Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
The magic will be rekindled for the 146th time on Friday when the curtain will rise for another spectacular season at the incomparable oasis that is Saratoga Race Course.
It’s a moment some 10 ½ months in the making, since the early hours of a Labor Day evening when Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” blared in the background as fans slowly strolled to the exits for the final time in 2013.
Now it’s time to start anew again.
Once again more fabulous racing and a collection of the nation’s best horses will come together in a heavenly setting that has withstood the ravages of time and remains as enthralling and captivating as it was more than a century ago.
And yet for all of the history packed into it and all of the reminders of a Victorian era, nothing ever grows old about it.
The thrills it provides are fresh year after year, because Saratoga does not rely on any single horse or race to make it special.
It’s the entire experience that’s so enjoyable. Great racing in the environment it deserves. Large crowds filling seats in the grandstand and clubhouse as well as picnic tables in the backyard. Titans of industry and average Joes. Horses saddled in a large, shaded paddock surrounded by rows of intrigued onlookers. Longshots and regally bred 2-year-olds.
Then, when the final race becomes official, there’s a town where the day’s races are revisited and tomorrow’s card is analyzed over a meal, a drink or a gelato in the fresh air of the Adirondack Mountains.
And that’s why Saratoga has such a revered spot in the hearts of the sport’s most passionate fans. Beyond a racetrack, Saratoga provides a setting where the Sport of Kings is surely royalty.
A three hour car drive to the south, in New York City, horse racing finds itself obscured by the Yankees and Mets, all of the other major professional teams, and the bright lights of Broadway. But in serene Saratoga Springs, New York, it’s racing that dominates conversations, be they in the cool morning air for early dawn workouts, during an exciting afternoon at the track, or while unwinding at a restaurant in the evening.
If you’ve been to Saratoga, you should understand.
If not, do yourself a favor. Experience it. All of it. From the photo finishes to a walk along Broadway as night falls.
And don’t wait too long. There’s only 40 days of racing and then Labor Day will arrive. With any luck, you’ll have your own array of freshly minted memories by then, and a year from now you’ll understand why so many people have been merrily counting down the days until Friday – when Saratoga opens once again.