Springtime Comes to the Spa

Winter in Saratoga Springs, New York, is difficult. Spring has finally arrived, and though it’s rainier than we’d like, it’s vastly preferable to the feet of snow that have only recently melted away. That said, it’s easy to understand how eagerly we Saratogians await the first signs of the heady days of the upcoming meet at Saratoga Race Course. For me, this happens in three phases: 1. the opening of the Oklahoma training track; 2. the beginning of the meets at Keeneland and Belmont; and 3. the Triple Crown season.


Phase 1 happened so quickly I almost missed it. It generally begins with the appearance of horse vans from Brook Ledge and Sallee making their way north on I-87. It’s right around this time that Saratoga residents start coming out to enjoy the balmy weather, and as the vans wind their way through the streets toward the Oklahoma track on Union Avenue, we crane our necks to attempt a glimpse of the four-legged summer visitors inside. Broadway starts to brighten with the vibrant colors of flower baskets and familiar faces of repeat seasonal residents begin to reappear all around town.


The start of phase 2 is always more subtle. One by one the trainers, jockeys, and horses in my Equibase virtual stable begin migrating away from the tracks and training centers in the far south and I am notified of their workouts and races at first at Keeneland, then at Belmont. Pretty soon, Louisiana and Florida disappear altogether and the thrill of racing moves steadily closer to my backyard. Simultaneously, Oklahoma continues to fill its stalls and the bustle of Saratoga builds exponentially.


My favorite of these stages is always phase 3. Not too much of a surprise, I guess; it is the most exciting, racing-wise. Whether hosting or attending Triple Crown race celebrations, I’ve traditionally enjoyed the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in fairly casual style. This year was different. After attending my first Breeders’ Cup weekend at Churchill Downs last November, I decided to view the 2011 Derby live in Louisville.  I paid extra attention to the Derby prep races, followed the contenders and read every bit of news and all the updates I could download, re-tweet, or otherwise get my hands on. By the time I arrived in the Bluegrass I was ready. Oaks/Derby weekend was all that I anticipated, plus some pleasant surprises.  I greeted Sunday, May 8, completely spent, my ostrich feather fascinator only slightly worse for the wear (and the light rain).


Returning to Saratoga, it was obvious that we are almost ready to race. The traffic on Union, Nelson, and East Avenues is a bit more animated, but not nearly as bad as it will be soon; and yes, the parking downtown is beginning to show the early signs of summer congestion. But Broadway is livelier, the backstretch is booming, and the anticipation for post-time is palpable. All good signs that some of summer’s best racing is almost here. Let the countdown begin.


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Older Comments about Springtime Comes to the Spa...

Melaina, great blog I enjoy reading it. I am posting here because my wife and I will be in Saratoga for the Travers weekend (Friday and Saturday). This will be our first visit and we are really looking forward to it. I was wondering if you (or anyone else) could give me any tips or "must do's" so we can make the most of our trip. Thank You
  • Mike in SB · Eat at Hatties · 2323 days ago
  • MBPhipps · Minethatbird08: I'm sorry for the delay in responding to your post! Yes, Mike in SB's advice is sound, DO eat at Hattie's. Also, though, try the patio at Sperry's, the courtyard at the Adelphi Hotel for drinks, I love the food at Mouzon House and a great new Italian place called Capriccio Saratoga. Uncommon Grounds is great for coffee and people watching on Broadway. Have breakfast at the track one morning to watch the horses' morning works, or try a morning backstretch tour! Please feel free to email me at mbphipps@gmail.com if you have any questions or need more suggestions! · 2298 days ago
Thank you for your description of the "Three Phases." You captured them perfectly and brought back memories of my boyhood. I grew up in Saratoga in the '50's and can remember when the horses arrived by train. Since our house was right next to the railroad tracks on West Circular St near Beekman, I would, as a boy look for the "horse cars" in any train that went past the crossing after June. As soon as I'd spot them, I'd call my buddies who would ride their bikes to my house and we'd walk over to the ramp across the street from the D&H Freight Office and wait for the horses to be transported via the railroad siding. We'd watch as the thoroughbreds were marched down the ramp and paraded toward their ultimate destination the barn areas at Oklahoma and the Main Track Backstretch.
  • MBPhipps · Hi Saratoga John, thanks for your comment; I'm glad you enjoyed my version of Saratoga in the spring. There is definitely an expectant air that settles over Saratoga in these weeks and, at least for me, it is unmistakable. What wonderful memories you have of Saratoga and the horse cars on the trains--I'd have loved to see that! I hope you still get to the races at the Spa! · 2365 days ago
I went to Saratoga for the first time in 2008 to see Curlin win the Woodward and I've been hooked ever since. People don't exaggerate when they say there is an aura about that place that just feels like 'history' coming alive! I'm looking forward to visiting this year.
  • MBPhipps · It's easy enough to get hooked by a horse or a race, but add that to Saratoga and all hope of NOT getting hooked is certainly lost!! You're not alone counting down to opening day! · 2370 days ago
Nice post, I have been coming to Saratoga for the Travers weekend for 30 years and am planning to retire there, although I am not too sure about the winters. Your post makes me want to go today! Here is my only complaint, I play club polo out here in Santa Barbara and have often played against the Cal Poly college teams that always seem to lose in the college finals to UVA. Tell UVA to give someone else a chance.
  • MBPhipps · Travers weekend is a great Saratoga tradition to uphold! Winters however, are indeed NOT the greatest! What can I say about UVA...we're serious about our polo! But surely Cal Poly will have its day in the finals as well. :-) · 2370 days ago
I cannot wait, Melaina. Hoping mightily to be in Saratoga for a good part of the summer. Welcome to the team!
Thank you all for your comments!
  • MBPhipps · Rennie: One of the nicest things about Saratoga is the rich history combined with the welcoming and relaxing social scene... See you there this year. IronMaidens: Hi Laura! Thanks for the welcome. Of course you would have the reverse experience--LOL--never thought about it! ZATT: See you in the clubhouse this year?? :-) · 2375 days ago
Just shows how close we really are to the Saratoga meet. A really nice article.
Can't wait for the annual pilgrimage. 2 months to opening day. Obviously from my screen name I'm rather a fan of Saratoga. Drinks at Siros, Broadway after the races, breakfast at Beverley's. No place I'd rather be. Last year I played a round of golf at Saratoga Spa golf course & got paired up with Jorge Chavez. Where else can you walk onto a public golf course & get paired up with a Kentucky Derby & Eclipse winning jockey? It was awesome..
Welcome to HR Nation Melaina. I have the same observations, just in reverse, lol....when Fall comes to Florida...
Wonderful initial post, Melaina ... the only problem is now I am even more in 'can't wait to get back to Saratoga' mode than I was before reading ;-)

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