The Saratoga Summer
To a person, people describe Saratoga Race Course Tuesdays — “dark days” when there is no racing during the meet — as “quiet.”
“It’s boring,” one security guard said last week. Just then, a thoroughbred ambled by, heading down the cinder path toward the track.
“But it’s beautiful.”
Beautiful, yes. But quiet isn’t quite right.
There is no fevered crowd, but you can still hear the thunder of hooves across the main track, as thoroughbreds train from dawn into late morning.
You can hear the whirs of air conditioners and refrigeration units, and the gentle flapping of slow-moving ceiling fans in the clubhouse, and the sound of golf carts ferrying trainers, maintenance crews and others.
Heavy equipment beeps as workers do asphalt patch work, while lawn mowers and blowers create pockets of din. In quieter — not quiet — parts you can at least hear sprinklers. In front of the track, the idling of cars stopped in traffic on Union Avenue is punctuated by the clops of horses crossing the street.
While the barns are still at work — horses don’t take a day off from eating, and training is an everyday thing — and the mail room and other facets of the track are still in operation, there is a relative stillness. Think of a week at the track as akin to the roar of a crowd during and after a race: It builds steadily from Wednesday into and through the weekend, then drops off to a relative murmur on Mondays before Tuesday’s almost silence.
Jana Albert was among the few watching workouts on the main track last Tuesday.
“It gets crazy on the other days — a lot of strollers, a lot of kids” she said. “Look at how quiet it is.”
Katie Medina was on the apron with her daughter, 16-month-old Maria, and 12-year-old Elsa Lorieul. Katie Medina’s husband, Robbie Medina, is a longtime assistant for trainer Shug McGaughey. Elsa’s parents are also both in racing; The daughter is wearing a Proud to be a Horse Rider top.
Tuesdays allow Maria free rein around the track, although there is a strict “no crying” rule when horses are around.
More importantly, given that there is no racing, Tuesdays are the “one day a week we get our families back,” Katie Medina said.
“She doesn’t get to see him a whole bunch,” Medina said of her daughter and husband. “She loves the horses. She gets her animal fix and she gets to see her dad.”
Of course, when you work with horses at Saratoga, a dark day is not a complete day off.
“We still do our routine,” Robbie Medina said. “Everybody thinks we shut the doors.
“Everything is the same. We are just not racing.”
Well, there are some Tuesdays he takes the afternoon off, which, when you work with horses, is almost like a day off. Almost.
By the afternoon, the track grows a bit quieter as training is over for the day. There are still the whirs and hums and beeps and flapping. But there is stillness, a pause, before another week builds into a roar.