Pack up. Go home. Go back to work or school. Everyone else is.
The Saratoga Summer
Today is the last day of summer, regardless of the calendar and the equinox. It’s Labor Day. It’s closing day at Saratoga Race Course. The 2014 meet will be a memory by the end of this afternoon.
Somewhere in the crowd, far below his accustomed fourth-floor perch, race caller Tom Durkin will be enjoying his first day of retirement at The Spaaaaaa. How odd, how different it will be. Good for him. If you see Durkin, wish him well on his way to the Hall of Fame.
On Tuesday, the track will be dark just like it was every Tuesday during the meet. But Saratoga Race Course does not close with the close of racing. It never does, not at least until the leaves fall in earnest from the trees.
During the height of racing, approximately 1,700 people are employed at the race track, according to the New York Racing Association. With the conclusion of racing, many of those workers will go back to being school teachers or students, or back to retirement or other jobs. A crew of maintenance and security maybe one-tenth the size on hand for the meet will remain.
But while the August Place to Be has a season that stretches back into July and sneaks into September, the grounds are actually operational from spring well into fall. Horses will still be trained here. Some trainers will still be on site, or at least come up from Belmont to check in.
Some horses that race at Belmont will even train here and be shipped down for races rather than be barned there from Day 1 of the fall meet. That's how much trainers like the Oklahoma track and everything surrounding Saratoga.
Nick Zito is credited with being one of the first trainers to remain on site to train at the Oklahoma track from mid-spring to mid-fall, a practice dating from the 1990s.
“I love the track, and I love training here,” he said a recent morning outside his barn tucked away in the back of the grounds across the street from the main track. “Even the locals know now we are here from the end of April to October.”
He said other trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Christophe Clement have followed suit, keeping horses up in Saratoga rather than shipping them right away to Belmont or elsewhere.
“You are the product of your environment,” he said. He then swept his arm through the air. “Just look around. You don’t have the hustle and the bustle. You don’t have the New York [City] philosophy.”
The main track will close (some horses barned main track side will still cross Union Avenue), but horses will still be racing against the clock, if not each other.
Meanwhile, bettors will move on to concentrate on Belmont — its season begins Friday — or the NFL, which kicks off Thursday. (College football is already underway.) The Saratoga meet is coming to a close. Just don’t say that the Saratoga Race Course grounds are closing.