Put away the countdown clocks, stop checking the calendar and put in for that vacation time if you haven't done it already. It's time for Saratoga, 2015 edition.
Racing kicks off for the 152nd year in Saratoga Springs today, the first of 40 days of the most watched, most bet and most important meeting in America. A 10-race card awaits what figures to be a large and enthusiastic crowd, it always is when the Spa opens and maybe even more so this year considering Opening Day's place on the calendar. Trivia fans take note, under the current configuration of the Saratoga meet of 40 days of racing packed into nearly seven full weeks through Labor Day, this year is the latest possible Opening and Closing Days.
In addition to today's Grade 2 Lake George and Grade 3 Schuylerville, 65 other stakes races are scheduled. The 2015 meet will feature a dozen days with two or more stakes, including a blockbuster Travers Stakes program with six other graded stakes, Whitney Day and its four accompanying stakes and the Saratoga Showcase card of six stakes for New York-breds.
The days of a stakes race a day remain for sure, but this is certainly not your grandfather's Saratoga.
It's safe to say it's not your father's Saratoga, either, and that's by design.
The New York Racing Association, which puts on the show and is under orders from state government to be watchful of its bottom line, instituted many changes that you'll see on the racetrack and in the grandstand, clubhouse and backyard areas.
The most significant changes to the physical facilities are the addition of a Walk of Fame in the backyard area near the jockey's room and in an area that previously housed concessions and a few food trucks, the Tom Durkin Replay Center where fans can listen to the retired announcer's most memorable calls, a renovated Carousel and the addition of picnic tables in the backyard.
Some of the tables are available for purchase, a change that rankled some diehard backyarders accustomed to making a mad dash in the early-morning hours for a coveted spot but perhaps welcome to others looking to lock it in without the effort. The for-pay tables are in a fenced in area near the Big Red Spring, further eroding highly coveted spaces along the outside fence of the paddock and an area where for decades fans could catch a glimpse of racing royalty.
Those are the changes, but Saratoga is, and hopefully always will be, about the horses.
This is horse racing after all.
The biggest name in horse racing these days is unquestionably American Pharoah, the Triple Crown winner who is slated to run in the $1 million Haskell Invitational next weekend at Monmouth Park.
The most popular question all spring and summer in Saratoga focused on whether American Pharoah would come to town for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes, the signature race of the meeting Aug. 29. NYRA officials started working on the colt's owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert shortly after he set off a wild celebration at Belmont Park with his crown-clincher in the Belmont Stakes seven weeks ago. They've continued to try and lure racing's 12th and first Triple Crown winner in 37 years for the 1 1/4-mile Travers.
Read the rest of the Saratoga preview, and all the Opening Day coverage in Friday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland.