By the backstretch

Going behind the scenes is a fun way to see the workings of Saratoga Race Course and learn a little

Going behind the scenes is a fun way to see the workings of Saratoga Race Course and learn a little about the history of the track, the horses and the people who work there.

And every day of the season, except Travers Day and the last day of the meet, there are free backstretch tours from 7 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no admission charge to enter the track before 10 a.m. and the parking fee is reimbursed if you leave before then.

To go on a tour, enter the track and make your way over to the Clubhouse area. A tram will pick you up and take you behind the scenes.

Once in the backstretch, you are greeted by a knowledgeable staff member holding the reins of a thoroughbred. Stories about the old times in Saratoga, the horses and the history behind the training tracks are shared. Adults enjoy listening to the tales behind the tails. Children like being in the center of bustling activity and seeing dozens of horses being exercised, walked and groomed.

Breakfast at the track

A buffet breakfast is served every racing day from 7 to 9:30 a.m. The buffet is priced at $14.95 per person, $7.95 for children between the ages of 3 and 12. However, you can bring you own breakfast and watch the jockeys work out the horses from the sidelines.

After a brief orientation, visitors hoof it around the backstretch with a guide who explains what is going on and what — and sometimes who — they are seeing. Be advised, there is plenty of walking and you wouldn’t want to wear your best shoes as there are a fair share of mucky pathways.

There’s a lot to take in. As you walk about, expect to see the thoroughbreds getting a rub down or a shower. Some horses will be heading to the track to work out. Others will race by as you stand near the railing and still others will be led around in a circle by hot walkers whose job it is to cool a horse down after exercising.

It is thoroughly picturesque. Bring a camera. You’ll capture a glimpse into the world of racing that most don’t get to see.

Children asked more questions than adults on the tour I took. They wanted to know the names of all the horses, how the starting gate worked and all about companion animals — animals, such as goats, kept by some owners to comfort the thoroughbreds. One boy on the tour, who evidently mucked stalls at home, commented on the towering manure pile.

You’ll see and smell more than you anticipated and come away with some tidbits about the racing scene you can share with friends at the races later.

Don’t be surprised if you spot a celebrity. Funny Cide was making his way to the course while we were there and stopped to pose for the camera.

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