The nation’s oldest thoroughbred track, Saratoga Race Course (267 Union Ave., near East Ave., 518/584-6200, www.nyra.com/index_saratoga ) comes to life every late July through early September. Most U.S. tracks present one weekly stakes race, featuring top-of-the-line horses; Saratoga has one every day. The meet’s highlight is the Travers Stakes held on the 5th Saturday; other big events are the Whitney, the Alabama, and the prestigious Fasig-Tipton yearling sales.
Saratoga, filled with striped tents and bright flowers, remains one of the world’s best tracks in which to get a close-up view of the horse-racing world. The thoroughbreds are walked through the crowd before being saddled in the paddock, and jockeys stop to talk and sign autographs between races.
Breakfast at the track is a raceday tradition that allows patrons early access to ensure a comfortable spot to enjoy the day, thanks to a long standing honor system policy of reserving one of the many shaded picnic tables with a personal item to be retrieved later in the day. A buffet breakfast is served from 7 to 9:30 a.m. on The Porch of the Clubhouse. Thoroughbreds prepare for the day’s races in sight, with workout commentary offered over the meal.
A much anticipated bonus of the meal is the free 45 minute tram and walking tour of the historic stable area post-toast. The first tour leaves the main Clubhouse entrance at 8 a.m. with five additional trams leaving approximately every 15 minutes. Trams are often full to capacity early, on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Saratoga Race Course is a cultural and historical gem enjoyed by Thoroughbred horse racing aficionados and betting novices alike. With an attendance capacity of 50,000 this hotspot was named “top ten sporting venues in the world” in Sports Illustrated Magazine, and retains its old world charm and flavor. Here are some tips to make the most of your day at the races.
Track Basics: The six-week meet runs from late July to early September; Tuesday is dark. The track opens at 11 a.m. weekdays, 10:30 a.m. weekends, and post time is 1 p.m. General admission is $2; clubhouse admission is $5. No “abbreviated attire” is allowed in the clubhouse.
For general information during the meet, call the Saratoga Race Course at 518/584-6200. For advance ticket sales, contact the New York Racing Association (718/641-4700, www.nyra.com ).
Parking and Traffic: The New York Racing Association maintains large parking lots across from the track. Parking is also available in many private lots surrounding the track. If you’re not planning to go to the track, avoid Union Avenue between noon and 1 p.m., and again around 5:30 p.m.
Seating: Most of the 6,688 reserved seats in the grandstand and clubhouse are sold by mail in January. However, about 1,000 grandstand seats go on sale ($4 each) every race day at the track’s Union Avenue entrance. On weekdays, tickets are often available up until post time, but on weekends, they’re gone by 10 or 11 a.m.
Many fans bring lawn chairs, blankets, and coolers to the shady grounds behind the track, which are equipped with short-circuit TVs. Others watch the races on their feet, then retreat to benches near the betting windows.
How to Bet: Easy-to-follow instructions are printed inside the daily program, the Post Parade, available at the gate for $1.50. The minimum bet is $1.
After the Races: The most popular racetrack hangout is Siro’s (168 Lincoln Ave., 518/584-4030), adjacent to the track on the south side. A long bar is set up beneath a striped canvas tent, and live bands play until about 8:30 p.m.; the party then moves inside.
Polo Matches: Throughout August, world-class polo matches (518/584-8108, www.saratogapolo.com ) take place on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at the Saratoga Polo Field at Bloomfield and Denton Road. Most of the games begin at 6 p.m.
Accommodations: Most hotels and B&Bs  double their prices during racing season, and many of the most popular places are booked solid many months in advance. Even if you arrive at the last minute, however, you will find something. The chamber of commerce maintains an updated list of available rooms.