Not long after the 143rd Travers Stakes is finished today, most fans at Saratoga Race Course will begin their own historic competition.
“Some stay at Siro’s Restaurant after the race, but the rest race right downtown, especially to get a parking spot,” said Rory Wilson, owner of D’Andrea’s Pizza, located off Broadway.
He anticipates that his own business, which is a popular hot spot for lunch, dinner and a partier’s fourth meal, will benefit from people flooding into the city.
“We will be busy from right after the race until four in the morning, and it will be consistently busy,” Wilson predicted, adding that the influx of customers begins in earnest on Friday night.
A crowd similar in size and ferocity to the more than 25,000 people who showed up for opening day last month is expected to show up at the track today, where the big race is marked by a wide-open field.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson said this year’s race, which doesn’t have a big favorite, could generate more interest among bettors and casual fans looking for a competitive race. The field has even piqued his betting interest, with an exacta bet under consideration.
Johnson likes Fast Falcon, the longshot entry from trainer Nick Zito, and Atigun, the Mike Smith ride.
“The Travers is a very special race historically,” Johnson said, noting that it could serve as the climax to a great meet.
“I think the combination of great weather and a very competitive field is going to make it a great day.”
This sentiment was echoed by New York Racing Association President and COO Ellen McClain, who said in a news release that the competitive lineup for the Travers and a good weather forecast should combine to create a signature experience for racing fans.
The day kicks off with an unofficial race at 7 a.m., when the gates open to the public and the competition to grab 450 available picnic tables begins. On busy days, the rush to grab a picnic table is intense, with people exploding into the track when the gates open after waiting in line, sometimes for more than an hour. NYRA spokesman Dan Silver said that demand this morning will even top opening day.
“There is definitely a higher demand on Travers day,” he said.
Silver said experienced participants in the art of securing a picnic table have their own tricks, joking that “people will be jockeying for position” very early in the morning.
He added that some people will be able to sleep in today, thanks to a returning feature this year that allows for the advanced reservation of 50 picnic tables in the track’s backyard area. Tables adjacent to the Paddock and Big Red Spring can be reserved for $100 each, with proceeds going to charity.
The demand for picnic tables is so great that they are awarded by a drawing.
Johnson said restaurants, bars and night clubs will be extremely busy soon after the Travers winner is called by track announcer Tom Durkin.
Wilson added that live music in the downtown area is also a huge draw.
“Everybody just wants to be part of the good vibe,” he said.
And local businesses, especially bars along Caroline Street, are prepared for the rush. Wilson said there were delivery trucks dropping off supplies all day Friday.
The post time for the first race has been moved up about 90 minutes, to 11:35 a.m. The Travers and three other races will be televised live on NBC, with coverage starting at 4 p.m.
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