Photo: Gary Quill
After making my first visit to Saratoga Race Course in 2009, which was sparked by a Father’s Day gift promise for my then 84 year old Dad and horse racing mentor Mike Quill, I pledged to myself it would not be the last. In fact, my goal was to make it an annual pilgrimage to Saratoga Springs for Opening Day at “The Spa”.
The following year I pitched the trip to a good friend Chris Voxakis who is a longtime horse owner and Maryland resident. To my surprise he had never been and without hesitation said, “I’d love to go!”
Once again, arrangements were made to attend Opening Day at the storied track. As we walked from the parking lot towards the historic venue, with a view of the grandstand from Union Avenue, Chris’ jaw dropped like a kid on Christmas morning and exclaimed, “Oh my God, I can die now.”
The setting around Saratoga makes one feel as if you have walked onto the set of “Seabiscuit”. Aside from the betting machines and video screens showing the races, everything about Saratoga is old school horse racing. That is the charm of this grand old track, attracting 25,000+ patrons DAILY during Saratoga’s annual late summer meet. Yes… that’s 25,000 horse racing fans, unlike what occurs daily at other tracks across the country or even on Derby or Preakness Day where you’d be hard pressed to find 25,000 horse racing fans among the 100,000+ in attendance. So what’s the attraction?
Another friend who will be making his 28th consecutive pilgrimage to “The Spa” summed it up best saying, “…it’s a festival. It’s the way horse racing should be…the entire town of Saratoga Springs, NY goes nuts over horse racing when Saratoga is open”. Until you experience it as my Dad, Chris and I did for the first time, not even the most passionate horse player (that would be me) cannot appreciate the lasting affect a day at Saratoga will have on you.
The most amazing and refreshing sight is the vast number of 20-something men and women holding a program or Daily Racing Form instead of their favorite alcoholic beverage, a sight seldom seen at Churchill Downs and Pimlico on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of May, respectively. Maybe there is hope for the future of thoroughbred horse racing.
So if you can squeeze in another vacation this year, or next June when you’re debating on what to give your Dad, or your tell your son or daughter what you’d like for Father’s Day, consider a trip to Saratoga…
… 5-hour car ride from Baltimore to Albany (tank of gas & tolls), $55
… Hotel in Albany (a 25 minute drive to Saratoga), $85 per night
beats $400 per night in Saratoga Springs. Thanks Hotwire.com
… Trackside Parking, $12 or General Parking is FREE
… Admission and Race Program, $6.50
… Memories of spending the day at the best track in the country
with your Dad, son, daughter and/or friends… PRICELESS!