2:25 p.m. — The dark side of horse racing
People inside Saratoga Race Course on Saturday cheered for horses such as Hazit, War Bond and Sycamore Lane on Travers Day.
People outside Saratoga Springs' famous horse track offered silence and signs — against racing.
Patrick Battuello's "Horseracing Wrongs" group — which has been campaigning against the racing industry since 2012 — put about 100 protesters on the four corners of Union Avenue and East Avenue. People heading into the track's main gate saw signs like "Stop Racing Horses to the Grave" and "Racehorse Deathwatch."
"We averaged about 75 a week this summer," Battuello said. "This is an all-time high and we're only going to get bigger."
The demonstration began at 10 a.m. and ran until about 2 p.m. Group members are especially concerned about Saratoga this year, where 17 horses have died either in competition or in training. "We're trying to convey that horses are dying every day on American tracks for $2 bets," Battuelllo said.
Many people filed quietly by the sign holders. They might not think about the group's cause this summer, Battuello believes, but maybe they will next summer.
"We're trying to plant seeds," he said. "When people think about this next year, maybe they'll think twice about how they're going to spend their afternoon."
Jo Anne Normile of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a former breeder and owner, joined the Saratoga protesters for the first time.
"I watched my horse die on the track," Normile said of Reel Surprise, who suffered a shattered rear left tibia in a 1996 race at Detroit Race Course. "I never raced again," she said.
11:35 a.m. — First post
Weather is excellent at Saratoga Race course, so is the crowd.
Very mellow at 11:35 a.m., as the first race is about to start. It's an eight-horse field. "They're off at Travers Day at the Spa," said announcer Larry Collmus.
And Hazit, at 3-1, takes the opener — beating a pretty good horse in Good Magic.
10:40 a.m. — An easy morning to prepare for a long day
A comfortable Saturday morning continues at Saratoga Race Course.
Track fans are trickling through the gates, and while security inspections are ongoing, long delays are not part of the entry process.
All rose for the National Anthem at 9:55 a.m. Then it was back to the wait for first post, 11:35 a.m., the first of a 13-race card. Weather was in the 70s, skies were in the blue and people were in the mood for the Capital Region's largest outdoor party of the year.
At 10:35, Andy Serling's popular "Talking Horses" program was being broadcast around the track grounds.
Michele Mele of Queensbury joked with four Queensbury friends by placing a party favor on her head. "It's girls' day at the track," she said. "It's mimosas right now, then martinis, then Jell-o shots. It is a big day."
Mele and friends had other items on their menu.
"We have coffee, we have muffins, we have sandwiches, we have enough to carry us through the rest of the day," said Debi Scarfo. "And we have plenty of water."
Linda Schorr of Ballston Lake set up her camp near the Big Red Spring, on the eastern half of the picnic grounds.
"We're going to eat, drink and bet," she said. "We have fruit, cheese and crackers, shrimp dip, brownies and fried green tomato potato chips. Have you ever!"
8:35 a.m. — The running of the picnic tables
Patrons make their way through Gate A at Saratoga Race Course on Travers Day, Aug. 26, 2017. (Erica Miller)
Some ran, some stepped lively — but it was all over in about seven minutes.
The traditional morning rush for picnic tables in the back yard at Saratoga Race Course started at 7 a.m. today. Once through the gates, several hundred people rushed for prime position and prepared for an 10-hour-plus wait for the Travers Stakes, the signature summer race at Saratoga Race Course.
The race goes off at 5:46 p.m.
Saratoga teens Ripley Lynch and Justin Brooking were first in line. They got to the main gate at 4 p.m. Friday. "We just stayed awake," Brooking said.
Some fans were boisterous, others obnoxious, as they waited for the opening. "Come on, come on!" one man urged. "This is how we do the Travers," yelled another.
A guard opened the locked gate leading to a security check, and was stern in his demeanor. "You're going to walk behind us, not ahead of us," he said.
People walked in with blankets, chairs, coolers.
Alan Fucci of Boston secured position in the crowd, and was first in line at one of nine gates off Union Avenue. "It's tradition," Fucci said. "My family's sleeping in and I get here for the tables. This is like my 10th straight Travers."
Fucci settled for a table in the center of the picnic grounds, near the horse path leading to the paddock. "The kids love to see the horses and jockeys go by," Fucci said.
By 7:30, hundreds of Saratoga tables were covered with plastic table cloths. Tents were up, coolers were open, and some played cards to pass the time.