I’m a native Floridian, but I’ve always considered Saratoga to be my home track. Since horseracing is a family affair for me, I’ve been lucky enough to come up here every summer of my life; and I can say with authority that there are so many special things about the Spa that it’s almost impossible to list them all.
For me, though, the most magical thing about Saratoga is morning training hours. It’s a time of peace, when everything happening at the track is focused on the equine athletes. There is a tranquil beauty on the backstretch that is unrivaled by anything I’ve ever seen. This morning at dawn I toted my trusty Nikon to the stable area, which was bathed in fog, making the track and grounds into an ethereal wonderland.
After watching horses work for a while, I headed to Clare Court. This area is almost a racetrack within a racetrack, and it looks like it hasn’t changed at all in Saratoga’s 144-year history.
Clare Court is surrounded by a galloping track, which has a pathway cutting through it for horses going to the main track for a more strenuous workout.
Clare Court is also the final resting place of three horses who define Saratoga: Fourstardave, Mourjane and A Phenomenon. The one that stood out to me was Fourstardave, known as the “Sultan of Saratoga.” I remember seeing him run here, and if ever there was a horse that loved this course, it was Fourstardave. I remember him as a fiery chestnut with a fierce will to win. I’m not ashamed to say that I choked up when I visited his grave.
It seems appropriate, then, that he’s at rest in a place frozen in time, where horses exist peacefully among the towering trees of Clare Court in the oldest racetrack in the nation.
Thankfully, the sights of Saratoga’s backstretch aren’t restricted to horsemen and media; the New York Racing Association offers free tours to one and all from 7:30 to 9 AM. I seriously recommend checking this out.
One of the great things visitors will see are horses enjoying their daily bath time, relaxing under the ministrations of their grooms and caretakers.
They’ll also catch a glance of high-powered owners talking to their trainers over coffee while watching their horses work over the Saratoga main track.
And of course there are the horses getting their morning exercise, made even more beautiful by the stunning backdrop of the Saratoga Grandstand.
For those visitors who don’t feel quite so adventurous but still want to have the experience of training hours at Saratoga, the main track area is also open in the morning. There’s a great breakfast buffet on the first floor of the Clubhouse held for people who want to have their first meal of the day in style. Everyone from families to couples to huge groups of friends can be found here, and it’s a really great way to start the day.
Alternatively, people can sit in the box seat area to watch the horses training. This is pretty cool, because the area is restricted to box seat holders, owners, and trainers in the afternoons; but it the morning it’s free and open to the public.
Because the track is much less crowded in the mornings, breakfast time at the Spa is also a chance to take in the iconic beauty of the architecture of the Saratoga Grandstand.
If you’re planning a visit to Saratoga at any time in the future, I highly recommend at least one trip to the track in the morning. It’s a time of beauty that’s not to be missed.