Sundays at Saratoga are a marvel of relaxation; while there’s still top-notch racing to be enjoyed, there’s a laid-back vibe to an afternoon spent at the track on the last day of the weekend.
I started out my morning by actually getting a little exercise (almost unthinkable for me!) and then getting some work done. After that, I headed to the track for my favorite kind of afternoon: taking in the racing action and photographing all of the activity around me.
When I got to the track, I watched the first couple of races with my dad and then set off to procure us the finest lunch that I can imagine: fried chicken from Hattie’s, a Saratoga staple. The original restaurant is located downtown, but a few years ago they opened up an outpost at the racetrack and my waistline has suffered conspicuously since. I mean, this is seriously delicious fried chicken, and you can take my word as a Southerner on that.
After demolishing my lunch, I decided to wander around the grounds of the track to see what fans were up to (and also to walk off some of my rather indulgent meal.)
My first stop was to the far end of the track’s viewing area, called the apron, where fans had brought picnics and were enjoying a beautiful sunny afternoon.
The area provides a great view of the races as well as of the iconic architecture of Saratoga. It’s a wonderful sight, especially as the horses are first arriving onto the track for the post parade.
After that, I headed over to the backyard area and had a look around. There are so many great places to spend a day at Saratoga. Here’s the area that’s right next to the Grandstand entrance. I love those tall trees, which must have been there when the track opened its doors 150 years ago.
What’s really great about Saratoga are the many options for fun that fans have when they come for a day at the races. There’s plenty of shopping available, including the opportunity to get the perfect hat to match your outfit for the day.
In the mood for some food instead? There are so many different treats available here. Behold: the Mac Truck from New York City. All I know is that any vehicle solely dedicated to bringing people the glory that is macaroni and cheese is A-OK in my book.
There are also plenty of opportunities to check out racing-themed art and even bring some of it home for yourself. As I demonstrated in my Haskell Invitational Diaries, I am not much of an artist myself, so I definitely appreciate the talent and dedication it takes to create these paintings.
If you’re a history buff, Saratoga is the place for you, too. As you may have heard, the track is celebrating its 150th anniversary this summer. I found this area with set up to help fans learn more about the oval’s storied past. It includes information about the trainers, jockeys and horses who have contributed to the track’s history as well as gives details and insight into the traditions of the track.
Nearby several farms that provide homes and retraining for horses transitioning from a racing career to a job as a riding horse had set up shop to hand out information, take donations and sell merchandise. These farms are tremendously important to helping horses have successful careers after their racing days are behind them, and it’s wonderful to see the New York Racing Association support them.
But of course, my favorite thing to do on any day at Saratoga is to take in the races, especially on a beautiful afternoon. The weather was perfect as the horses and jockeys competed at the nation’s oldest racetrack, and I was in horsey heaven.
The main event of the afternoon was the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, named for the prominent Thoroughbred owner who also served as the Chairman of the Board of the New York Racing Association from 1971 to 1975. This race is a six furlong (or ¾ of a mile) sprint for horses three years old and up, and it’s a prep race for this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. This year’s edition of the Vanderbilt attracted talented field of five, and fans crowded around the paddock to watch as the contenders were saddled and owners and trainers strategized with jockeys.
Finally, it was time for the Vanderbilt to run! It was a hard-fought race, but after three quarters of a mile Justin Phillip emerged as the victor.
I always love seeing the connections of winning horses celebrating after a big victory, especially the men and women who take care of these amazing horses. If you ever want to know what it feels like to watch a horse you love win a Grade 1 race, look at these guys:
It was a very happy Winner’s Circle celebration indeed for Justin Phillip and his connections, and I’m very excited to see where he goes next!
That’s it for today, and thank you so much for stopping by. I’ll be back with more Saratoga Diaries later on this week and I look forward to sharing more of the magic of the Spa with you then!