Saratoga County

Unique hats on display at Saratoga Race Course

Although their hats — which featured gazebos, water fountains and a mini race track — took two days

Although their hats — which featured gazebos, water fountains and a mini race track — took two days to make, childhood school friends Anne Marie Mitchelle, of Stillwater, and Debbie Lurie, of New City, began thinking up the design a year ago.

And they got creative, feeding a water pump from their purses into their hats, where miniature fountains with running water ultimately impressed the judges’ panel at Sunday’s 20th annual Hat Contest at the Saratoga Race Course.

“It was just a collaboration of thinking,” Mitchelle said. “It’s health with the water, history with the battlefield, and then, of course, the horses. We worked very hard at it so we’re very happy that people liked what we did.”

In coordinated outfits and hats, Mitchelle and Lurie won and shared the grand prize for the contest’s most celebrated category, “Uniquely Saratoga,” which feature whimsical and creative hats.

The contest is a summer favorite for track regulars, who participate or simply watch the parade of hats on the track apron to celebrate the arrival of the Saratoga racing season.

“Our goal is to wear these all day,” Mitchelle said. “We don’t take them off. People like to take pictures with us. I’ve been going to the track since I was 15 years old. What’s summer without coming to Saratoga?”

About 175 participants turned out to the track’s 143rd summer meet to compete in the contest, which capped opening weekend at the race course Sunday afternoon.

Albany resident Joan Yanni turned heads with her hat design, which featured a large carousel on top of an even larger platform. She came in second place in the “Uniquely Saratoga” category, and needed to hold up her hat because of its weight and size.

But of course, the contest’s most popular category was the showstopper “Fashionably Saratoga,” drawing in 62 contestants and many more spectators who wanted a glimpse of Saratoga’s finest dressed.

Feathers of all shapes, sizes and origin were the most popular aesthetic on Sunday. The three “Fashionably Saratoga” category winners all wore little black dresses and demure hats, one with peacock feathers, the other polka-dotted and the first-place winner in a black hat with white accoutrements.

Saratoga’s own Kim Brooking, who has ridden at the track every morning for the last 10 years, said she bought the winning hat from Saratoga boutique Frivolous Gal the day before.

“I just bought it like this,” Brooking said. “I saw the hat a couple weeks ago and thought no one is going to have a hat like this. So I went back to get it yesterday.”

Dan Silver, director of communications for the New York Racing Association, said the 20th year of the hat contest is a special occasion for the Saratoga Race Course. The annual event is a crowd favorite and nothing features more Saratoga pride than the commitment some take to make their hats.

In the “Kreative Kids” category, for those 18 and under, Camryn Dunn, of Latham, won first place with her spinning, circular racetrack hat. Crowd favorites included second-place winner Anabelle Brueggemann’s Candy Factory hat and her brother Peter Brueggemann in a cowboy getup.

Spectators descended on the track apron following the second, third and fourth races of the day to hear announcements of the contest winners in each category. Families stood off to the side, taking photos of their relatives who participated or just snapping pictures of all the creative hats and color-coordinated outfits.

Suzanne Palacino came up to the track this year from Wellesley, Mass., with her daughters Nicole and Tara. They visit the race course every summer with family who live in Saratoga. But this is the first year they participated in the Hat Contest.

“We were able to plan ahead as to what weekend we were going to come and we were trying to find something unique to be a part of,” Palacino said. “And when the Royal Wedding was going on these guys really enjoyed the hats, so we decided on this.”

Prizes for the day included $100 to $500 betting vouchers, gift cards to the Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, Saratoga Trunk and Tiny Tots Tea Room, Saratoga Race Course merchandise and a chocolate basket from Saratoga Sweets.

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