Our annual pilgrimage to "The Spa" for its August thoroughbred racing calendar began innocently enough with a military weekend conference in Albany. An early afternoon dismissal led to a spur-of-the-moment jaunt up Interstate 87 to Saratoga Springs Race Track. It was so enjoyable that we decided to spend a weekend the following year. This has not only led to yearly trips for long weekends, but has also spilled over to include family and friends. Now we spend a minimum of two separate weekends there and also find time for a day trip or two.
Saratoga racing is fairly unique in that patrons are encouraged to picnic on the pleasant grounds behind the grandstands. The area has numerous trees for shade and many TV monitors and picnic tables. The area has become more and more popular over the years. For instance, on Travers Weekend (The Travers Stakes is the top race of the summer here, with a $1 million dollar purse), not only are all the tables taken by 7:01 AM, but, by the start of the racing day, just about all the available ground space is also taken by the hordes of bettors and their families and friends. We now avoid Travers’ weekend for this reason.
But the overall experience is definitely addicting. The atmosphere is festive, with all types of food and drink being consumed in great quantities throughout the day. Add to this the gorgeous thoroughbreds, their colorful jockeys, the owners and trainers in all their finery, and you have the makings of a Mecca. There are hundreds of people who spend their entire summer at Saratoga.
And if all this is not enough, there is also the charming town, with pleasant-to-walk streets, lined with shops and restaurants, residential neighborhoods of lovely, Victorian homes, and a city park whose gorgeous grounds are festooned with flowers and even a carousel. There are many other activities available in the area as well. There are museums (the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is here), dancing productions, a casino, and, of course, the spas from which the city got its name. Less than an hour north is Lake George with its many recreational opportunities, and, beyond that, the Adirondacks.
If you go on a weekend, the only way to insure getting a table is to arrive before 7 AM, wait in line for the gates to open, go in an stake out a table, leaving a tablecloth or chairs to claim the table as yours (don’t worry, no one will steal your stuff), then return when the ticket stalls are opened (usually 10:30 or 11 AM depending on the day). Most people actually return before 10 AM so they can bring all their other paraphernalia to the table before the grounds are cleared prior to the start of ticket-selling.