Horses — most of them long shots — get smoked at Saratoga on a regular basis.
So do cigars.
“They’re a symbol of the track,” said Alex Waters, who was selling rolled tobacco inside the Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe booth at Saratoga Race Course earlier this week. “Cigars, race tracks, fun stuff and just enjoying yourself. I do a lot of beer fests, and cigars are crazy busy.”
Men and women strike and smoke on the race course grounds every day. They’re burning Le Gloria Cubana “Charlemagnes,” Punch “Presidentes,” Macanudo “Caviar Cafes” and the long, thick Cohiba “Blacks” and “Red Dots.”
Mark McMullen, 33, of Albany, seldom smokes a cigar. But he will puff at Saratoga.
“I grew up in Albany and I’ve been here ever since I was a child, since the time I was 4 years old,” he said, cigar at the ready. “Cigars and the track have gone together. My earliest memories are clouds of smoke passing by.”
Waters, who manages the Habana store in Colonie, said his cigars from Honduras and the Dominican Republic start at $5 and go to $24. He described them as luxury items, so his customers are not people who appreciate a White Owl “New Yorker” or a Dutch Masters “Perfecto.”
“We’re betting horses, we’re having fun, we’re in Saratoga at race time,” Waters said. “It’s basically part of the luxury lifestyle.”
Waters’ tobaccos have different flavors. Some smell of vanilla and exotic fruits, others are scented with spice. And while most customers are men, Waters has been seeing more women interested in dark-colored, leafy wraps.
“People think they’re smoking the flavored cigars, but they’re not,” he said. “They’re going for the dark chocolates.”
Michael Pawlick of Saratoga Springs settled for a pack of “Caviar Cafes” for $16. Like McMullen, Pawlick lights up only once in a while.
“Just special occasions,” Pawlick said. “This is a classy place. It has an old-fashioned feel to it, so big cigars and big hats.”
People also light up in downtown Saratoga. “We’ve been here 16 years,” said Rosemary Doyle, who owns Smokin’ Sam’s cigar shop on Caroline Street. “There are always people buying cigars, especially during the track. People come from all over to go to the racing. It goes with Saratoga.”
At Habana, the $24 Cohiba brands are often sold for special occasions.
“They’re more of a reward cigar, for people who have won big races,” Waters said. “It’s like buying a glass of champagne.”
A New York City woman who identified herself by only her first name — Marie — bought a Habana import. She is not a fan of occasional cigar smoking.
“Most guys who only smoke cigars when they come to the track or the golf course, they’re not really cigar smokers,” she said. “I’m not an aficionado, but I know something about them. And why am I doing it here? Because I feel like it.”