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.
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.