Talking Track Part 4: Getting Around
With twenty thousand gamblin' fools descending on the Saratoga Race Course everyday, getting around can get a little hectic. But with the right knowledge you can master the logistics of Saratoga. You may just need some help. This is Talking Track: The Novice's Guide to the Saratoga Race Course.
Parking, getting in, figuring out where to sit, figuring out where to bet, where to watch - for a fist timer things can get a little confusing. Heck, you walk in the first time and that horse and cigar smell hits you like a ton of bricks. Some woman in what looks like a ball gown just walked by selling roses and you just barely avoid stumbling over a chain and running into a three quarter of a ton animal. I get it. It's overwhelming. Well I'm here to help, courtesy of this map from the NYRA website. I've once again used all of the arts and crafts skill I can muster and marked it up for your benefit. So check it and the legend below out so you can know all you need to about getting around the Saratoga Race Course. The original map can be found at this link.
PARKING and GETTING IN:
A - There are two main roads that run next to the course. Union and Nelson. Which do you park on? I always like to park on Nelson. It's less crowded than Union Avenue and it gives you a fluid route straight onto the Northway. Plus, I don't know about the rest of you, but I like my parking courtesy of some lucky, income supplementing landowner leasing out their backyard. Why? Because I'm a supporter of the common man. The more you drive down Nelson the pricier the parking, however. So it may behoove you to draw up a cost benefit analysis for steps vs. price. Overdoing it? Nah. Be prepared.
B - Follow the dotted line from your parking spot on the clubhouse turn and start in toward the track (yes, you should totally print this out and bring it with you). At B you'll find water and soda sold by children under the age of twelve, as well as pick sheets sold by adults five times their senior. It's an odd juxtaposition. After you've navigated those, maybe spent a few dollars, you can walk through the gate of the wonderful Saratoga Race Course.
C - This brings us your first opportunity to buy the past performances or Post Parade book. To me, it's a necessary accessory (love the rhyme) for any handicapper who wants to appear like they have a clue what they're doing. Even if they don't.
LANDMARKS OF NOTE:
D - All D's marked on this map represent one of the large screens spread throughout the park that display both the odds and the race itself. Apologies to any Saratoga veterans who would like to point out if I forgot one. I'm doing my best here.
E - Ahh yes. E. For those who can read the map, and see the picture, it's the "Big Red Spring." It's one of the many natural mineral springs that color the Saratoga Springs landscape. Drinking from the spring is said to bring any gambler good luck...as well as a lingering taste of sulfur and three week old milk. If you've got tuberculosis or scurvy it may be the thing for you. If not, everything you eat for a week will will taste like it. Approach with caution.
F - This is the track...if you couldn't tell. Remember, the Shake Shack is amazing, but you're here for the track. It's where the horses race! By the way, if that little nugget was news, go back to Talking Track: Part One and start over. F is also the rough placement of the winner's circle.
G - Letter G brings you the jockey walk...approximately. I know it looks rough but I wasted all of my arts and crafts talent on letters A-F, and that sweet dotted line. Anyway, rush here after a race and get your favorite jockey's autograph. Or, for you less gracious losers out there, berate your last jockey for costing you $200. Demand the money back! It's his fault you lost the rent! And hey, don't worry, when that security guard comes over he's just coming to help settle the jockey's debt, maybe even give you a ride in the back of car and a free tour of the Saratoga County jail. Leave the jockey's alone, eh?
GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT HANDICAPPERS BY SEATING:
1 - This represents paddock seating. Generally those who sit here are amateur handicappers with an interest in horse racing and some legitimate understanding. Some. To me, this is the perfect place to sit. It's a short walk to the track, a shorter walk to the betting windows and the horses come to you. Not to mention the fact that the giant odds/video board sits right in front of you.
2 - This is a very similar section to number one, but those who sit in this section of the park may be a little bit more interested in hanging out with their friends than studying the book.
3 - This section of the track is where the picnic tables are located. It's a great place to have a party at the track. And for many, party they do. This section is at times populated by your hammered handicappers. It's the section of the track in which you're most likely to hear the sentence "however many cups I hit in this game of beer pong, that's the horse number I'm betting on, baby!" By the end of the day some of the twenty-somethings in this area of the track are watching last race's replay while rooting for a horse they bet on three races ago. Loving life, baby!
4 - Generally, those seated in the grandstand are your senior citizen handicappers. If you're worried about sun-stroke but you want to play the ponies - boom. Number 4 is for you. This section is emphatically endorsed by my grandmother. And me. If you want to spend the money, it really is a great place to watch a race.
5 - This is one of my favorite parts of the track. Number five, meant to indicate the benches set up in front of the large TV's at the back of the stands, is where to find the real handicappers of the track. Here you find those handicappers who aren't just betting Saratoga. They're betting Monmouth, Delaware, possibly any dog tracks that are open, maybe a tractor pull or two if there's one in town. Heck you may even find them rolling dice out back, who knows? Clickity clack, people. Point is, these are your true gamblers. These guys have forgotten more about horse racing than I know.
6 - 6 brings us to the "Clubhouse." It's for those of you normal handicappers out there looking for a slightly more upper-class look. It's a few extra dollars to get in, and you'll have to get rid of those sweet jorts you're rocking, but you do get to partake in all of the polo shirt and sundress fun your heart can stand. You also get improved sight-lines of both the finish line and the winners circle.
7 - And the luxury suites. This is for those you out there looking for a ridiculously more upper-class look. We're talking Trump money here people. At least I think. Truth is they're so mysterious and so exclusive, I know nothing else. They're so mysterious that this (>) is the only known picture to ever be taken of them...Well, that may not be entirely accurate. However, I can only imagine that those lucky enough to roll the luxury suites are casually dropping four figures a race while throwing back the beluga caviar and petting their condor...I mean. I guess. This is strictly conjecture...Probably not so much with the condor...But maybe.
WHERE TO WATCH THE RACE:
D - You can watch the race from any of the large screens or television sets spread throughout the backyard area. It's nice to do for one or two races a day, but come on - you're here to actually watch the races. Rally up and watch it at F, eh?
F - Hey. See what I did there? I mentioned it, and then I go on to talk about it. I'm a writer, you know. F is the track...as we've gone through before. By the way if you're still not getting it, I'm not sure I can help you. Anyway. Know this: by track I don't mean that you should step onto the track to watch the race. True, you'll get an awesome view of the stretch run, but you'll also be drinking through a straw for the next twelve years. Standing safely behind the fence along the rail gives you almost as good a view, but without the danger of stampede and death.
4 - Number four is one of my favorite places to watch the race. This is up behind the grandstand. It's a great place to watch a race or two a day, particularly races on the turf or inner turf. It gives you a great view of the entire track, including the back stretch, something hard to see from the rail.
Well there you have it everybody. That's everything you need to know about getting around the Saratoga Race Course...I think. If I left something out or if you've still got a question drop a comment and let me know. Otherwise, be sure to check out Talking Track Part 5, which should come out on Thursday. We'll cover the "Sights, Sounds and Smells of the track - a day through your eyes." Thanks for reading, and good luck everybody!