Beginner's Guide to the 2024 Saratoga Summer Meet

Events / Travel
Saratoga Race Course Springs New York horse racing racetrack Travers Stakes Jockey Club Gold Cup Whitney Hopeful Fourstardave Breeders’ Cup Old Smoke Graveyard of Champions Spa tickets attendance picnic Hall of Fame ADW NYRA Fasig-Tipton workouts
Fashionable fans enjoy a day at Saratoga during the 2023 meet. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has long been a summer playground for sports fans: the upstate New York town is home to Saratoga Race Course, one of the most storied racetracks in the world, and it’s been mecca for horse racing fans for hundreds of years. We all got a recent preview of the unparalleled quality of racing and the surrounding ambience at Saratoga last month when the 156th Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and several other important races were run at the track during a four-day span while Belmont Park continued with reconstruction. Now, fans who attended that mini-festival plus thousands more will descend on the picturesque region for seven and a half weeks of bliss starting on July 11.

If you’re planning a trip to the Spa this summer (and don’t worry, we’ll explain why it’s called the Spa!) you’re in the right place for a quick guide on everything the town and track have to offer.

Who: Elite Thoroughbred racehorses and their human entourages

Busy paddock at Saratoga. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Saratoga is an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to racehorses. Some of the top horses in the nation, along with many of the most promising 2-year-old racehorses around, will spend their summer in Saratoga. That’s because the meet is packed with the highest levels of races (known as stakes races), many of which offer an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in November. Naturally, these horses each come with a human support team, so you’ll see the best trainers, jockeys, and grooms at Saratoga as well as get the chance to rub shoulders with some of the most prominent horse owners in the game.

Fun fact: Saratoga’s first race meet was the brainchild of gambler, casino owner, ex-boxing champion, and future Congressman John “Old Smoke” Morrissey. The meet was held just a month after the Battle of Gettysburg on Aug. 3, 1863 and lasted four days, making the track the oldest sports venue in the United States.

What: Both “The Spa” and “The Graveyard of Champions”

With more than 150 years of history, it’s no wonder that Saratoga has picked up a couple of nicknames along the way. The track’s two most used are “The Spa” and “The Graveyard of Champions” ... and the latter isn’t nearly as dire as it sounds, so don’t worry! The nickname refers to the fact that some of the most famous champion racehorses in American history have lost races at Saratoga: Man o’ War, Secretariat, American Pharoah, and Gallant Fox, just to name a few. In fact, local lore tells us that Saratoga gifted sports with the term “upset,” since that was the name of the horse who defeated the mighty Man o’ War. It’s just one reason that bettors love the races at Saratoga so much: when favorites lose, savvy gamblers win big.

The track and town are colloquially called “The Spa” because the city sits on top of natural springs with waters rumored to bring good health to humans and horses. Saratoga became a playground for the rich throughout the Gilded Age thanks to the mineral water and the race meet, and there are still bathhouses and drinking pavilions galore throughout the town.

Fun fact: On Aug. 23, 2008, Slambino, Blazing Dynamo, and Key Event set a record payout for New York when they returned a $.50 trifecta (a bet that selects the first three finishers in a race) that yielded $26,478.50.

When: July 11 to Sept. 2

Saratoga is called the “Summer Place to Be” for good reason: the meet lasts from mid-July through Labor Day, and it draws vacationers and racing industry professionals throughout the season. Saturdays tend to have the most prestigious races, and the highlights of the 2023 meet are below.

July 13 – Diana Stakes and Sanford Stakes

July 20 – Coaching Club American Oaks 

July 27 – Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by Mohegan Sun

Aug. 2 – National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes

Aug. 3 – Whitney Stakes, Test Stakes Presented by Ticketmaster, and Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes

Aug. 10 – Fourstardave Handicap and Saratoga Special Stakes 

Aug. 17 – Alabama Stakes Presented by Keeneland Sales and Lake Placid Stakes

Aug. 22 – Ballston Spa Stakes

Aug. 23 – Personal Ensign Stakes

Aug. 24 – DraftKings Travers Stakes, Forego Stakes, H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes, Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes, and Ballerina Stakes

Aug. 30 – Saranac Stakes

Aug. 31 – Flower Bowl Stakes, Spinaway Stakes, and Prioress Stakes

Sept. 1 –  Jockey Club Gold Cup

Sept. 2 – Hopeful Stakes 

Fun fact: Seven races at Saratoga qualify their winners to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships: the Whitney, the Fourstardave, the Ballerina, the Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer, the Flower Bowl, the Spinaway, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Where: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains and located approximately 40 miles north of Albany, Saratoga is a place of serene natural beauty. The track and town are easily accessible by plane, car, and train and is (relatively) equidistant to Boston, New York, and Montreal, Canada.

Fun fact: Amtrak trains go directly to Saratoga Springs from both New York City and Montreal, making the destination an easy trip for city dwellers without cars.

Why: National history

Native American people, namely the Mohawk and Abenaki tribes, have long celebrated the area now known as Saratoga for its natural springs; and when the British built a fort in the region in 1691, they, too, revered the spring water for its restorative properties. The first permanent U.S.-British settlement was built in 1776, and the 1777 Battle of Saratoga was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Even before the advent of horse racing in 1863, Saratoga had become a haven for the rich and famous due to the mineral springs in the area, and the Roosevelt Baths are still revered as a spa retreat to this day.

Once horse racing reached Saratoga, the city became even more of a playground for the rich and famous. One local icon was Marylou Whitney, a philanthropist who dedicated herself to the town of Saratoga and shepherded the city and racetrack through the 1960s and 70s when the track was at its economic low point. Thanks in no small part to her efforts, both Saratoga Springs and Saratoga Race Course are thriving.

Fun fact: Saratoga Race Course was named in the top ten greatest sports venues in the world by Sports Illustrated.

What to Expect in 2024

Fans enjoy live racing at Saratoga. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

There are so many great ticketing option for racing fans across the spectrum of budgets from general admission to reserved seating to all-inclusive fan experience packages. You can learn more about them right here.

If you’re planning to attend the races several times throughout the meet, it’s probably a good idea to grab a season pass, which provides access to both the Grandstand and the Clubhouse, for just $95.

If you’re going to take box seats for an afternoon (and the view is incredible!) make sure you’re aware of the dress code: for men, a suit or sports jacket is encouraged on weekdays and required on weekends, and neither shorts nor jeans are ever permitted. For ladies, the no-shorts rule stands and includes rompers; jeans and abbreviated wear also are not allowed.

The first race on most days (with the exception of certain big-event racedays) will be at 1:10 p.m. ET, and racing will be held five days a week after opening week from Wednesday through Sunday. If you have other questions or concerns, there is an extrordinarily helpful FAQs page for fans traveling to the Spa to catch the races.

Saratoga rolls out the stops in terms of fan activities during its meet, and there are plenty of them to choose from this summer, from the annual Taste of New York pavilion to breakfast and farm tour packages and a summer concert series at the track. Get information on all events and dates here.

Wanna Bet?

It’s incredibly easy to bet Saratoga, even if you’re not able to attend. It’s legal in many states to bet from home using what’s called an “advance-deposit wagering” platform – essentially an app or website that allows you to load up your account and bet from wherever you like. One piece of advice: the key word here is “advance,” so make sure to set your account up as early as possible since sometimes it takes a day or more to process the funds. The official wagering platform Saratoga is NYRA Bets, and there are almost always enticing promotions available.

If you’re new to betting via app, the team at America’s Best Racing has created the leading tool in the sport for figuring out how to make your bets and what they’ll cost: ABR’s Gambling Calculator, which is presented by the aforementioned NYRA Bets.

Looking for more information on how to start playing the ponies? We have a post called “Betting on Horse Racing, Explained” with a focus on bettors just like you. Here’s a taste to whet your appetite:

The Basics

Win bet – A bet on a horse to finish first.

Place bet – A bet on a horse to finish first or second.

Show bet A bet on a horse to finish in the money; third or better.

In the money – A horse that finishes first, second, or third.

Across the board – A bet on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse wins, the bettor collects three ways; if second, two ways (place, show); and if third, one way, losing the win and place bets. It's actually three bets.

Morning line – The odds that the track handicapper predicts a horse will be to win the race when it starts.

Fun fact: the biggest payout for a $2 win bet in the Travers Stakes came in 1945 when Adonis returned $53.50 to savvy horseplayers.


Saratoga really does offer something for everyone, and below is a quick list of some of our favorite things to check out at the track and around town while you’re visiting.

At the track

Morning training

Morning at Saratoga (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

From 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. throughout the meet, fans are welcome to watch elite Thoroughbreds train at the Whitney Viewing Stand at Oklahoma Training Track. Trust and believe there is nothing as beautiful as watching as sunrise bakes off the mountain fog enveloping the track as the silence is broken only by the pounding of hooves. It’s something everyone should experience at least once.

The jockey walk

There’s a walkway that leads from the jockeys’ room in the Grandstand backyard to the winner’s circle, and it’s the perfect opportunity to snap a photo or snag an autograph from some of horse racing’s greatest riders after their races. It’s honestly one of the coolest opportunities in sports – what other venue gives fans so much access to the athletes? It’s a definite destination for a day at the track.

The Big Red Spring

One of Saratoga’s famous mineral water springs is located right at the northwest corner of the racetrack. It’s your chance to taste the waters that put Saratoga on the map, and all we’ll say is that it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. Probably – no, definitely – take video.

The paddock

While access to the paddock is reserved for horse owners, trainers, jockeys, and media, fans are welcome to line the rail surrounding the saddling area to see the Thoroughbreds prepare for their races. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot, and both the horse- and people-watching are top notch.

Around town

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

Renovated Racing Hall of Fame.

Located on Union Avenue just opposite of the racetrack, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is a must-visit destination for horse lovers and history buffs alike. With interactive exhibits, incredible objects, and a state-of-the-art Hall of Fame, a morning at the museum is the perfect way to whet your appetite for an afternoon of racing. This year, there is a special exhibit honoring the Hall of Fame career of superstar filly Ruffian, who debuted as a 2-year-old 50 years ago and won all five of her starts in 1974, topped off by the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. Jockey Joel Rosario and recent standouts Gun Runner and Justify headline this year’s Hall of Fame class, which will be inducted during a ceremony Aug. 2 at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion. Visit for more information.

Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sales

Half elite horse auction, half cocktail party, the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale is a unique experience. This year’s dates are Aug. 5 and 6, and if you’re in town it’s a must.

Inside the sales ring, promising young Thoroughbreds change hands for millions of dollars (in 2023, 154 horses changed hands for $75,055,000) while a party takes place outside complete with food and drinks. Admission is free (but food and beverage are not) and you’ll have the chance to rub shoulders with some tycoons, trainers, and even heads of state.

Caroline Street

Looking for a big night out? The best place to party in Saratoga is Caroline Street, which is home to some of the most popular bars and restaurants in the city.

Concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Practically every genre of music will be celebrated at SPAC during the weeks of Saratoga’s race meet, from classical (the Philadelphia Orchestra and special guests) to country (Dierks Bentley, Hank Williams Jr.) to soul (John Legend) to blues (Tedeschi Trucks Band) to alternative (Cage the Elephant) and numerous hitmakers from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Attending an outdoor show is a great way to cap off a winning day at the races!

There’s so much more to do around town during the Saratoga meet – and last month, ABR freshened several guides to the area in time for Saratoga’s first time hosting the Belmont Stakes. Of course, all of our recommendations are still in full effect for the 2024 summer meet: enjoy these guides to great breakfast spots, essential dining options, destination breweries and bars, and a broader area overview from a local’s perspective.

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