Saratoga: A Very Special Day at the Races

 

Saratoga, NY:  Race Course Information Booth 8/25/13
Saratoga, NY: Race Course Information Booth 8/25/13

          What makes an afternoon at the Saratoga Race Course such a pleasure?

           Start with the nominal charges to park and for admission.  No security types rumble through your bags.  No one says your camera or your bags are too big or are banned altogether.  Imagine that, NFL and arena managers!  Picnickers tow in coolers the size of small horse vans.

           Then there are the hordes of workers it takes to make a racetrack pleasant and safe.  They proved consistently polite and helpful.  And information booths!  With maps and clear directions.

           The picnic tables under the gracious trees behind the grandstand were surrounded by more than a thousand people an hour before the first race.  Children and the aged mixed happily.

           On Sunday, there were no big races.  So, it was easy to get close to horses and jockeys as they walked to the saddling enclosure.

 

Saratoga, NY:  Jockey on Way to Saddling Enclosure 8/25/24
Saratoga, NY: Jockey on Way to Saddling Enclosure 8/25/24

           As the horses in the fifth race left the enclosure and paraded toward the track, one tossed his rider.  He bolted onto the track and did a rapid six furlongs before an outrider intercepted him, grabbing his bridle and bringing him to a stop.  It’s what an outrider is paid to do.  Still, it was an impressive display.

           At Saratoga, you see the best horses running on broad tracks, longer than all but a couple in the US.  I can think of few sights as beautiful as Thoroughbreds running at full speed.

          After the finish, they trot back to the grandstand where they’re unsaddled.  Their muscles, their grace, their presence – winners and losers alike – never seems more moving to me.  Then their grooms quickly walk them past the spectators and onto a path back to the stables.  Just a half hour has passed since they had left their stalls for the saddling enclosure.

           Whether you go for the horses or the people, Saratoga is well worth the trip.

Saratoga, NY:  Warming up for the 5th race  8/27/13
Saratoga, NY: Warming up for the 5th race 8/27/13

2 Comments

  1. Tom Lewis said:

    Peter, Couldn’t agree more about the pleasures of the track at Saratoga. I’ve been going two or three times a year for years. But there’s a dark side. The day of the Alabama, two Saturdays ago, my daughter, son-in-law, and I watched a horse break down in the stretch in the first race, leg broken, jockey thrown and hurt badly. The horse was taken away and euthanized, the jockey put on a board and into an ambulance. It’s a great place, well run, and a lot of fun to visit. But the broken horses and sometimes badly hurt jockeys are a high price. Tom

    August 27, 2013
    Reply
    • Peter Kinder said:

      Yes, seeing a horse breakdown is a horror. The injuries jockeys and exercise riders suffer are often horrific and almost always uninsured. The illustrated edition of ‘Seabiscuit’ is, I think, the most revealing book on how tough racing really is.

      Sports, I’ve come to realize, require a suspension of our normal critical faculties. The older I’ve gotten, the less accepting I’ve become, especially around football and hockey, two sports I dearly love to watch.

      Horse racing I think of differently because so much of the danger to animal and human comes from hazards they’d face galloping across country and even cantering in a ring. There are plenty of abuses in racing — the racino factories, the increasing inbreeding in Thoroughbreds — but for the most part the racing fraternity observes Steven Budiansky’s ‘Covenant of the Wild’. The horses are well treated, protected, in exchange for the services they provide their owners.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

      August 27, 2013
      Reply

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