Day 9 – Return to Richmond

It’s our last morning in Saratoga for this year. We arise early and start packing, as our taxi will be arriving to take us to the railroad station at 9 a.m. Then it’s the last of the wonderful breakfasts in Circular Manor’s dining room for this year.

As we finish our last morsel and last sip of coffee, we say goodbye to Michele and Dieter and their dog, Emma, and take the suitcases to the taxi. It’s a short ride to the Amtrak station, which is actually open this morning, unlike when we arrived last week.

Soon the southbound Ethan Allen Express arrives from its starting point in Rutland, Vermont, and we’re on our way south. It is again a beautiful ride along the Hudson River. We reach Manhattan just after 1 p.m. with time to check our bags, grab another lunch at Friday’s on Penn Station’s main concourse, and then go to the lounge to await being called to the sleeper car. As we did earlier in year for our April trip to Manhattan, we always take a sleeper car home, because it gives us a chance to relax more fully and enjoy a scotch and a cheese tray, as we pull out of the station in Philadelphia around 5 p.m.

Then we disembark in Washington as the engines are changed from electric to diesel and finish the final leg of the trip with dinner. If we’re on time, we will be back in Richmond by 9:45 p.m. A quick drive to our house, and we see if our five cats still remember us. Tomorrow morning we hang the Saratoga flag on our house and keep it there until Labor Day, when the meet at the Saratoga Race Track ends. Meanwhile we dream of our delightful visit and look forward to next year.

Day 8 – Turf Terrace

This will be our last full day in Saratoga, so we try to make it special by going to the Turf Terrace, a restaurant on the top level of the Clubhouse at the finish line. We are usually able to get reservations for a small table for two with wonderful views not only of the finish line but of the whole track, including the pond in the middle of the infield where each morning they float out a canoe painted in the colors of the silks worn by the jockey who last won the Travers Stakes, the most famous race at Saratoga.

We start the day with our last visit for the year to the morning workouts. One last time we will be looking on as trainers time their horses and meet with some of the owners. Several years ago we saw Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole just a row behind us. They won the Breeders Cup Classic back in November with the horse Vino Rosso.

After the workouts, it’s back to Circular Manor for breakfast and getting ready for the Turf Terrace and our last day at the track. We take the elevator to the third floor of the clubhouse, check in and are escorted to our tables. We meet our waiter for the day. Often we see the same server each year.

Our table usually has a betting terminal at the end of the table, so we can place our bets without leaving our seats. The terminal also broadcasts each race so we can see the action on the far turns, but when the horses enter the home stretch we’re watching just over the railing to see who hits the finish line first.

For starters we usually have a bottle of Saratoga water and a basket of Saratoga chips. Saratoga claims to be the home of the first potato chip. Then we get a bottle of champagne to toast our last day at the track. We delay ordering lunch for a while, since we had a late, sumptuous breakfast at Circular Manor.

Wednesday’s card of races often starts with a steeplechase. These are longer races (up to 2.5 miles) and have the horses jumping over as many as eight different hurdles. Some of the horses are former flat racers, but the jockeys are usually a select group, not the ones who run on the rest of the card. Since we so seldom see steeplechase events, it’s hard to bet intelligently on them, but occasionally we have gotten lucky on wild bets.

For lunch we often have a lobster salad and another bottle of champagne. As the afternoon draws to close, we leave the Turf Terrace and take one last tour around the Backyard, stop by any vendor’s tents to pick up a gift that we have been thinking about for the past few days, and then we head to the paddock one last time to see horses getting saddled and trainers giving their jockeys last minute instructions.

Then we head to the Travers Bar for a final cocktail and take it to the finish line. We always watch the last race of our trip from that location next to the winner’s circle. Then we tally up and wins and loses and take our NYRA Cash Cards to a teller to cash it out. Last year I actually with more money than I started with, a rarity.

We walk one last time out of the entrance gates and down the driveway behind the paddock past some of the Backyard picnic tables and listen one last time to Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” which is always the closing song played over the track’s loudspeakers at the end of the race day. It’s a bittersweet walk out of the grounds and back to Circular Manor.

For dinner, since we had a large lunch, we often go to a restaurant on Broadway called The Wine Bar on Broadway. We sample different glasses of wine and usually share three or four appetizers instead of full entrees. Then it’s back to the Circular Manor of one last night cap on the Porch and an early night, since we have to arise early to back and catch our train back to Richmond tomorrow morning.

Today’s video features the intro of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

Day 7 – Walking in Saratoga

Tuesdays used to be the one day of the week when races did not run, so it was usually our biking day. Starting in 2019, the New York Racing Association added an extra week to the meet but removed one day of racing, so now both Monday and Tuesday are “dark.” Since we did the biking on Monday, today we will walk around town after another leisurely breakfast at Circular Manor.

First we walk two blocks to Congress Park, where we can sample water from some more springs, enjoy the greenery, look at some beautiful statuary, and visit the historic Canfield Casino, which is now home to the Saratoga Springs History Museum. In the Casino there are some interesting exhibits tracing the history of Saratoga from pre-Revolutionary War days to the present. Upstairs there are some restored rooms that give you a sense of the opulence that awaited the gamblers who frequented the casino in the evenings during the late 1800s.

An old-fashioned carousel sits at the northern edge of the park, and we usually walk by it to see children riding the horses. Then we leave the park and begin visiting some of the shops on or near Broadway, Saratoga’s main commercial street. One of our first stops is always a wonderful used bookstore, Lyrical Ballad at 7 Phila St. It has a half dozen rooms filled to overflowing with books. Of course, there are sections on Saratoga history and horses, but there are large rooms filled on books on almost every subject. We always find at least two or three unusual books here to be brought home.

After the bookstore we head a half block to Broadway and our favorite store called Impressions of Saratoga. We usually end up visiting this store at least two times during our week in Saratoga, as it has loads of gifts: jewelry, ties, glassware, ornaments, T-shirts, and memorabilia. There is so much that we can’t absorb it all in a single visit.

When it’s time for lunch, we usually head to a small crepe shop on Phila Street, called Ravenous. Their crepes are absolutely delicious, as are their pommes frites. We often sit at the table in the front window. One year we were there for one of Saratoga’s notorious sudden thunderstorms, and we watched the rain flow over the curb as we munched our savory crepes.

After lunch there are still more small shops to explore on Broadway. We stop by a second bookstore, Northshire Books, which features new titles. Broadway reminds us of a mix of Richmond’s Carytown and Georgetown, with many small locally owned boutiques and specialty gift shops. Some are very exclusive; others are quirky and inexpensive. Last year for the first time we visited Celtic Treasures and found some interesting items. We will make it a certain stop on every trip to Saratoga.

On the way back to Circular Manor, we may stop by a wine shop for a chilled bottle of wine to enjoy on the porch in the late afternoon. Then we get ready for dinner. Tonight we will go to Solevo, a small Italian restaurant at 55 Phila St. We visited Solevo for the first time last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, so it has also become part of our repeat list.

Tomorrow will be our last full day in Saratoga and our last day at the track, so it will be an early evening so we will have the energy to enjoy a full day.

Today’s video would feature the song “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, because it contains the line: “I hear you went up to Saratoga,/ where your horse naturally won,” but copyright restrictions prevent using it as the soundtrack. The movie is one we have not seen before: It Ain’t Hay (1943) which can be seen on YouTube.

Day 6 – Biking in Saratoga

Until last year Mondays in Saratoga were spent at the track as the 40-day meet at Saratoga started the last full week of July through Labor Day with races running six days a week, with Tuesday being the day off. In 2019, NYRA decided to start the meet a week earlier and run only five days a week, giving trainers, jockeys and race track personnel an extra day of rest.

If the weather forecast is good we will make Monday our biking day, but if there is rain in the forecast we delay this treat until Tuesday. With no races scheduled we usually are the only guests at Circular Manor, so breakfast will be quiet but still delicious.

After a slow-paced morning with no workouts to attend or racing forms to peruse, we get started on our two-part bike trip. Usually we spend the morning exploring all the streets between Circular Street, where the Manor sits, and East Avenue, just east of the race track. These are quiet, residential streets with a mix of grand mansions and small houses. Many of the smaller houses are rented out during the summer by the week or for the whole 40-day meet. We are always impressed by the neatly kept gardens of even the smallest homes. The flowers are always beautiful, and the town seems to grow the biggest hostas I’ve ever seen.

When we get to East Avenue, we ride our bikes by the Oklahoma Training Track, this is a track used only for training purposes. Some morning workouts are run here, especially if a horse needs training on the turf. NYRA doesn’t want the turf course at the main track chopped up in the mornings by training. Why is this track called Oklahoma? Apparently years ago, someone complained about the track being so far away from the main track that “it might as well be in Oklahoma,” and the nickname stuck. Actually it is not that far from the main track, just a block and half, and there are many stables, called Horse Haven, surrounding the Oklahoma track. When we ride our bikes by these stables in the morning, we can often see horses’ heads sticking out of the stalls resting and munching hay after their morning exercise.

We always ride our bikes on some of the residences north of the Oklahoma track. These are newer houses, some in a Cape Cod style, some very simple, others more lavish. Many have back porches that are adjacent to the Oklahoma, so the owners can sit on their back decks in the morning sipping coffee and watching horses work out. What a life!

After touring these areas, we always end up at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. We are supporting members of the museum and make a point of touring it every year. They often have interesting new exhibits, and in the Hall of Fame, they have plaques for the horses, jockeys, and trainers who have been elected to the Hall of Fame over the years. They often have interesting programs with retired and active jockeys and trainers and an occasional seminar on betting the ponies. Of course, we can’t leave without visiting the gift shop.

After the museum, we head to another of our favorite spots in Saratoga, the Saratoga Spa State Park. There are several ways to get to the park, but the easiest on bike is to go south on Lincoln Avenue, the route we take to morning workouts at the track, and then cut through another residential neighborhood.

The park contains over 2,300 acres filled with tall pine trees, many historic structures from the 1930s, two golf courses, a resort hotel, two public swimming pools, hiking trails, bike paths, and much more. One of the unique features of the park is a dozen mineral springs, remnants of the historic feature that first made Saratoga a resort destination in the 1800’s. In the late 19th century, the springs were used to extract carbonic acid gas, which was used to carbonate sodas. At one point there were 200 wells in operation in the area, which unfortunately led to the flow of many springs ceasing. In 1908 the state of New York passed an anti-pumping law. When the manufacturing plants ceased operation, the area was vacant.

During the early stages of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, started a construction project to build new spa buildings to house public baths and landscaping similar to famous European spas. Most of these buildings still exist, though converted to other purposes. One interesting building is the Spa Little Theater, which in the 1930’s through 1950’s attracted famous actors to what was known as the “straw-hat theater circuit” (summer theaters at popular resorts in New York and New England). Actors such as Ethel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, Bela Lugosi, and many more appeared on the Little Theater’s stage. Today a group called the Home Made Theater performs there in the fall, winter and spring.

For lunch we stop at a building called the Victoria Pools and have lunch poolside at a café named Catherine’s. Then we get back on our bikes and explore the park, visiting as many different springs as we can. Each has a distinctive taste. Some seem like clear seltzer water, while others are heavily sulfured and barely palatable.

We also ride by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), which was built in 1966. It is similar to Wolf Trap, with an amphitheater, covered seating and an extensive lawn seating with a varied summer program, including the New York City Ballet, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and popular bands, such as Dave Matthews.

Then we ride through the deeper sections of the park, where they have large picnic pavilions and hiking trails along large streams and more springs. We usually park our bikes and walk one of the steeper trails.

Occasionally we have stopped at the National Museum of Dance, which is located in a former bathhouse. They often have interesting exhibits on the history of dance and an interesting small gift shop.

Then it’s back on the bikes, and we return to Circular Manor. By the time our day is done we have usually biked over 20 miles. Now it’s time for a refreshing shower and dressing for dinner. Tonight we will go to a restaurant called 15 Church, which has a wonderfully diverse menu.

The song in today’s video is “Let the Big Horse Run” by John Stewart, which is about Secretariat, whose statue stands outside of the National Museum of Racing. The movie is Saratoga Trunk (1945), which includes scenes at the town’s famous springs.

Day 5 – Sunday at the Spa

Sunday is usually a quieter day for us in Saratoga Springs. We will start again with a bike ride to the track for morning workouts. The track offers a breakfast buffet in a restaurant called The Porch that sits on ground level just to the right of the finish line. We did that once eight years ago, but since their breakfasts can’t hold a candle to Dieter’s at the Circular Manor, we don’t do the buffet. After breakfast the track also offers a shuttle to the back stretch on the southern side of the track where most of the stables sit, so visitors can tour that section of the grounds. We enjoyed that several years ago, but now that we are part owners (a mere 3%) of a horse registered for New York racing, we have access to the back stretch without going on a formal tour.

What is so wonderful about the Saratoga Race Course that Barbara and I have returned every year for 10 straight years? First and foremost, the horses and the ability to get close to these beautiful animals. Yes, you can sit in the stands and watch them run or work out in the morning, but the arrangement of the grounds allows horse lovers to see them almost everywhere. One of Saratoga’s unique features is what is call the Backyard. There are hundreds of tall trees providing shade to several hundred picnic tables that stretch the whole width of the race course. Families bring coolers and lawn chairs and set up for an afternoon picnic. Trasversing the Backyard is the bridle path from one set of stables to the paddock where the horses are saddled and prepared for the next race, so if you sit at one of the picnic tables you will see just a few feet away a parade of horses at least 10 times a day. The paddock is adjacent to many picnic tables. On another side is a large tent over a crowded bar area, so if you are not picnicking you can grab an adult beverage and watch the horses being saddled and trainers giving last minute instructions to the jockeys. After the call for “Riders, up!” the trainers help the jockeys onto the horses and they walk to the track for the call to the post and the post parade.

Throughout the Backyard, there are dozens of large screen TVs broadcasting the action, so you don’t have to leave the picnic area to see a race. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) also has betting terminals throughout the Backyard, so you don’t have to go far from your picnic table to place a bet. Throughout the Backyard, there are food and beverage vendors, as well as an area where gifts are sold: T-shirts, cigars, horse jewelry, equine posters, prints and photographs. We always tour these at some point during our visit and come away with a new treasure. There is a pavilion that showcases upstate New York food delicacies or local breweries. Every day a new band plays throughout the afternoon a small bandstand. There is even a large playground for children, with racing themed activities. On each of the 40 days of the meet there are typically thousands of people of all ages and interests in the Backyard, making the atmosphere like a large state fair.

You can even find one of Saratoga’s famed springs in the Backyard: the Big Red Spring. “Big Red” was the nickname of both Secretariat and Man o’ War. You will find other named springs throughout Saratoga. These natural spring waters helped make Saratoga a famous resort in the 1800s. That’s why both the track and the town are called The Spa.

Sunday’s races are usually quieter affairs than Saturday, when the top graded stakes are run. Yesterday (Saturday, July 18), had two graded stakes, including the first Grade 1 of the meet, the Coaching Club American Oaks (CCAO). We were pleased to see Bill Mott’s horse, Paris Lights, win that race yesterday. Three years ago, Bill’s horse Elate was narrowly beaten at the finish line by Bob Baffert’s Abel Tasman. Yesterday, Bill turned the tables and narrowly bet Bob’s Crystal Ball. It was the first time Bill has won the CCAO since 1997. Paris Lights will now be recognized as one of the top 3-year-old fillies and may be favored for the Alabama a month from now.

I had three winning bets on yesterday’s card: a $6 winner on Paris Lights, $10.60 on a show bet on a long-shot in Race 7, and a $6.60 exacta in Race 3, so I recovered from Friday’s poor showing and am a few dollars in the black for the first three days of racing. We’ll see what happens today. Sundays are usually tricky.

After we place our bet on the last race of the day, we usually stop by the Travers Bar on the ground floor of the Club House adjacent to the path the horses take to the track and watch the last race of the day while sipping a cocktail. Then we count up our losses (or winnings) and head back to Circular Manor and sit on the porch for a while before heading to dinner.

Tonight it will be Salt & Char, a top-notch steak restaurant in the old Van Damm hotel next door to the Adelphi Hotel. We often see trainers and other familiar faces there. Then it’s back to the Circular Manor. We may sit on the porch for a longer night cap, since the track will be dark on Monday and we will sleep later.

Day 4 – Coaching Club American Oaks

On the fourth day of our trip to Saratoga, we have settled again into the routine of biking to the track for the morning workouts, sipping coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts as we watch the horses and trainers from the box seats at the finish line, returning to Circular Manor for a delicious breakfast and nice conversation with the couples from New Jersey. We discuss how we did yesterday. I had only two winning beats on Friday, both were FTG’s and MTO’s and FTG’s in races that were taken off the turf.

Let me briefly explain some of this racing lingo. Races at American tracks are run on dirt or grass (turf). Horses are specifically bred and trained for one surface or the other. A few rare horses, such as Catholic Boy a few years ago, find success on both dirt and turf. Each race on a given day has a set of conditions that a horse must meet in order to be qualified for the race. For example, Race 4 on Friday was for maidens (a horse who has never won a race), three-years old and upward, and foaled in New York state. The length of the race was set to be 1 mile and 1/16th on the turf. If it has rained, the turf course may be too slippery or soft, and the stewards (the officials in charge of the races) may decide to move the race to dirt, which will be less dangerous for the horses and jockeys and where racing will not do so much damage to the track surface. Trainers analyze these various conditions and possibilities and enter their horses in races where they stand the best chance of winning. Occasionally in turf races, trainers will enter their horses with a “main track only” (MTO) condition, meaning that the horse will run only if the trace is switched to the dirt. Otherwise the horse will be scratched (removed from the race). A standard handicapping angle is to bet on an MTO horse in a race that is moved to the dirt.

Another good bet is to pick a horse marked FTG (first-time gelding). This indicates that this race will be the first time the horse has run since being gelded, usually with the intent of calming the horse down and making it more focused. (This, of course, also means that the horse will never be retired early for breeding.) Some joke that this is the ultimate equipment change, far more serious than adding or removing blinkers, shadow rolls or other pieces of equipment intended to give a horse an advantage.

In Friday’s races, I bet on two MTO and FTG horses: in Race 5 #5-Too Early and in Race 10 #14-Cold Hard Cash. Unfortunately, many other bettors followed the same angle, and both horses were the favorite in the race, so my winnings were small: $6.20 in Race 5 and $5.70 in Race 10. Four of my other eight bets on the day were long shots that came in second. As a result we were down $2.60 from our first day bank roll.

Today is another day. In fact, today has one of our favorite races at Saratoga, the Coaching Club American Oaks. We have been here for the race nine times and seen some real stars, such as Song Bird, Abel Tasman, and Monomoy Girl. Mike Smith, who won the Triple Crown aboard Justify two years ago, was the jockey for both Songbird and Abel Tasman. The entries into today’s running of the Oaks are not as well known as those horses, but it will still be an exciting race for top-notch three-year-old fillies.

After the races we will head back to Circular Manor, relax on the porch with a scotch, lick our wounds or count our winnings from today’s races, and then freshen up for dinner at Fish at 30 Lake, a small seafood restaurant on Lake Avenue three blocks from the Manor. It’s usually not as crowded on a Saturday night as the restaurants on Broadway, and if the weather is nice they have some sidewalk seating.

Then it’s back to Circular Manor to close the night early, since it’s been a long day, and we will be up early Sunday for another set of morning workouts. Gosh, how we love this!

Day 3 – Friday at the Track

Our second full day at Saratoga usually begins with another bicycle ride to the track for the morning workouts and then returning to Circular Manor for one of their beautiful breakfasts. At the large dining room table, we join three other couples from New Jersey whom we first met here in 2015 and who, like us have been coming up to Saratoga for the opening weekend ever since. This is another of the things we love about Circular Manor: meeting new people who quickly become friends and who return year after year.

Our hosts, Dieter and Michele, work as a team at breakfast, with Michele pouring juice and letting us know what magic Dieter will be performing in the kitchen. The choices usually include a freshly baked quiche, an omelet or scrambled eggs, and a third special creation. Dieter makes a marvelous frittata with scallions, cheese and herbs. His fluffy pancakes are some of the best we’ve ever had. Even though we will stay for a full week, we manage to have a different delightful dish every morning.

We enjoy catching up with our Jersey friends and having wide ranging conversations about their children, life on the Jersey shore, and how we did at the races yesterday. How did we do? Well, we had winners on the first three races. John got a $7.70 winner in the opening race with Grit and Glory for trainer Linda Rice, who won two races on Thursday. The winning jockey, Luis Cardenas, was an apprentice riding in his first race at Saratoga and won. He was so excited. Saratoga is the most prestigious meet in the United States, so winning the first race of the year is a big deal for any jockey. For Cardenas it was the equivalent of a rookie baseball player hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium in his first at bat.

In the second race, Barbara’s horse, Eternal Summer, was named the winner after the horse that crossed the finish line first, Price Talk, disqualified (“DQ-ed” in track parlance) for seriously bumping against other horses in the stretch. She won $12. In the third race, John’s pick., Palace Avenger, won and paid $6.30. For the remaining seven races, we hit a dry stretch. John’s picks in the fourth and fifth races all came in second. In the sixth race, his choice was third. Then we started betting on long shots and lost. John had 2 of 3 horses in a 50-cent trifecta in Race 8. For the featured race of the day, the Peter Pan Stakes, I had intended to bet on the winner of race 9, Country Grammer, but changed my mind at the last minute and picked a longer shot who came in 7th. It’s hard to make money at Saratoga betting against trainer Chad Brown. We ended $3.50 ahead for the day, which isn’t bad for us.

After breakfast we will set on the porch at Circular Manor for a bit looking over the past performances for horses set to run today. Then we shower and dress for another day at the track.

For lunch, we will likely stop at the Lobster Hut, one of the many food vendors scattered throughout the grounds of the race track. They make a lobster roll that is delicious. Between races we roam through the backyard, looking at the other vendors, who sell everything from horse-themed jewelry and T-shirts to paintings and posters. I will give more details about the diverse delights of the Saratoga backyard in tomorrow’s post.

After the races, we walk back to Circular Manor, relax with scotch and cashews on the porch, and begin looking at the horses slated to run on Saturday. Then it’s off to another delicious dinner in Saratoga’s downtown. Tonight we will go to the Blue Hen, in the recently restored Adelphi Hotel, the last remaining iron-front hotel from Saratoga’s time as one of America’s summer resorts. After dinner we will again stroll up and down Broadway, where many of the shops stay open late on weekends during the racing season. We may finish at Kilwin’s and sit at a sidewalk table enjoying the sea-salt caramel ice cream and the people watching.

Here’s a video highlighting our day with the soundtrack “Stewball (Was a Race Horse)” by The Hollies.

Day 2 – Opening Day

Here’s a link to the video for our first full day at Saratoga.

We arise early today so we can get to the track in time for morning workouts. Instead of walking to the track, we ride bicycles. (We learned in 2010 that Saratoga is a great town for biking and started renting cycles at a local bike shop for the week, but several years ago the shop stopped that service, so we bought bikes and the gracious owners of Circular Manor agreed to store them for us, since we return every year.)

The ride to the track is just over a mile, often through some morning mist. We arrive at a nearly empty track and walk through the backyard past people getting everything ready for the crowds that will soon fill the historic race course. We head to the Dunkin’ Donuts stand for coffee and a sinker, lining up with other early-birds, and then we head up the escalator to the the box seats at the finish line. In the morning you can enter the track and sit in these seats for free, while the horses are exercised on the dirt track. Soon some world famous trainers, such as Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, will be sitting nearby with binoculars watching their horses as their work-outs are timed. The horses often run in pairs to get used to running in close quarters.

We are soon joined by many diverse racing faces. There are solitary betters, busily taking notes hoping for an advantage in future races. There are families with young children enjoying watching dozens of horses gallop by. And there are couples like us, simply absorbing the atmosphere. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has someone offering commentary over a loudspeaker, pointing out the different trainers, jockeys and horses on the track and providing some local lore. We sip our coffee, and I begin looking at the Past Performance (PP) sheets for the day looking for some good betting choices. These early mornings are one of our favorite parts of the trip to Saratoga, because the slow pace and quiet atmosphere are a nice contrast to the fast and crowded afternoons in the same space.

We leave the workouts around 9 a.m. and bike back to the Circular Manor in time for breakfast. I will post more about the delicious breakfasts later this week, because it is another of the highlights of the trip and deserves much more detail.

After breakfast, we shower and then get dressed up for opening day. I will wear one of my seersucker suits, a bowtie and a skimmer, while Barbara will wear one of her beautiful dresses and a big floppy hat. We walk to the track for the afternoon races, past Congress Park and down Union Avenue, which is lined with stately homes and beautiful gardens.

Then it’s down Lincoln Avenue, past teenagers selling newspapers and iced water. We walk past the picnic tables that fill the track’s backyard, where people are already pulling sandwiches and beverages out of their coolers. We head to the entry gates and then look for familiar faces among the people who work year after year at the track selling programs and ushering folks to their seats in the grandstand.

We head to a teller station to get a ticket showing the scratched horses for the day’s card and purchase our NYRA cash card, which enables us to use the self-service terminals to place our bets. Then we settle down to some serious handicapping and decide which horses we like for each race.

Soon the bugler sounds the call to the post, and the outriders guide the horses to the starting gate. The announcer encourages the crowd to join in the yell: “They’re Off at Saratoga!”

Here are my best bets for the 10 races on today’s card:

Race 1: #2 Grit and Glory (6-1)
Race 2: #1 Leading West (3-1)
Race 3: #3 Palace Avenger (2-1)
Race 4: #3 Dial Me Up (3-1)
Race 5: #8 The Caretaker (3-1)
Race 6: #2B Grandmas Favorite (7-2)
Race 7: #8 Pandamon (5-1)
Race 8: #8 Hopeful Princess (2-1)
Race 9: #2 Country Grammer (7-2)
Race 10: #2 Doll (7-2)

I will post the results in tomorrow’s blog.

Tonight’s dinner will be at Sperry’s, a longtime institution on Caroline Street, just two blocks from Circular Manor. The restaurant’s walls are filled with historic racing photographs, and the menu features wonderful steaks and scallops. The meal always starts with their signature popovers.

Tonight’s movie is Seabiscuit (2003), one of our favorite horse racing movies, which features several scenes at Saratoga.

Day 1 – Traveling to Saratoga

The first day of our trip to Saratoga Springs always begins with a trip on the Northeast Regional Amtrak train from Richmond’s Staples Mill Station up the East Cost to New York’s Penn Station. The first part of the trip follows the same route as on Day 1 of our spring trip to Manhattan: Washington (where the locomotive is switched from diesel to electric) then Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New Jersey and under the Hudson River to Penn Station.

If the train is on time, we have a 90-minute layover at Penn Station with enough time for a lunch at Friday’s before we take our luggage to the Ethan Allen Express to Saratoga Springs. This is the loveliest part of our trip, as once the train emerges from underneath the streets of Manhattan it hugs the Hudson River north to Albany. It passes through Yonkers, Croton-on-Hudson, Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson, and Albany. Along the way there are beautiful views of the Hudson, plus glimpses of historic places up river from Manhattan, such as West Point and Sing Sing (thus the term being “sent up the river.” After Albany, the Ethan Allen leaves the river and passes through Schenectady and finally arrives at the charming Saratoga Springs Amtrak station, where we catch a taxi. Unlike Manhattan, it often takes a while to get a taxi, especially if the train runs late.

Soon we travel through the lovely town of Saratoga Springs and arrive at Circular Manor, where we have stayed every year since we first came to Saratoga ten years ago.

How did we first discover Saratoga and the Circular Manor? In 2010 we were looking to travel by train to a place we hadn’t been before. The choices were Amherst, Massachusetts, or Saratoga Springs, New York. Amherst had the Emily Dickinson house, but Saratoga had a storied race track, famous springs, a Revolutionary War battlefield, and many beautiful homes. Once we decided on Saratoga, we started searching the Internet for a bed and breakfast and came across Circular Manor. Their web site had some lovely pictures, and its location seemed perfect, in easy walking distance of the race track and the downtown restaurants.

In 2010 it was love at first sight with the whole Saratoga experience. Dieter & Michele Funiciello, the innkeepers, were delightfully gracious. They had beautifully restored the 1903 home and filled it with stunning antiques. In the first three years we stayed in several different rooms until we found our favorite, the Sage Room, which sits in the back of the house, a cooler and quieter part of the property. We have stayed there every year since. We’ll post more about the Circular Manor as our virtual trip unfolds.

After unpacking and enjoying a scotch and some cashews on the front porch, we walk three blocks to Osteria Danny, a small Italian restaurant that has become our first night in Saratoga tradition. After enjoying one of their savory pasta dishes, we usually walk to Broadway, the town’s main street with many lovely shops and restaurants. Then it’s back to the Circular Manor for a night cap and getting ready for opening day at the track.