Talking Track Part 5: Sights, Sounds and Smells – A Day Through Your Eyes
The Saratoga season is in full swing, and we’ve discussed track history, how to handicap and how to get around. But what can you expect when you step through the gates of the Saratoga Race Course? Well, come with me and I’ll paint you a picture with a little story told through your eyes. This is Talking Track: The Novice’s Guide to the Saratoga Race Course.
So you pick up your buddies, pack the cooler and head up to the track! Then you realize you forgot the chairs. “Damn.” Pull the U-Turn, grab those chairs, get back in the car and you’re on your way to the track! You drive up the rest of way, navigate what seems like a larger crowd than you expected and turn onto Nelson. Why Nelson? Because you’re smart, and you printed out Talking Track Part 4, so you know just what to do.
Of all those houses and all those people flagging you down you pick one out, pay your five bucks and you’re parked. Coming out of the backyard you get your first look at the track and excitement oozes – from you, your friends and the crowd around you…and a surprisingly potent smell of horse manure oozes out from the track. Yep, you’re in the right place.
Begin the walk over. Hate yourself for not picking the cooler with wheels, but man-up and follow the crowd peppered with dresses and jean shorts around the corner and past the two six year-olds selling water. “Hmm, that’s odd. Where are their parents?” you think. Indeed, sir. And if you weren’t so determined to get your gamble on you might go back and inquire as to wether or not they’re lost and set up shop to try and make bus money or something. But you press on. “They’ll be fine.” You then move right past the guys selling pick sheets thinking, “Man, if these guys are so good at picking horses why are they still selling pick sheets and not hanging out, making it rain at the clubs?” Exactly. Walk right past them and through the gate.
So you get past it all, have your cooler searched for contraband, ignore the off-handed comment by the security guard about your Keystone Light, pay your three bucks and you’re in! “Man is that horse smell potent now.” It feels good, let’s you know you’re alive. You and your friends stand in the middle of the walk way, oblivious to the 20,000 other people trying to get around you and survey the land. You find a place to sit…Let’s say the paddock, because again, you took my sage advice. On your way you buy the post parade book and a “lucky pen.” “Hey, can’t hurt.” And with that you head into the paddock.
You and your friends walk the paddock for a few minutes, trying to find the perfect spot, spending a few minutes trying to figure out which way is West so you can track the sun and set up in the shade. After a minute, amateur meteorologist that you are, you’ve got a great spot in the shade. Set up the chairs, crack that book, crack that drink and handicap, baby! The next half hour or so you spend deep in concentration, checking out the tips in Talking Track 2 and following my ten steps in Talking Track 3 with increasing frustration. “This is hard!”
Then, as you hit step six, angry at the world that you can’t find a horse you want to bet, you’re jarred from your stupor by the ringing of a loud bell. “Huh?” Seventeen minutes to post you see. “That must be what the bell means.” And as you go to immerse yourself back into the book you take a quick look around. “Holy people, Batman!” you exclaim. The paddock, which you had enjoyed in relative solitude is now swarmed with people. Where you and your friends had once been alone, you are now siting next to a married couple in their seventies, chain smoking their afternoon away to your left, and a middle aged couple and their three year old daughter and newborn son on your right. You enjoy that bit of irony for a minute and take a piece of advice you eavesdropped from the senior citizen couple on your left and pick some horses.
Just as you pick, the horses arrive at the paddock. Ecstatic, you jump up and sprint to the fence, realizing that you’ve never actually seen a horse in person. Then you catch the first sight of the trainers, owners and their families entering the paddock. It’s your first glimpse of the Saratoga bourgeoisie. “They’re so gorgeous!” The suits are exquisite, and the sundresses are stunning. But refusing to lose focus you turn your attention back to the horses. Making sure that your horses aren’t donkeys, you’re off to the window to place that first bet of the day.
On your way there you hear the dulcet and familiar tones of “Sam the Bugler” calling the riders. Ten minutes to post. You have a talk with your friends as you approach the window and find out that none of you are betting on the same horses. “Whatever,” you think, “they don’t know.” Defiant as ever you pick out a friendly face and bet that exacta. Whoops. You forgot that a two dollar exacta box is a four dollar bet, didn’t you? A rookie mistake, but you’re about the four hundredth person to make it today. Dig into your pocket for two more bucks, grab your slip and try and keep your dignity as you walk away.
Meet up with your friends and follow the crowd in. It’s right now that you confirm your emphatic love of sundresses and attractive women. But just then two men cross in front of your path. A thin white tank top barely holds in one man’s excessive gut and the good vibe in your head vanishes, as does the rest of that man’s Genny Light. The image is burned into your psyche, but you try and shake it off as you pass through the grandstand and take note of the Sabrett stand on your right. “I’m gonna hit that up right after I win this race!”
You arrive at the rail with just a few minutes to go until the race. The energy is palpable an- “…what’s that smell?” You brush it off and enjoy the scenery as the rail area becomes packed with people. Three small children run past you and squeeze their way up to the front row, while you enjoy your view four rows back. The starting gate is right in front of you, should be a great view of the- “Seriously. What is that smell?!” You turn around and see four eighteen year-olds smoking cigars. To you’re left? Three middle aged men smoking cigars. Yeah. They’re everywhere people, I mean there’s a booth at the track that rolls them right in front of you. Learn to deal with it. Embrace it. Love it.
Just then Tom Durkin, track announcer, comes over the loudspeaker. “The horses have reached the starting gate, they’re at the post!” A small cheer goes up from the crowd as the horses appear in front of you. One by one they’re loaded into the gate and “Ahh! Ambulance!” The ambulance that trails the field drives up and blocks your view, and you’re just barely able to see the start through a few heads. With a ring the horses tear away down the front stretch as you watch on the screens. A quarter goes by in 22 seconds; “Man that’s fast! A half in 48, much more reasonable, but where’s my five horse?!” They hit the top of the stretch and a roar starts from the crowd. The gentleman in front of you starts yelling at a jockey by his first name (that’s me, by the way). You join in. “Come on Johnny! Bring him!” You realize that your jockey’s name is Edgar, but the excitement is too much to care about that now. The horses blaze past you as Tom Durkin starts yelling, the crowd starts yelling, you start yelling, and with a deep cry the horses hit the line…Then your’s hit the line.
Dejected, you walk back, passing the dirt caked jockeys on their way back to the locker room. Your chair is now sitting in the hot sun and surrounded by more people than when you left. So much for amateur meteorologist. You curse my name and my handicapping advice and angrily slump back into your chair. But whatever. Crack another drink, crack the book and start again. It’s the glory of the track. Hope springs eternal.
…”Come on Johnny! Bring him!” You then realize that your jockey’s name is Edgar. Can’t worry about that now though, as you spot him surging to the front! A blazing run on the outside and with a huge cry from the crowd your horses hit the wire first and second! Boom, baby! WINNER! You celebrate with your friends and tell everyone around you how you managed to pick out those two 5-2 favorites. The race goes official and you walk inside and cash in that $22 winner, and treat yourself to some Sabrett. You sing songs and write sonnets of my glory, proclaiming my prophet like wisdom to the world. You return to your seat, which is now in the blazing sun and surrounded by more people – but whatever. You’re a successful gambler, baby. Sit down, crack your second drink, crack your book and start again. You’ve got to love Saratoga.