The beauty of the backyard

Amanda Ross of Schuylerville stood on the white fence surrounding the paddock at Saratoga Race Cours

Amanda Ross of Schuylerville stood on the white fence surrounding the paddock at Saratoga Race Course and watched the parade of horses.

The eighth race was just minutes away, and thoroughbreds named Vicarage, Treasure Hunter and Caesar Beware were among the group walking the wide paddock path.

Amanda, 4, liked Caesar Beware. She preferred the horse’s pigments over his pedigree.

“He’s got a pink blanket, yellow silks and blue socks,” said Colleen Ross, Amanda’s mother. “I said, ‘He’s very colorful, but he’s not going to look good in the winner’s circle.’”

Colleen, Amanda and about 30 other members of the Clark family from Clifton Park were near the Big Red Spring water fountain. Their picnic tables were full of cookies, fruits, vegetables, chips and other snacks on a mild sunny day in the race track’s popular “backyard.”

People have been camping out with coolers under pines, maples and elms since 1985, when space in back of the grandstand was converted into a park to help accommodate Saratoga’s huge summer crowds. Visitors bring decks of cards and stacks of newspapers. Pizza, chicken wings and turkey sandwiches trimmed with lettuce and tomato slices are always on someone’s menu.

“It’s less crowded,” said Dan Ross, Amanda’s father, dressed casually in denim shorts, black shoes and a rose-colored “Cape Cod” T-shirt. “You know everyone you’re bumping into here. I don’t need to watch the horses go around, the TVs are right here.”

Getting there early

People have traditionally staked out favorite spots during the early morning. Bernie Bochette of Schaghticoke was outside the paddock, right next to the path horses use to reach the exercise area. “We like to be here,” Bochette said, rolling a baby carriage and her 7-month-old granddaughter, Lainey. “We can watch the horses go by, take a look at them. I just like the whole atmosphere, I like to see some of the hats and the outfits.”

People who plan big parties plan on the backyard. Deidre DeMarco, who owns Dee Dee’s tavern on Watervliet-Shaker Road in Latham, entertained 60 people during her bar’s annual visit to the track. Five 3-foot-long coolers full of beer and soda quenched all thirsts; a prime rib meal at the bar after the last race would take care of appetites.

“I’d rather be right here,” DeMarco said. “You see people having a lot of fun. And just in case you forget to bring anything, we go over and ask, ‘Did you forget to bring anything?’ And if they say they forgot something, we can usually supply that. Last year, we forgot to bring our nice big red cups. So we scored some from another table.”

Learning experience

Larry Phillips of Wynantskill also prefers the wide-open spaces. He took his small grandchildren, Lauren and Jack Paris, for ice cream and jockey autographs. Sitting near the path to the paddock paid off in other ways — the gang saw Caesar Beware, the colorful favorite of Amanda Ross — rear up on his way to the races.

“And we didn’t bet that horse, and it got scratched just before the race,” Phillips said. “So you get a little information back here, too.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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