Saratoga always brings to mind two things: horse racing and poor Adelaide in Guys and Dolls. She’s desperate for gambler Nathan Detroit to take her to Niagara Falls and tie the knot, but he never makes it that far. “And they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time . . .” See it here!
Our recent upstate New York trip included a stop-off in Saratoga, less than two hours north of New York City, where we watched an afternoon of graded stakes races. Our betting system has a perfect record: we lose every time! But not this time. We won enough on one race to come out ahead. That’s if you don’t count parking, what we paid for the program, and a bag of chips. But a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
If you do go, note that you don’t need to go through the complicated reservation system for the Turf Club and other sit-down restaurants. There are plenty of food vendors. And I’ll bet (this one I won’t lose), you can get a beer or cocktail, too. You can find an online map of parking (including free parking), but parking is not a problem.
The pair of trumpeters who play the iconic call to the post wandered through the reserved seats and entertained a bit—“When the Saints Go Marching In” and the like. There are about forty minutes between races for walking around, finding a snack, and seeing the paddock area.
But the big attraction not to miss is Saratoga’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame “where the history of thoroughbred racing comes to life!” Fascinating permanent exhibits about horse racing in America (which started in the Colonial era with some of my ancestors) up to today. Artworks, replays.
And, at present, a special exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat and his jockey, Ron Turcotte’s, astonishing 31-lengths Belmont victory (see it here). We have a friend who was at that race! It was an amazing performance.
My husband rides every week, and we couldn’t feel more respect for these wonderful animals. I know there are plenty of questions about the ethics of horse-racing, and I won’t convince any anti-racing advocates. Certainly, everything should be done to protect the animals, like adopting some of the European practices that make the sport safer there, and, possibly, my friend Eileen’s idea that major races like the Kentucky Derby shouldn’t be for three-year-olds. Giving them another year might let them gain strength. Various sources say equine skeletal development and bone growth is complete by age two, though the supporting muscles and soft tissue may continue to increase. When you look at that 1500-pound animal and those immensely slender ankles, it’s no wonder the sport is risky.
Still, a well-run horse race is a thing of beauty.
Related Reading: Hyperion’s Fracture by Thomas Kelso about the effort to safe an injured race-horse. The veterinary aspect was fascinating, though the pharmaceutical exec bad-guy a little over-the-top for my taste. You learn a lot while rooting for Hyperion.