springs has been `Health. History. Horses.’ So in a way this is the year where we truly put health first.
“The impact and spread of COVID-19 here has been far different from New York City. There have been just 65 cases since March in Saratoga Springs as people here have taken this seriously and are wearing masks and socially dteistancing as much as possible. Our Chamber actually gave out reopening kits to local businesses as they reopened and each one contained masks, disinfecting cleaner, hand sanitizer, signs about wearing masks and social distancing, a spray bottle and a bucket. The community has said and acted in a way to show we are stronger together from the first days the pandemic hit.”
Dubb expressed his sympathy and concern for local businesses.
“From an economic point of view, the challenge is to the business people of Saratoga who generate so much revenue in those few months, and sadly there may be some who don’t make it,” said Dubb. “I think that people will come to Saratoga anyway, but not in the numbers they came when a meet was running, when they could go see the racing. Economically, it’s a challenge. But I think on the other side of it, there will probably be a greater appreciation for Saratoga.”
“I know so many people whose lives are turned upside down because they can’t physically be at Saratoga this summer. So, I guarantee you they’ll be back with a vengeance and there will be some pent-up demand just like there was with racing when we couldn’t race for a couple months. That pent-up demand immediately got reflected in the betting handle numbers that have been astronomical, and the betting handle is really the gasoline that goes in the vehicle that makes the car go because without betting handle, we don’t have purses. Without purses, we don’t have owners. Without owners, we don’t have trainers. And that’s why even this summer, it’s so important that the horses race at Saratoga because people, even if they can’t be there, they will watch it. They will imagine themselves being there through the TV and they’ll be back with a vengeance next summer, God willing.”
Ask Michael Dubb if his connection to Saratoga and racing gives Oak Ridge a special place in his heart, and the answer is `yes.’
“Well, this project, because it’s the first one, is like my baby,” said Dubb. “It will get, and it has gotten, special attention. Saratoga is so important to my heart, it’s incumbent on me, and super-important that this get done right and really be a lasting legacy.”
For more information, visit OakRidgeInSaratoga.com or call (518) 290-7627.
cover photo: Sarah Andrew