While most kids went to summer camps, we went to Saratoga. Instead of lifeguarding or waiting tables, we sold tip sheets and worked the betting windows. To us, Saratoga is summer. And it’s not just the championship racing. It’s jet skiing on the lake, concerts at SPAC, fried chicken and dough boys, and late nights on Caroline Street. Our This Week in Saratoga series highlights the very best of the racing, establishments, events and experiences in and around Saratoga which have defined our summers for the past 25 years.
This Week’s Quote: “Saratoga is a lot more than a horse town. That may be what first brought me and countless others here over the past 150 years, but it isn’t what has kept generations coming back. It is the people who have done that. It may seem a timeless place, but memories are made and traditions are handed down as time marches on.” Joe Drape – 2013
Growing up in Saratoga, the last week of the racing season was always bittersweet, but nevertheless one of our favorite weeks of the year. The last days of the racing season, culminating on Labor Day, were always highlights for the locals and now more than ever the weekend features some of the best racing of the season with the Woodward, Spinaway and Hopeful (among other stakes races) on tap. The town and surrounding areas also have plenty to offer during this final racing weekend.
So here we go, one last hurrah before the sun sets on the 2016 Saratoga meet. We hope everyone has a terrific end to a very memorable 2016 racing season.
This Week at the Track
Races of the Week:
Before we get into this week’s racing, we feel it necessary to briefly reflect on what has been a spectacular meet. We were treated to two sublime performances by Songbird, the best 3-year-old filly we’ve seen since Rachel Alexandra. Likewise, Flintshire also completed his Spa double, providing back-to-back jaw dropping performances. We saw a full field in the Travers that resulted in a track record performance for the ages by Arrogate. A pair of brothers are battling for the riding title. Maybe we are guilty of living in the moment too much, but we’re going to go ahead and say it anyway - this has been the best meet from a racing perspective in recent memory.
And it’s not over yet. Frosted has the opportunity this weekend to join Songbird and Flintshire as having two dominating wins during the meet. The Whitney Handicap star returns in the Woodward where he figures to be a heavy favorite. Frosted faces eight challengers including Mubtaahij, second behind California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup; the likely speed of the race, Bradester; and hard knocking Samraat. The Woodward is just one of four graded stakes races carded for Saturday. The Grade 1 Spinaway will feature the top 2-year-old fillies on the grounds, highlighted by Schuylerville winner Sweet Loretta. The winner of this race gets a berth into the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
On closing Monday, the Hopeful will feature the top 2-year-old colts and perhaps offer a preview of next year’s Triple Crown stars.
Sunday’s feature race is the Prioress, a sprint for 3-year-old fillies.
Tradition of the Week:
Last week, we featured the running of the picnic tables, where the grand prize was a stake in Saratoga’s picturesque backyard. This week we highlight a completely different seating option, Saratoga’s historic clubhouse. No section of the racetrack better reflects the history and charm of Saratoga than its clubhouse. And there is no weekend where the clubhouse is more accessible and affordable than closing weekend—after many “meet long” attendees have already left, providing for numerous discounted seating opportunities.
In addition to offering the best views of the racecourse, the clubhouse also takes you back in time. Wooden floors, iron rails, and ceiling fans, although all renovated, represent the same décor that fans encountered in the early 20th century. It’s also an extremely comfortable spot for enjoying a lazy afternoon. This weekend’s weather should be perfect, and a spot in the shaded clubhouse, with a light breeze, will have you questioning whether even a short walk to the nearby betting windows (which also offer some of the shortest lines at the track) is worth the effort.
We highly recommend getting seats in the clubhouse to enjoy the final weekend of racing at Saratoga!
Visit http://www.ticketmaster.com/Saratoga-Race-Course-Meet-tickets/artist/1613245 for ticket offers. On Friday, for example, front row tickets in Section H are just $23, which includes your $8 admission!
This Week’s Events:
A late Pick 5 wager! It’s something we’ve wanted for years, and this weekend NYRA is debuting a second Pick 5, covering the last five races on the card. The early Pick 5 has been a popular bet for years, but has never reached its full potential due to an often late arriving crowd. If you’ve never played this wager before - requiring you to pick five winners in a row for a minimum wager of $.50 - give it a shot this weekend. It’s a lot of fun and potentially very profitable.
The final giveaway of the meet, figures to be the most popular. On Sunday all fans will receive, with paid admission, a red, white and black, half zip, long-sleeve Saratoga pullover.
Also on Sunday, head over to the Saratoga Pavilion between 10:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. for the NY Food and Artisans pavilion—an on-track farmer’s and crafts market featuring local vendors.
This Week’s Replay: It’s Woodward weekend, so how could it be anything other than Rachel Alexandra’s stirring victory in the 2009 Woodward Stakes over Macho Again and Bullsbay. Not only was this a remarkable win in and of itself (a 3-year-old filly triumphing over older males in a Grade 1 race), it is one of Tom Durkin’s best race calls of all time.
This Week In the Area
Around Town: This is a great weekend in Saratoga. On both Saturday and Sunday, from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., downtown Saratoga hosts the Final Stretch Music Festival with live bands performing all down Broadway. The performance lineup is here: http://www.saratoga.com/event/final-stretch-music-64069/.
There is really no better way to end the racing season than to spend a couple nights enjoying good weather, good music, and the last few nights of Caroline Street before it goes back to being a relatively normal street in a small upstate New York city. This is really one of the best weekends of the year to go out in Saratoga, as it is quite a bit less crowded after the madness of Travers, the weather is usually cooler with maybe even a hint of fall, and there is truly a celebratory environment downtown.
SPAC: Great closing weekend at SPAC as well, with Zac Brown Band on Sept. 3 and Blink 182 with a bunch of other bands that sound the same on Sept. 4. Both start at 7:00 p.m., with a lot of partying beforehand.
Top Event: The top event this week is undoubtedly going to the racetrack. It’s the last weekend of the best meet in the
country world (take that, Ascot). There is some of the best racing of the whole meeting on tap – four graded stakes on Saturday, including the Grade 1 Woodward and the Grade 1 Spinaway. The Grade 2 Prioress is on Sunday, and then the Grade 1 Hopeful and the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch are on closing day. The Hopeful in particular is always a race we mark on the calendar. It was first run in 1904, and for over 100 years, has begun in earnest the process of identifying the best juvenile horse in the country who then, obviously, is talked about as one of the major players for the next year’s Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races. The horses that have won the Hopeful include some of the biggest names in the sport’s history: Man o’ War (1919), Whirlaway (1940), Native Dancer (1952), Nashua (1954), Jaipur (1961), Secretariat (1972), Affirmed (1977), Dehere (1993) and Afleet Alex (2004).
This Week In Food and Drink: Locals Week
This Week’s Food Profile:
All season long we have been profiling restaurants and bars which have predominately been widely known. However, in the spirit of Labor Day Weekend being much a locals weekend at the track, we are going to profile a few places that are a little off the beaten path, to give a more “Saratogian” vibe to our profile.
First up is Harvest and Hearth, at 215 County Route 67 in Saratoga Springs. This farm to table, local-centric pizza place offers in our opinion the best ‘za in town. All the ingredients are locally grown or raised, organic and free range. With many specialty pizzas on the menu you really cannot go wrong, but the ‘Shrooms is by far this writer’s choice. In addition to the pizza, they have great salads, including the Mamie’s Poppy, made with goat cheese, micro-greens, pecans, pears and a great poppy seed dressing. Many local craft beers flow from their taps, including the delicious and refreshing Ommegang Witte. And to top it all off, it is located with a westerly view over Saratoga Lake and a perfect place to catch one of summer’s last sunsets.
Next is Esperanto, the best late night food on Caroline St. Although they do offer the traditional pizza desired by many late night partiers, most come for the doughboys. What is a doughboy you ask? Well, it’s basically the world’s greatest hot pocket: pizza dough stuffed with chicken, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and scallions. Dip that baby in some hot sauce and you really don’t need much else in your life. A sneaky-good alternative on the menu is also their veggie samosa, stuffed with chickpeas and potatoes, its large and fried and served with a sweet plum sauce.
Finally, a local favorite for many years is Augie’s in Ballston Spa. A small family-style Italian Restaurant with enormous dishes of hearty red-sauce dishes. All dishes feed at least three people, and always come out piping hot. The traditional chicken parm and the like are delicious, but the winners in my book are the Veal Saltimbocca and Mama’s Ziti and Gravy with meatballs. Go hungry and you’ll leave happy. Also, this is the low-key best place to have a bachelor-party dinner in the area.
This Week’s Drink Profile:
Are you looking to get your night started? Trying to catch up to your buddies who went straight downtown after the track when you went to dinner? Head to Desperate Annie’s, located a door up from Gaffney’s on Caroline Street, home of the strongest cocktail in Saratoga. Now, this isn’t the place you necessarily come for the décor. It promotes the dive-bar lifestyle, with dim lighting, lots of beer and traffic signs on the walls, but also has a great juke-box. A great place to get fueled up for a night on the town. But be aware, it is cash only.
Peabody’s, a mainstay on Phila Street for many years, this is town’s best sports bar. It is traditional, with the best item on the menu being the wings, served in 20 flavors. They have a good draft beer selection, and plenty of TVs. On Sundays in the fall, this place is packed. They also have a nice little patio in the back, which is great place to enjoy a drink any afternoon, summer or fall.
Food and Drink Events:
Although this is not an event per se, we recommend you take advantage of final stretch weekend by creating your own bar crawl in Saratoga. With bands playing at Ben and Jerry’s, Saratoga Honey and Tea, Caroline Street Adirondack Trust and Division Street, you can really get a full tour of town while listening to great music and stopping in for a drink at some great watering holes along the way. We recommend starting at Bailey’s, then head to Ben and Jerry’s to listen. Following that head to Harvey’s farther up Phila before the next music venue at Saratoga Honey and Tea. Continue up Division Street, and stop in at Chianti’s for a blackberry lemon drop martini before listening to few songs on the West side of town. Make your way over to Wine Bar before continuing down Broadway to Adirondack Trust. Then finally end your night with the band on Caroline Street, and all the bars located there. It should make for a fun night, and a great way to explore all of downtown.
This Week in Saratoga History
September 3, 2011: Havre De Grace defeats the boys in the Woodward and puts the exclamation point on her Horse of the Year campaign.
August 31, 2014: A sloppy edition of the Spinaway Stakes is made famous as Tom Durkin’s last race call. Tom retired following the race, and well celebrated with an on-track parade the following day, closing day, at Saratoga.