Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Saratoga Special

I return to the blog this week fresh off of my first ever visit to Saratoga. All I can say is what an extraordinary place it is for any fan of racing. From the Oklahoma Training Track (pictured) to the gorgeous paddock (pictured) to the Horse Racing Hall Of Fame and the enthusiastic crowds that show up everyday, it is as I remarked to Tom Durkin, "what every day at the races should be."

I was at Saratoga on Wednesday and Thursday last week for live racing and the first thing that strikes you about the place is the people that are there. They come in for free early for training and breakfast, stake out their spot, and after leaving and coming back in to pay their admission, stay there the rest of the day. The clubhouse is open-air, so whatever the elements are, they are. Luckily, the two days I was at Saratoga were mild and not too uncomfortable, so I was able to walk around and scout out just about every place to watch the races either live or on television that are available.

The backside is flat out amazing. The Morning Line serves breakfast, there are plenty of places to sit and watch the horses working out. As you make your way through the barn area, the expanse is just as beautiful as the front side. The barns meander through the trees and there are jogging tracks that do the same. The Oklahoma Training Track is a full one-mile oval with a wide 7/8 mile turf track inside of it. The approaching road to the Oklahoma has small signs that mention the names of each of the eleven Triple Crown winners. There are more barns near the training track and the entire atmosphere around the place is just electric for any true horse racing fan.

Of course, I had to check out the announcer's booth and visit with Tom Durkin while I was there. I was surprised that the booth was not more substantial, but as Tom pointed out, Saratoga existed for over 70 years without one, so it was really more of an afterthought. The announcer's booth is blocked at various points either by the support posts in the clubhouse, the trees in the infield, or the grandstand itself. It is not an ideal spot to call a horse race from, but for an afterthought, it gets the job done.

Finally, the racing is second to none. The highlight of the entire experience was watching Winter Memories win the Grade 2 Lake George from an impossible position at the top of the stretch. She was checked in behind horses and appeared to lose all of her momentum at that point. Jose Lezcano then guided her outside and she started to inhale the turf course and just blazed past everyone to win by a substantial margin. It was truly a championship performance and one that will be pointed to should she win any year-end awards. I was also able to witness a five-furlong track record set by JC's Pride, who was also ridden by Jose Lezcano. JC's Pride ran the distance in 56.54 seconds.

All in all, I can say that my first experience at The Spa was a memorable one. I can also say that I certainly hope that it won't be my last time there. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

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