A Day at The Spa: I Could Not Possibly Want a Better Life
Today, I experienced Saratoga for the first time. I drove 1,230 miles from Minnesota to Saratoga, and it was worth every mile. It truly is heaven on earth for the horseplayer. After being inside the gate for one hour, I was already making plans to come back every year for the rest of my life. Another part of my brain was laying the groundwork to purchase a home in Saratoga Springs. It truly is a special place.
Horses are an addiction for which there is no cure and Saratoga is an addiction that no true horseplayer can overcome. Author and entrepreneur Timothy Ferriss said, “If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way.” That’s what I did. At the beginning of June, I said, “Screw it. I am going to Saratoga this summer!” Three weeks of vacation. One rental car and 1,230 miles. Twelve glorious days of live racing at Saratoga. And here are five observations from my first day.
1. It’s All About the Horses
People talk about the racing non-stop. The racing is the focus. No wine tasting promotions or Weiner dog races. No extreme racing days. Just full fields and the best horses in the country. And people talk about their wagers, the horses, the jockeys, and the race results. Like Louisville during Kentucky Derby season and Keeneland in October, everyone talks about horse racing.
2. Good Eats
There are four chefs who have appeared on the Food Network who operate food trucks or stands at Saratoga. Hattie’s Chicken is one. I had never stepped through the gates at Saratoga before, but I had heard about the famous Hattie’s Chicken served there. So, that was one of the first things I ate.
My wife wanted to visit the Mac Truck and we soon found out that this is the mac n cheese food truck owned by Dom, a New Yorker who was one of the final contestants on The Next Food Network Star. When my wife ordered her speciality Mac N Cheese on Whitney Day, Dom was on-site in the food truck preparing the meals. In addition to the Food Network connections, you have the Shake Shack. If you love burgers and a good shake, this might be the best food option there. Bottom line, this is not your typical race track food.
3. Horse Racing Personalities
Yes, this is your NYRA crew like we just experienced at Belmont, but they deserve credit for adding to the Saratoga experience. They are among the best in the business. Larry Collmus and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. They are horseplayers; they aren’t talking heads. Andrew Beyer even joined the crew for Whitney Day in 2015. And Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock provides solid insight. Her husband is a trainer and she has experience as an exercise rider. She’s not just a young, pretty face they put on camera. Her insight from the paddock is key, especially in analyzing younger horses and first-time starters.
4. All-Access: Saratoga Paddock
The paddock. It’s like sitting front row, on the glass for an NHL game. The jockeys walk through the crowd. And the best trainers are all present and accounted for. In the paddock, I was close enough to hear Chad Brown tell Irad Ortiz Jr. to warm the horse up good; that will help him break out of the gate well, Chad said. I heard Bill Mott instructing his jockey that his horse likes to look around a lot. You could hear it all. And Christophe Clement, Al Stall, and Todd Pletcher were an arm’s length away. The paddock at Saratoga gives the horse racing fan a front row seat. Not to mention that you are seeing the best- and often most expensive- thoroughbred horses walking right in front of you.
For the first-time attender, the backyard might be the best thing you will witness in horse racing. I can see why the backyard is legendary. It is one of the main things that makes Saratoga special. Chairs, coolers, and people everywhere. People watching the races, listening to the races, and camping out in front of the paddock. The backyard tempts you to trade in your reserved seat for a cooler and a captain’s chair. There is nothing like it.
So, after one day I am hooked. I knew I would be. How can you not fall in love with a place like Saratoga. Neighborhood houses have jockey statues decorating the lawn. Andy Serling said, “You can’t help but be at Saratoga and be happy.” And I am happy that I have 11 more days of experiencing Saratoga. I close with a quote from Andy Beyer. In his book, My $50,000 Year at the Races, he writes, “When the racing season began at Saratoga and I walked into the track for the first time after a year’s absence, I was reminded of all the wonderful virtues of the racing game. I could not possibly want a better life.”
Thanks for reading- I’m Scott Raymond. I’m a horseplayer, contest player, volleyball husband, and avid reader of non-fiction. I’m primarily a NYRA follower and my favorite horse is Monarchos.
You can read more of my work at https://medium.com/@onehorsestable
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