Road Trip! Destination: Saratoga, N.Y.
A century and a half is a lot of history.
That's why the sport of kings is about to be toasted in royal fashion as “Saratoga Celebrates 150 Years of Horse Racing,” a party to which everyone is invited.
The historic Saratoga Race Course, the oldest and, some believe, most renowned thoroughbred track in North America, hosts its annual 40-day summer meet in the Adirondacks' foothills with special flair this year. Home to some of the racing world's best horses, trainers and jockeys, it dates back to 1863 and prides itself on maintaining much of the same look and feel from the Civil War era.
A series of high-profile events begin with the 33rd annual Open House at Saratoga Race Course on July 14, previewing the season that begins July 19 and runs through Labor Day.
Sports Illustrated named it one of the world's “Top 10 Sports Venues of the 20th Century.” Legendary sports writer Red Smith once offered these colorful directions to Saratoga: “From New York City, drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Venue, then go back 100 years in time.”
“The anniversary season is a celebration of not only the history of thoroughbred racing, but the history of the Saratoga Springs community as a whole,” says Rodnell Workman, vice president and chief marketing officer of the New York Racing Association. “Saratoga Race Course is a true family destination with a wide variety of activities for all ages and interests.”
The richness of events, attractions and activities make Saratoga Springs, which is steeped in history and culture, as well as being home to it world-famous mineral baths, a popular year-round destination, says Annamaria Bellantoni, vice president of tourism at the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. The Battles of Saratoga, honored at Saratoga National Historical Park, proved a turning point of the American Revolution.
The area, summer home to the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, exudes a special energy in the summer. The picturesque city, with its tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, Victorian architecture and floral plantings offers a taste of what it was like 150 years ago. It also has modern boutiques and restaurants, as well as free parking in a friendly downtown that is walkable and pet-friendly.
The race course annually draws more than 900,000 fans over its summer season.
“To put this in perspective,” Workman says, Saratoga draws more fans in 40 “home dates” than “the Knicks, Rangers or Penguins each draw in 41 home dates.” It's worth nothing, he adds, that the race course's more recent demographic study showed that 51 percent of its patrons are male and 49 percent female, “which is remarkable in the industry.”
Saratoga Race Course
During the 33rd annual Open House at Saratoga Race Course on July 1, Zendaya, “Dancing With the Stars” runner-up and Disney Channel star, headlines a free family concert at 3 p.m., the first to be held at the race course in many years. (Though the performance is free, Ticketmaster is charging, but limiting, handling fees to $1.50 per ticket, with a limit of four tickets per transaction).
The concert and day of family fun and attractions from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. is billed as the opening ceremonies for the 150th anniversary season at Saratoga Race course, July 19-Sept. 2.
Details: For track events: www.nyra.com/saratoga/information/events
The historic season kicks off with an opening weekend on July 19 to 21 with gates opening at 11 a.m. and the first post time at 1 p.m. July 19. In addition to the world-class racing, the weekend includes family fun, live music downtown and at the track and the 22nd annual Hats Contest on July 21 at the track for monetary prizes.
The contest invites participants to showcase their fashionable headpieces on the track apron in one of three categories: “kids,” “fashionable” and “unique/zany.” This year's entries will feature a Victorian twist in honor of the track's 150th birthday.
A non-track family festival includes arts and crafts and special children's activities.
Family Fridays at Saratoga Race Course continue through Aug. 31.
Daily 45-minute walking tours provide a historical overview of the facility and showcase the unique architecture, landscape and traditions that encompass the course and grounds.
Floral Fete Promenade
Vintage automobiles, floats and men, women and children with floral-decorated bicycles, wagons, baby carriages and non-motorized “contraptions” on wheels travel down Broadway to Congress Park at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2 to sing “Happy Birthday” to the race course, and be entertained by a riverboat jazz band, strolling entertainers, Victorian-clad Saratogians and ride the carousel. Families will also enjoy the Congress Park Ice Cream Social.
These events were popular in the late 1800s in Saratoga Springs and it is being reprised as part of the Saratoga 150 festival.
150th Anniversary of Racing at Saratoga
The racetrack's official birthday on Aug. 3 coincides with the running of the Whitney Handicap. Beginning Aug. 3, and continuing each Saturday for the remainder of the meet, five individuals will have the opportunity to place a $15,000 win-wager on the day's featured stakes race.
The Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro, is designing a cake for the birthday.
Saratoga's most anticipated race, the $1 million Travers, the “Mid-Summer Derby” for 3-year-olds at a mile and a quarter, returns for its 144th running on Aug. 24. Post time is 11:35 a.m.; gates open at 7 a.m.
On Aug. 8 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra presents the world premiere of a new commission, “Serenade,” at a concert honoring the 150th anniversary of the race course.
Racing, wine, food and cars
In addition to a nightly street festival along Broadway downtown, the anniversary season closes with a number of events and activities at the track from Aug. 30-Sept. 2. The Final Stretch Festival begins with a closing ceremony following the final race on Aug. 30, the lone twilight race day of the meet. Families will be invited back to the track Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 for more fun and games at the annual Family Fun Fest to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
The Saratoga Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival, from Sept. 6 through 8, is three days of wine, food and cars hosted by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in Saratoga Spa State Park, a National Historic Landmark at 19 Roosevelt Drive.
The annual event draws close to 6,000 from Montreal to Northern New Jersey. It features 200-plus premier wine and food exhibitors, invitation-only and collector Italian luxury vehicles.