SARATOGA SPRINGS — The big morning will begin today at 7 a.m.
That's when gates to Saratoga Race Course will open for frantic fans, night owls who secured spots in line during the middle of the night.
The big afternoon will begin at 11:35 a.m., with the first of 13 races on the card.
The big night will begin around 7 p.m.
That's when people who have spent all day sitting at picnic tables, in clubhouse boxes and standing at betting windows will celebrate in downtown Saratoga Springs.
The big deal — all day long — is the 149th running of the Travers Stakes, the signature race in Saratoga's annual 40-day summer meet. Eleven horses have been entered for the nationally televised race, which is scheduled for a 5:44 p.m. post time.
There's always buzz about the race. This summer, the big question concerns filly Wonder Gadot. The thoroughbred named for "Wonder Woman" actress Gal Gadot will attempt an Amazonian feat: She'll try to become the first filly to win the Travers since Lady Rotha beat the stallions in 1915.
There will be plenty of competition, including:
- Haskell winner and morning-line favorite Good Magic.
- Gronkowski, whose namesake is Rob Gronkowski, the all-pro tight end for the New England Patriots.
- Catholic Boy, winner of the Belmont Derby.
- Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso.
- Jim Dandy winner Tenfold.
The parties began Friday night.
"The evening is crazy," said Michele Morris, who owns Scallions on Lake Avenue.
"There are so many people in town already," Morris added. "Some days, everybody is at the track all day long and we have a one-time crash at 8 o'clock. Other days, depending on how big the field is, we could be busy all day long. We're just hoping for the best."
Morris and others say the Alabama Stakes — held last weekend — actually attracts more people to town. But she said Travers is still one of the most important days of the year in the restaurant business.
Morris also said people who celebrate a little too much at the race course during the day can hurt business during the evening.
"They'll make reservations," she said. "And forget they made them."
Lt. Robert Jillson of the Saratoga Springs Police Department said Travers fans must deal with something people don't have to worry about in late July or early August — darkness.
The 13-race card won't conclude until almost 7 p.m., then the sun will set at 7:45. Those who sit back on the track grounds as others exit will be leaving at dusk.
"Darkness becomes an issue," Jillson said. "They have to be extra cautious this time of year."
Jillson said drivers must also be mindful of police officers in the road who are directing traffic.
Some facts and figures for Travers Day:
- Grandstand admission is $15.
- Paid admission will be capped at 50,000.
- There are no clubhouse upgrades on Travers Day.
- All reserved seats, dining, hospitality and clubhouse admission are sold out for Travers Day.
- There will be no breakfast at Saratoga; there will be no backstretch tram tours.
There will be opportunities to shop downtown.
"We get more people in and there are more things to do," said Maddy Zanetti, president of Saratoga's Downtown Business Association.
A crowded day at the race course, Zanetti added, means downtown Saratoga Springs will not be jammed with people. "You can watch the Travers at a bar or restaurant and enjoy the downtown area," she said.
Zanetti, who along with Marianne Barker owns the Impressions and the Dark Horse Mercantile gift and clothing stores, said weather often determines numbers for a Travers weekend.
"Sometimes, if it's rainy, people will decide not to go to the track," she said.
But they may still stroll downtown.
"We're very lucky to have such a strong following among locals and people from out of town who love to come to Saratoga," Zanetti said. "They love the atmosphere."
Once Travers Saturday is over, people who run shops and restaurants can look forward to Travers Sunday.
"We like the Sunday after even better," Zanetti said. "It's busier. Travers is definitely an important weekend."
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]