The summer track season hasn’t started quite yet at Saratoga Race Course, but it’s certainly not too early to get a sneak peek of what goes into making the races a reality. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has officially begun offering its annual tours of the historic Oklahoma Training Track on Union Avenue just across from Saratoga Race Course.
For the uninitiated, the Oklahoma is like Saratoga Race Course’s “backstage” area. It’s where much of the training and preparation takes place before the big races and where many leading trainers, such as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Norman Casse, make a home base during the Spa City’s summer meet. All summer long, weather permitting, through Labor Day, the museum, in cooperation with the New York Racing Association (NYRA), is offering in-depth tours of the Oklahoma and its beautiful, historic grounds. “These tours are a lot of fun,” says the Museum of Racing’s Museum Educator Lindsay Doyle. “The most interesting thing about them, I think, is that they provide a great mix of history and modern racing information.”
Speaking of that rich history, Doyle notes that Saratoga Race Course co-founder John Morrissey chose the site of the Oklahoma as Saratoga’s first track in 1863. “On this tour, you can actually see the outline of the original track, which is in front of the Oklahoma Training Track,” says Doyle. In addition to this, many of the buildings still in use around the Oklahoma are original structures from the 19th century, and tours include a firsthand look at some of these notable buildings.
Guests also get a peek behind the curtain of contemporary Thoroughbred racing. “You get to see trainers and even, sometimes, owners exercising the horses,” says Doyle. “That’s why we offer these tours at 9am, so you can actually get the experience of watching exercise riders, and sometimes, jockeys, going through the training.”
For more than 25 years, the museum has partnered with NYRA to offer these guided tours, which are led by the museum’s volunteers. “We’re very lucky that NYRA is a great partner to work with,” says Doyle. And for an even more behind-the-scenes experience, NYRA recently allowed the museum to expand its tours behind the training track to get a closer look at the Oklahoma track’s barns and backstretch area.
Racing fans might expect to pay a pretty penny to gain access to Saratoga Race Course’s historic training grounds, but tours are just $12 for adults, $6 for students/seniors and $5 for members (that includes admission to the museum, too). Each tour lasts an hour and is about a mile and a half in distance, so wear comfortable shoes. Reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance.