The Capital Region is not New York or Boston, although our sports rooting interests often align.
We are not Los Angeles. Glamour? There is little of it trudging off to a state job, or GE. While there is prestige working at the many fine tech companies and higher-ed hubs in the region, it’s not like paparazzi are waiting outside for limos to pull up.
The Albany-Schenectady-Saratoga Springs-Troy area is what it is: A community of rural villages and towns large and small and mid-sized cities that has much to offer, but not a place that jumps to the forefront of great American metro regions, let alone sports towns.
Except for 40 days of summer.
Then we are the big leagues.
It’s post time and party time. Saratoga Race Course is open. Starting today, and running through Labor Day, we are a sports destination, a mecca. Last year more than 972,000 went through the gates of what’s believed to be the oldest sporting venue in the United States. For comparative purposes: That’s more than the number of people who attended baseball games at Yankee Stadium in 1972. Just sayin’.
147th Saratoga Race Course Meet Opens
Gates open: 11 a.m.*
Post time: 1 p.m.
Stakes Races: Grade II Lake George, Grade III Schuylerville.
Track Promotion: Taste NY: noon to 5 p.m. A variety of New York craft beers will be available.
Related Event: Hats off to Saratoga Festival, Friday and Saturday night. Musical and other events downtown.
Information: www.nyra.com/saratoga; (518) 584-6200.
*Fans can enter as early as 7 a.m. to watch training and/or reserve a picnic table, and breakfast is served on the Lower Porch from 7 to 9:30 a.m. (first-come, first-served), but all must leave and re-enter with a paid admission.
According to the New York Racing Association, in 2014, more people visited Saratoga and more money was bet on races there than any other horse track in America. We’ve been doing this since 1863. We got this down.
We’ve got down the rhythms, the lazy Mondays and Wednesdays, the “dark” Tuesdays, the frenetic Saturdays, when the stakes races can match any in the country.
We got all the companion pieces in place, from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center concerts to theater in the park to Broadway, the restaurants and bars, and a bunch of other options to meet eclectic tastes. (Take a peek at the calendar that will be running daily on this page.)
And if American Pharoah, the Triple Crown champion, wins the Haskell Aug. 2 and shows up in Saratoga later in the summer for The Travers Stakes, we could be talking about one of the bigger sporting events ever to be held in the Capital Region, even if NYRA opts to cap attendance as it did for The Belmont.
If Pharoah is a no-show, there will be races here that still will be destined to be memorable, whether it’s The Travers or the Woodward, the Alabama or Whitney. And keep in mind even if Pharoah does run, he’s no sure thing to win. Ask Man o’ War, Gallant Fox or Secretariat — three legends to go down in the Graveyard of Champions.
That’s part of our big-league appeal.
And it’s OK to use our. Saratoga is unique in terms of its allure, drawing racing sharps and families, the famous and the college buds chugging beers. There are people who devour the Racing Form’s past performances, and others who bet based on silk colors. There is a place for all of them here. For all of us. And that backyard is in our backyard.
It’s a different sports experience: Try bringing in a cooler full of Buds into an NFL game. Those in the back, in their T-shirts and shorts, can cross paths with the stray celebrity or two, say, an icon from the sports world such as Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, or perhaps an actor of note. You will see some serious vehicles in the parking lot owned by the highest of the high rollers, parked not far from 2004 Accords. The license plates hail from across the country.
For 46 weeks out of the year the Capital Region is consumed with high school sports, college basketball with its two Division I teams and college hockey with Route 7 rivals Union and RPI. For the past few weeks the sports landscape, nationally and locally, has been pretty barren. Some tennis and golf in Great Britain, July baseball, and . . . and . . . well, there were the pickleball nationals. Local guy won. That was pretty cool.
Over the course of the year, sometimes the local teams make news, big news, like when Union won the 2014 NCAA title, or a UAlbany team goes deep into the NCAAs, or one (or two, or five) local high schools win a state title. These stories take over the sports pages and warrant large-type headlines. At least here. Just here.
That is what you do in a mid-sized town or smaller. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But when Saratoga convenes, local sports become national. No, horse racing is not the NFL, or the NBA, or Major League Baseball. It’s not even women’s soccer, if you go by the recently concluded World Cup. But as the finally fruitful race for the Triple Crown this spring showed, horse racing is still big league. It can still stir passions from among a wide and diverse swath of the public.
And they will be coming here.
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