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.