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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Track Tips’

CRL columnist John Gray offers up some tips for playing the ponies in Saratoga.

Albert Einstein was once asked for a simple explanation of his “Theory of Relativity.” He said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” I thought of old Albert this past winter as we suffered the cold, snow and misery that is upstate New York. There were exactly 89 days last winter (yes I counted) and I think you’d agree 88 of them stunk. All of which is my way of saying thank God summer is here and I can’t wait to get to the track.

I’m speaking of Saratoga of course. I’ve been going up the Northway since I was a teenager, risking a dollar or two and taking in the sights and sounds that are uniquely Saratoga. I think, applying Einstein’s theory, this summer more than any in recent memory, we are going to enjoy the sunshine a little more after that winter of discontent. For some, that means barbecues, boats and beaches; others are happy to take a book to the park and soak in the rays. Whatever flavor is right for you, I do hope you enjoy it. On the off chance you are planning a trip to the Spa city, I feel it is my obligation to impart some wisdom on the do’s and don’ts of the track. Since people love lists, we’ll call this my Top 10.

Parking. The rules are simple, the closer you want to be the more you pay. Personally, I’m partial to the Wright street clubhouse entrance where you can drop ten bucks and walk less than a football field’s length into the gate. Just remember the track has multiple sides and entrances so pay attention to where you park and come in. If you hang out with Sam Adams all day and stumble out at dusk, you may be looking for your car until Labor Day.

Tip sheets. As you walk in the track you’ll find guys (and kids) selling tip sheets they promise will give you winners and make you rich. They say things like, “We had the first 15 races right yesterday.” Forgetting the fact there were only nine races the day previous, ask yourself this simple query: If they really knew who was going to win wouldn’t they be inside betting rather than telling you?

Clubhouse vs. grandstand. If you’re a shorts and t-shirt kind of person, you want the grandstand. If you enjoy wearing pants and a shirt with a collar and prefer not to rub elbows with so many of the sweaty masse, the clubhouse is for you.

Dining vs. seating. If you go to the clubhouse but need to sit, bite the bullet and get a table at The Porch or Turf Terrace. People try to cheap out and just pay for a clubhouse seat, which is a small fold out chair like the ones you’ll find at a ballpark, figuring they’ll save money getting up and buying a hotdog. By the time you pay for admission, the cramped seat and drop $15 on the dog, fries and drink, you could have sat in comfort with a view of the track and had a turkey club sandwich.

Fashion sense. You’ll quickly learn there is too much and not enough of both at the track. Put bluntly, no hat can be too big or dress too small for some women and the guys, oh boy; well to be polite half of them look like they fell off the cover of Field and Stream magazine from the 70’s. Oh and seeing a man in a bright orange jacket with yellow pants is not out of the ordinary. Just wear sunglasses and, for heaven’s sake, whatever is walking toward you, don’t stare.

Don’t assume. If you see a 60-year-old man with a 30-year-old woman, don’t assume that’s his daughter. The same holds true for a strapping young man with a more “seasoned” woman. The eye candy comes in all varieties.

Visit the paddock. Wherever you decide to hang out for the day make sure you venture down to the paddock area where the horses are saddled and paraded about. It is a quiet beautiful part of the track and you can look the horses in the eye before the race and see if any of them wink at you.

Betting. Every day, there are thousands of people who think they know what they are doing and by the end of the day their losing betting slips litter the ground all over the track. My advice, pick a horse with a name you like and bet so little you won’t care if you lose it.

After party. From Siros to The Horseshoe, there are lots of places to have fun when the racing is done. My only advice: if you do plan to go out I’d go up to the track later in the day, around the fifth race, because going nonstop from noon until midnight is exhausting. And last but not least:

Say hello. My television station has a big news set near the clubhouse entrance and I’m there every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Don’t be afraid to say “hi.” I’ll be the guy in the orange jacket. Kidding. Enjoy your summer!

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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