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Saratoga Survival Guide Part One – Getting In, Getting Around, and What to See

We’re just days away from Friday’s opening of the Saratoga Race Course’s 144th season, and we at 1045theteam.com have what you need to get yourself ready for all that the track has to offer.  Today, we tell you how to get to, how to get around in, and what you need to see at, the famous course.

A day at the Saratoga Race Course begins with three questions.  1: How much money should I bring?  2: How many articles of Ralph Lauren clothing am I comfortable wearing?  And 3: Where do I park?  Finding answers to the first two requires an extensive equation figuring income, social standing, and personal level of shame.  I’ll leave those to you.  The parking – and how to get there – however, I feel comfortable tackling.

Map Courtesy of New York State Racing Association, Nyra.com

If you’re looking for a regimented, track-run parking system, letters A of the above diagram are your jam.  Found off of Union Avenue, and accessed via exit 14 off the Northway, these parking lots can provide some of your shorter walks if you’re willing to pay, or a free spot if you’re willing to huff it.  But if you’re looking for a more folksy feel, then look to letter B.  The Northway’s exit 13N, a quick drive up Route 9, and a right onto Crescent Street will bring you to Nelson Avenue, bordering the track’s Clubhouse turn.  For 5-10 dollars, a kind face will usher you into their backyard where you’ll leave your car under their watchful eye.  It’s a short walk to the track, and an even shorter trip down Nelson and straight onto the Northway at the close of the day.

Once inside,  a new question emerges:  Where do I sit?  Well, a quick survey of the land produces an array of possibilities.  C represents Grandstand seating – reserved seats located at the top of the stretch.  For a few dimes and some forethought, these stadium-style seats could be yours – Grandstand seats are available on Ticketmaster.  At letter D you’ll find the general concourse and a number of benches, leaning posts, and TV’s.  It is the spot if you’re a serious gambler - the type of dude throwing money down on more than just Saratoga.  Monmouth, Keeneland, a dog track, a raging dice game next to the Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.  A slightly more upscale version is Letter E’s Clubhouse.  No short-shorts or tank-tops here, but what you lose in sleeves you more than make up for in view of the finish line.

The picnic-style area is where many of the Saratoga patrons land, and is shown at the letters F on my arts and crafts work above.  Populated by coolers and 30-racks of PBR, it’s one of the best places to find yourself in the track’s expansive grounds – and the deeper you go, the bigger the party.  Indeed, the farther from the rail, the more likely you are to see a six-foot sub spread across two picnic tables whilst a game of beer pong rages on a third.  But despite the fun that can be had there, I recommend G for your viewing pleasure.  This is the seating area surrounding the paddock – where the horses are saddled.  Here you’ll find a great view of the horses, a big screen boasting the odds, and an easy walk to the betting windows and track.

During your day at Saratoga – if for no other reason than to take your mind off the beating you’re likely taking at the window – you’ll want to make sure you check out the various landmarks it has to offer.  1 – the Track.  Come on, it is why you’re here, after all.  As delicious as the lemonade is, make sure you actually watch a horse run a race at some point.  You can also check out Saratoga’s famous Carousel, found at number 2.  The name is misleading – it’s less of a carnival ride and more of a viewing area/restaurant – but worth seeing.  One of Saratoga’s most unique features is found at 3, the jockeys walking through the crowd to return to their dressing room.  Be sure you check it out at least once – especially if you’re with children.

4 – also known as letter G – represents the paddock.  Not that it will help you with your betting – be honest, you don’t know a fit horse from a St. Bernard – you should do yourself a favor and be there around 17 minutes to post to watch the horses enter the paddock, be saddled, and exit to the track with jockey aboard.  It’s something special.  And if you believe in the healing power of spring water – or if you enjoy the feeling of your taste buds uniting as one and vehemently revolting against the horror to which you’ve subjected them – check out 5, the track’s legendary Big Red Spring, one of many found throughout the Saratoga region.

As for watching the race?  I recommend a number of areas.  First?  6.  The finish line.  If you’re going to do Saratoga, do it right.  Make the walk up to the rail and catch the horses as they fly past you in a desperate sprint to clip the wire first – a wire the sits only feet from where you stand.  7′s an interesting spot.  You won’t have a great view of the finish, but when the horses greet you at the top of the stretch – before the low roar of the crowd begins in earnest – you’re treated with the weird, seemingly random, guttural utterances of a dozen jockeys each trying to urge their horse.  You have to hear it .  Similarly, you won’t have a brilliant view of the finish line at 8/C, but the arial view you’re afforded standing behind the Grandstand is one you should experience at least once.  Lastly, at some point, do yourself a favor and watch a race with the some of the real gamblers on one of the more crowded TV’s in the concourse.  They’re on an entirely different level of swearing.  You’ll hear some weird stuff, man.  Stuff that’ll stay with you…

For now, this is where I’ll leave you, but be sure to check back Wednesday when we try to help you understand the disorienting collection of numbers that is the Post Parade Magazine.  If you have any questions on all things Saratoga, e-mail them to Joe@1045theteam.com and listen to Thursday’s 2 Guys 1 Mic Podcast – found on 1045theteam.com – for the answer.

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