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.