It’s a Friday morning, the grass is still covered by a blanket of morning dew while the sun rises giving the grandstands of Saratoga Race Course an orange glow, and I can’t help but feel like I’m in a movie.
The horses are breezing and galloping around the track, as they get ready for their big day that’s just around the corner. Many have the chance to be the next big thing, and that’s where the excitement lies, not knowing who will be the next American Pharaoh, Zenyatta, or maybe even the next Secretariat.
As the day goes on the sound of horses marching through the track is replaced by the sound of stampedes of people going through the streets and entering the gates of Saratoga. Inside they try to find the best spot to set up chairs and blankets, whether it may be close to the paddock so they can watch the horses walk around or see their favorite trainer saddle a horse, a spot closest to their lucky betting window, and sometimes just a spot close to their exit so they can make a quick getaway when the racing is over. Regardless, there is no such thing as a bad spot when you’re in Saratoga.
When you enter the grounds of Saratoga the excitement is palpable, every person there is anxious for that first race, people are running around trying to make sure they get their bets in, others are rushing to get trackside so they can watch the action in person. It goes quiet for a second as the last horse enters the starting gate, anticipation for the ringing of the bell, signaling the beginning of the race, and suddenly they are off!
When the pack of horses comes around the bend the crowd begins to raise in volume, some people are yelling the name and number of their horse, while others are screaming the name of the jockey trying to give him or her some inaudible encouragement.
As the pack makes its way down the stretch the crowd slowly but surely gets louder and louder, you start to hear names clearer now with the front runners making their intentions clear. They head to the wire, nose to nose, battling to hold onto the lead until finally they cross the wire and we have a winner. The crowd goes wild with people screaming for joy as they just hit the exacta, trifecta, superfecta or because they are still alive in their pick 4, while others are groaning and upset about their losing ticket. With only a moment to spare of pure emotion people are already flipping through their form looking forward to the next race on the card.
When you’re at Saratoga there is more going on than just the racing, this is the largest social event of the year here, and with all great social events there has to be good food and great fashion.
There was no lack of good food this year, my personal favorite had to be Hattie’s, a fried chicken kitchen located in the grandstands. I never imagined I would be able to get beautifully golden fried chicken, walk 20 steps away to place a bet and then go take my seat in the grandstand watching for the results of my wager. Being from the south I could not have been any happier.
You might have to go looking for your favorite food spot around the track but you never had to look far.
When it came to the fashion you didn’t have to look far at all, every direction you looked there were people dressed to the nines, looking their best for the day of racing.
Once the racing is over the day might have ended but the night is just getting started, straight from the track, people head downtown to grab a bite to eat and a few drinks at some of their favorite spots. No matter where your night starts and ends, you are bound to meet a few interesting people, and some of those people may become great friends that you will create unforgettable memories with.
There’s something special about Saratoga that cannot be compared to other racetracks, whether it’s the pure beauty of upstate New York, the feeling of walking through history when you step onto the grounds of the racetrack, the thrill of looking forward to every race day and what may come of it, or all the new friends you have made on this journey.
None of these things could describe the experience of Saratoga accurately by themselves, but together they give you one of the best racing experiences you could ever hope to receive.
David Woods, the son of prominent Ocala-based horseman Eddie Woods, is a cameraman and videographer for TVG.