Alarm clocks buzzed, rang, blared and dinged early today in upstate New York, ushering in the earliest start to the Saratoga Race Course meeting in well over a century.

The 40-day Saratoga stand starts just a week after fireworks blazed the sky in Saratoga and only a few weeks removed from high-school graduation ceremonies at the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The New York Racing Association announced the expansion and the shifted racing schedule at Saratoga – now a five-day week compared to six – in early February when local fans yearned for the warmth of summer and out-of-towners wondered what the near two-month stay at the Spa would be like.

Now that it’s here natives and tourists alike are ready to roll with the first July 11 Opening Day since the 1882 meeting at America’s oldest and most prestigious racetrack. The Travers ran Opening Day that year for a purse of $1,000 added and each day featured six races.

Horsemen will run for an average of more than $1 million a day over the nine, 10, 11, 12 and even 13-race cards and compete in 76 stakes worth $20.8 million, including the $1.25 million Travers Aug. 24, $1 million Whitney Aug. 3 and $1 million Saratoga Derby Aug. 4.

The new schedule of a Wednesday to Sunday race week, with Monday and Tuesday dark, attracted early critics and continues to cause others to be skeptical. Most, like local officials and many horsemen, take a different approach.

“The start of each racing season brings its own unique excitement and this is year is no different,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Meg Kelly said. “The city looks forward to this new calendar and has every hope that it will meet with the approval of our citizens, visitors and business owners.

To read the rest of the Saratoga meet preview download Thursday's Opening Day digitial edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners