Saratoga Race Course draws thousands of fans a day for Thoroughbred racing at the historic track. (All photos by Eclipse Sportswire unless otherwise noted)
There’s no better place in all of America to enjoy a day at the races than Saratoga Race Course. But Saratoga is also popular, and the crowds can get pretty big, especially on weekends. If you come to the races without a reserved seat, you’re going to need to be smart. I’m going to do my best to help you out.
1. Early Bird Gets the Worm
There’s a lot of good spots both on the apron and out in the back yard to post up without a reserved seat, but if you want to grab them you need to get to the track early. I’m talking crack of dawn early. The gates open to the public at 7 a.m., and people will be lining up well before that. So set that alarm and get your butt out of bed. You need to be in line no later than 6:30 a.m., ok?
2. BYOC (Bring Your Own Chairs)
There are plenty of benches and picnic tables available at Saratoga for you and your party to enjoy free of charge. But if you bring your own chairs, you’ve got plenty more places you can pick to sit. If you’re coming with a large group, with coolers and food and provisions and gear in tow, you can use your chairs to cordon off some turf that includes a picnic table. Bam, instant party-zone. A blanket or two can come in handy for expanding your territory. But don’t get out of hand with this, you guys. Carve out the space you need for the group you have, no more. If you spread out too much, by the time the track fills up people are going to hate you. Wars and revolutions have been fought over land grabs.
THE PADDOCK RAIL IS A POPULAR LOCALE
3. Prime Real Estate
The most popular place to park it is usually near the paddock. Everyone loves watching the horses getting saddled before the race. Also the paddock is close to Shake Shack and some of the better food options at the track, not to mention the Clubhouse and the finish line. The problem with the paddock is there isn’t a ton of shade. On hot sunny days, having some tree-cover is invaluable. So if you want to sit by the paddock, get there quick and grab a spot under some elms. You’ll need to run, though. When they open those gates at 7am, people are going to be in full sprint - and many of them are headed right for the shady spots on the paddock fence.
Another popular spot are the benches along the finish line on the apron. If you want to sit here, get there first when the gates open and place a blanket or even just a newspaper on the bench. At Saratoga, it’s accepted courtesey to respect people’s markers on seats and tables. If you claim it, nobody’s touching it. And you better not touch anyone else’s. These are great seats, but be forewarned, there’s no shade here, either.
A shadier option on the apron is to set up your own chairs near the concrete steps, so you can sit on the stairs and chairs in the shade of the grandstand. You’ll notice a big yellow line on the pavement. That marks the No-Chair Zone. Gotta keep your chairs on the shady side of that line (as if you’d put them anywhere else! You didn’t wake up this early to sit in the sun all day!)
There are many shady, comfortable spots in the backyard to sit. If you’re there early enough, you can afford to shop a little. Just keep in mind these things: Shade, proximity to betting windows, view of monitors to watch the race, and bathrooms. And for those of you with kids, remember there’s a playground, too. For those of you who are kids, the frat guys usually post up near the Big Red Spring.
And again, wear those running shoes.
4. What’s Your Hurry? Sit Down, Eat Something.
You’re already here at the track at this ungodly hour. You already put your newspapers on your benches or whatever. Why go home so fast? Why not sit down and have a bite to eat?
HORSES HEAD BACK FROM MORNING TRAINING
Breakfast on the Rail is a long-standing tradition at Saratoga. There is a buffet set up and for a decent price you can sit at a table on the apron and have coffee and omlettes and watch the horses get their morning workouts. Track historian and fount of racing knowledge Mary Ryan sits in the clubhouse seats and narrates the action on the track on the PA system so you’ll know what’s going on.
If you don’t feel like a big meal, there’s also a Dunkin’ Donuts on the track that’s open at 7, so you can grab a coffee and hang out for a bit.
5. Next Time, Spring for Seats
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying Saratoga in the back yard. In fact, I prefer it. But I’m also usually there with kids. If you don’t want to get up at 6 a.m., or you’d like to be able to actually see the horses run around the track, my advice to you would be to buy some grandstand seats. They aren’t expensive and you’ll get a whole different perspective on the track and the day, depending on how high off the ground and in what direction you sit!