I remember the first time I went to Saratoga Race Course. It was with John “JW” Witt, a true Saratogian, who seems to know everything there is to know about the racetrack. It was a hot day, and I vividly recall running after JW to keep up with his fast stride in my tight sundress and strappy sandals. We parked in someone’s yard, ran through tall grass, jumped over a bunch of fences and found our way to the entrance of the track. I felt like a veteran Saratogian! From that point onward, it was a blur of dresses, hats, a bit of alcohol, lots of new faces and names and a bit more alcohol. It was, after all, summer in Saratoga, and every gathering was a party. We applauded as graceful horses walked past us along the white fence-lined path toward the paddocks, and we made $2 bets on the ones whose names we liked. Walking through the Grandstand felt spectacular and gave me an incredible sense of the track’s history; I instantly imagined all the fancy people who’d stood there before me. And as I looked upon the dirt track, watching the stunning horses and jockeys circle the path, time stood still for me, and it could’ve been any year in the 150-or-so-year history of the majestic place. JW taught me everything I needed to know about Saratoga, and this was no exception to the rule.
Saratoga’s track is famous, and for good reason. Built in 1864, it has survived the Civil War, gambling gangsters and two world wars, and has been built, expanded and improved upon. It’s also the reason millions of visitors flock to Saratoga every summer for racing, eating, drinking and partying. Some people go there to win lots of money, but that day, JW and I were there solely so that he could show it off to me, and that he did.
When I was asked to write about the racetrack’s evolving design for saratoga living, I instantly thought about its iconic structure, colorful jockey statues, roofline and awning, which are as much a part of Saratoga as are our springs, horses and parks. And now, with its recent major capital improvement project, Saratoga Race Course is about to get even better. I turned to the New York Racing Association’s (NYRA’s) President and CEO Chris Kay to learn more about what we can expect this summer when we visit the track.
“Over the past five years, we’ve placed a tremendous emphasis on enhancing the guest experience at this much-beloved sporting venue,” says Kay. “We first made a commitment to expand the number of free picnic tables in the backyard with improved sound, video and Wi-Fi, and then made a day at Saratoga more affordable than ever with our season pass and season perks programs,” he says. “We’ve also dedicated significant resources to showcase the history of this grand place, from the Whitney Viewing Stand to the Saratoga Walk of Fame, to the restoration of the paddock mutuel building. Now, for the first time in many decades, we are creating new boxes for people of all ages to enjoy a day at historic Saratoga Race Course.”
With the excitement of Opening Day quickly approaching, I’ll be reserving a seat at The Stretch, that all-new private hospitality area Kay’s referring to, featuring modern and upscale amenities in the Grandstand at the top of the stretch. I hope to bump into JW there, perhaps win a $2 bet and experience what I’m sure will be a great day at the races!