This Week in Saratoga: Jim Dandy Week

Events / Travel
(Eclipse Sportswire)

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 where Royal Ascot meets Woodstock; where patrician tans and horseplayer pallor seem not to clash in the shade of peppermint-stripe awnings; where every week of the racing season has six Saturdays.” -Paul Moran

Paul Moran’s description of Saratoga proved accurate on opening week as we witnessed Saratoga at its best—warm weather, large diverse crowds and six days of Saturday racing.  For example, on a Sunday we saw a championship performance by superhorse Songbird and on Monday we enjoyed a $1.5 million Pick 6 Pool.

Fortunately, we still have six weeks of Saturdays left. And the excitement is not limited to the track, with the racing season in full swing there are plenty of events and happenings around town this week. Here are our thoughts on the top happenings at, in and around Saratoga for week two.

This Week at the Track

Tradition of the Week: While Saratoga’s racing “excitement in the afternoons” gets the headlines, “enchantment in the mornings” is what makes this track unique. One of Saratoga’s greatest traditions doesn’t occur during the racing hours but instead at the crack of dawn. Enjoy breakfast on the clubhouse porch while watching horses gallop the main track. Wander the back yard, sipping a cup of coffee and watching fans sprint to reserve a picnic table. And the highlight of the morning experience—join a free tour of the historic stable and barn area to get a behind-the-scenes look at the racing operations.

Admission to the track during the morning workout hours is free. Gates generally open at 7 a.m. with patrons being asked to leave by 10:30 or so.

A breakfast buffet is served on the porch of the clubhouse—$17.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids 12 and under. If you’re looking for something cheaper or quicker, the Trackside Grill (not affiliated with the track) located just outside the Nelson Avenue entrance sells excellent breakfast sandwiches. We often grab a few egg sandwiches and then sit in a clubhouse box to watch the workouts.

The free barn tours start at 7:30 a.m. and leave every 15 minutes thereafter, with the last tour at 9 a.m. The tour takes about 45 minutes and covers a large portion of the stable area where you’ll see tons of horses and likely some top trainers and jockeys. The trams leave from the main club house entrance. Reservations are accepted.

Races of the Week: One the best racing days of the meet is Saturday, highlighted by the traditional Travers prep, the Jim Dandy. This year’s Jim Dandy, named after the horse that defeated Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers at odds of 100-1, features a rematch of the Belmont top two finishers Creator and Destin. Other horses worth a long look in the Dandy include one-time Derby favorite Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, who had several excuses in the Belmont.

The Bowling Green on Saturday will feature turf star Flintshire—winner of the Manhattan last out and defending Sword Dancer Invitational champ. 

Also on Saturday is the Vanderbilt, a six furlong sprint featuring Metropolitan runner up Anchor Down and last year’s Amsterdam winner Holy Boss.

In case Saturday’s Travers stakes preview in the Jim Dandy is not enough, Friday features the Curlin Stakes, also for 3-year-olds. This race was used as a prep by 2014 Travers winner V. E. Day.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight Thursday’s stakes action, the John Morrissey, featuring an all-time Thorobros favorite Notacatbutallamaaaaaaaaaaaaaa (emphasis added).

Replay of the Week:

1978 Jim Dandy Stakes:  In Affirmed’s return to the races after winning the Triple Crown, Sensitive Prince came into the stretch many lengths ahead of Affirmed, and even watching the replay, it’s hard to conceive of Affirmed winning the race. But 18-year-old Steve Cauthen and Affirmed showed championship heart, and ended up pulling off a win that would serve as a prelude to Affirmed and Alydar’s 10th and final meeting in the 1978 Travers.

Events of the Week: One of our favorite events of the meet takes place on Sunday, the jockey foot race to benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys’ Fund (PDJF). The top jockeys lace up their cleats and break from the sixteenth pole in a dash to the finish. Fans can place “wagers” on the race for prizes, with all proceeds benefitting the PDJF. To give you a flavor of this event, check out this clip of the 1995 edition, narrated by Tom Durkin.

We’re still bitter over that inquiry at the start.

Also in connection with national PDJF day, on Saturday jockeys will sign autographs outside the jockeys’ room before the races. A suggested donation amount will benefit the PDJF. We encourage you to come out and support this great cause. 

Saturday and Sunday also offer a great event for new fans or for those looking for a low risk orientation into handicapping tournaments. The Low Rollers Challenge will be held both days.  Entry fees are $40, $30 of which is the contestant’s bank roll and $10 goes towards the prize pool. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. near the Fourstardave Sports Bar. We participated in one of these tournaments in 2014 and really enjoyed the experience; definitely worth signing up for at some point during the meet. 

Giveaway:  Monday is free gym bag day with paid admission. 

This Week in the Area

PDJF Jockey Karaoke: This week features one of the highlights of every Saratoga meeting, the PDJF “Riders Up” Karaoke night. This is a great event and a ton of fun. The inimitable Tom Durkin serves as emcee, and it benefits the PDJF which is obviously a great cause. Tickets are $75 for general admission and $150 for VIP admission, which gets you a buffet dinner with the jockeys, plus an extra hour and a half to get turnt up before the singing starts. This is a can’t-miss event, attended by many of the sport’s biggest names. And if this paragraph has not convinced you, I suspect this video will:

At the very least, you will get some good drinks, a few laughs, and get to support a charity that truly helps the people who get hurt competing in the sport we love. You will probably get to see Tom Durkin dressed in a ridiculous outfit. And if 2013 is a guide you maybe, just maybe, will get to see famed jockey agent Ronnie Ebanks (aka @daloveman on twitter) acting a fool on stage. The event is at Vapor night club at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Buy your tickets in advance here.

Around Town: What about what’s going on in Saratoga away from the track? I’m glad you asked. For those of you looking for some Saratoga culture not involving horses, gambling, jockeys singing or water that tastes like rotten eggs, this week features Shakespeare in the Park put on by the Saratoga Shakespeare Company. This week they are putting on Cyrano. I know, I know. Cyrano is not by Shakespeare – in fact, it’s the first non-Shakespeare play that the Company has put on. The performance is held at 6 p.m. and goes until 8 (no intermission, so bring your snacks and a flask).  The best part of the show is that it’s free (!) and held in Congress Park right in the middle of downtown Saratoga. The last three performances of the season will be held on July 28, 29 and 30. So get there early, enjoy a picnic in the park and a rousing rendition of Cyrano, and you will still have time to walk around downtown or enjoy a drink on Caroline Street before its overrun by every person who graduated from Saratoga High between 1999 and 2014.

Day Trips: Penelope Miller mentioned Lake George in her Things to Do Near Saratoga column (, but we can’t stress enough that it really is worth the 30-45 minute trip up to the Adirondack foothills for a day by the lake. Lake George Village has all of the tacky trappings of a beach town plopped down in the middle of the forest, but provides a nice area to walk, get a bite to eat and do some shopping or bar hopping. There are great public beaches near Lake George Village, in Shepard Park and at Million Dollar Beach. There are also a bunch of old steamboat-style boats that provide periodic tours of the lake ( If you are in the mood for some history, Fort William Henry in Lake George Village or Fort Ticonderoga farther north in Ticonderoga both offer great tours and a look into the region’s history during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. But if you are going to make the trip up the Lake George, make sure you take some time to just relax and enjoy being outdoors. It really is a beautiful place.

Ballet/Luke Bryan: We covered SPAC last week (, but this is another great week for the performing arts in Spa State Park. The last week of the New York City Ballet wraps up with performances every day except for July 31. On July 31, Luke Bryan comes to town with special guests Little Big Town and Dustin (I call him Dusty) Lynch.

This Week in Food and Drink

This Week’s Profile: Any racing town worth its salt has a fantastic Mexican restaurant and Saratoga, as the quintessential racing town, does not disappoint. Although there are numerous Mexican eateries in the area, the most authentic and best hospitality is found at El Mexicano, located on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs. Run by the Vazquez family since 2009, El Mexicano has become every race tracker’s go-to for home-style Mexican eats. 

The menu is complete with the typical offerings of tacos, burritos and enchiladas served in various combinations with rice and beans. Their enchiladas suiza are a house favorite. But El Mexicano takes it a step farther with great steak, pork and seafood dishes you won’t find at your typical Mexican joint. The Tampiquena Naca is a personal favorite, and recommended for anyone with a big appetite; it comes with a flank steak, enchilada suiza, enchilada mole, a creamy mix of poblano peppers, mushrooms and onions and a side of guacamole. Another favorite is Puerco Dulce, three pork chops smothered in a sweet tomato, citrus sauce and plenty of melted cheese. For those looking for the Mexican heat, try the camarones a la diabla (the devil’s shrimp).

In addition to the great menu, the commitment to service is beyond reproach. The Vazquez family welcomes you into their restaurant like a person welcomes you to their home. All comers are met with a smile and asked what type of margarita they would like, and there are plenty to choose from (try the Coronita, a huge marg with a mini Corona in it). The bar also has a full selection of Mexican beer. Next up is the house-made salsa and chips. But the service goes to the next level, as each patron receives a cheese enchilada “appe-teaser” to eat while mulling over their dinner selections. Following dinner, although there are desserts offered on the menu, everyone gets a complimentary sweet chimichanga, made with honey and banana. And just to make sure you really enjoy your experience, along with the check comes a round of tequila shots for any takers.

The Vazquez family really knows how to make people feel welcome and ensures their guests have a great time. So if you are hungry, and thirsty, and want some good hearty food after a day at the races, stop in at El Mexicano; the food and the experience will not disappoint!

This Week in Saratoga History

July 31, 1973:  Few cared when a relatively unknown horse named Onion set a track record in a 6 ½-furlong allowance on July 31, 1973. Just four days later he captured the world’s attention when he returned in the Grade 1 Whitney, scoring one the greatest upsets in the history of sports when knocking off the seemingly invincible Secretariat. Click here to read more about Onion’s 1973 heroics.

Aug. 3, 1863: The first Saratoga meet is held—consisting of just four days of racing.  Those Travers and Morrissey guys might have been on to something.

August 2, 1990: Champion 2-year-old Go for Wand silenced all doubters with an impressive victory in the seven furlong Test Stakes. Despite questions about her sprinting ability and concerns with a seven-week layoff due to a cough, Go for Wand set a quick pace and never looked back. She would return nine days later to win the Grade 1 Alabama.

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