Many in the Capital Region consider the Kentucky Derby to be an unofficial holiday.
The area’s long standing tradition of horse racing in Saratoga Springs has made the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs a day of celebration and parties. The 137th running of the Derby Saturday was all that again.
Men wearing their best sportcoats and women in large hats flocked to Siro’s on Lincoln Avenue in Saratoga Springs for the Derby party that’s been held at the restaurant for 20 years.
“Saratoga is the epicenter of American horse racing with the highest level of horse racing in the country, maybe the world,” said Marion Altieri, editorial director of “Equicurean” a thoroughbred racing magazine out of Saratoga. She said if you can’t be in Churchill Downs with 160,000 screaming fans, Siro’s is the place to be.
Altieri was watching the event with friends. She has been to the Derby twice and recommends all fans go at least once. But she explained watching the race at the restaurant provides a much better view and a more relaxing atmosphere than being at the race.
“And the fact is, with the horses stabled right across the street, we’re closer to thoroughbred horses than the majority of the people at the Derby are,” she said, sipping her mint julep.
Dave Testo, 45, said his family brought him to Siro’s since he was 3. The North Greenbush resident said he can remember crawling under the turnstiles to enter the raceway after his family had dinner.
Others found the annual party a refreshing way to start spring and socialize.
“People in upstate New York are quiet during the winter,” said Debora De Simone, who moved to the area from Boston in 1998. She has been celebrating the Derby at Siro’s ever since. “This is the first time people really start coming out. I get to see the people who have been shut-ins.”
Excitement grows locally on race day because fans often see the Derby winner at Saratoga’s annual running of the Travers Stakes in August.
Mike Isabella of Rotterdam was watching the Derby at Vapor Nightclub inside Saratoga Casino and Raceway. He said he is a bigger fan of Saratoga racing, but he makes sure to watch the Run for the Roses each year to see which horses may be at Travers Day.
“I like the anticipation of it,” said the 29-year-old.
Establishments outside Saratoga have begun holding Kentucky Derby events.
Saturday was the 2nd annual Derby Party at The Van Dyck Restaurant in Schenectady.
Co-owner Billy McDonald said more than 100 people watched the races and feedback has been good. Mint juleps were served, a jazz band played and extra flat screens were moved in downstairs.
McDonald said the party was a new alternative for locals who didn’t want to drive to Saratoga.
“We heard people would go to Saratoga, which is great, but now we’re here with our Derby party,” said McDonald. “It’s been a rough winter and people are just now starting to do stuff. It’s a good thing for downtown Schenectady.”