|The “Greeter” at Siro’s Restaurant|
Dining, parking, and wagering.
The complete guide to dealing with the crowd. Or not.
We made our annual pilgrimage to the track last Friday, a summer ritual steeped in tradition. It is the only day of the year when I will visit a racetrack, or place a bet. I am not a serious “student of the ponies”, but after thirty years of practice, I do know what an exacta is, and even how to calculate the cost of “boxing” said exacta. I have a betting routine that helps assure I enjoy the day. I combine the favorite with the long shot in an exacta, which requires both horses to finish win / place (first and second). To me there is no fun in just betting the favorite and winning your money back. On Friday I bet the first eight races before leaving for our dinner reservation (more on this later), and I went eight for eight. I lost every race. Since I bet $10 a race, the day cost me $80. (This is also an annual ritual.) Mary, on the other hand, has no such routine, no system or budget of any kind, and won enough to pay for dinner. Go figure.
Planning a day at the track presents huge issues for me because I abhor crowds, absolutely hate sitting in traffic, looking for parking, and most of all – eating volume produced “fair food”. You can see the problem. If you share these aversions, you may be interested in reading about our routine.
The first race goes off at 1 PM. We plan on arriving just before noon, and secure a parking space just past Siro’s Restaurant, behind the track on Lincoln Avenue. Cost $20. In days of yore for the same $20, you could park behind the ropes in front of Siro’s, but alas, those premium spaces are no longer available. Next stop – around noon – is the bar at Siro’s for the customary Bloody Mary. The Bloody’s at Siro’s are delicious, and unique. They make them nice and spicy with lots of Tabasco and horse radish, but I think it is the healthy dash of Rose’s Lime Juice that makes them stand out. A racing form is usually available at the bar. I’ll check the scratches on the TV behind the bar, and start to select my horses for the day’s betting.
The biggest decision of the day is choosing a location to actually watch the races. Depending upon your preferences and budget, you have lots of choices. You can do this for a few dollars in the grandstands or out back in the picnic area. We tried this area with large groups of friends a few times, but securing a table is problematic, requiring someone to get there early enough to reserve one, and the crowds on weekends can be enormous. That became more stress than fun and we haven’t done it in a while. We spend $5 to gain access to the “Clubhouse”. You can also watch from your personal table at one of the track’s restaurants, like the “At the Rail”. A decent table with a view will usually include a $C-Note slipped to the Maitre D, or, if you know someone who knows someone, you can have them call ahead and then you can still slip said aforementioned $C-Note to the same Maitre D for the same table, but it makes for a better story because you can tell people you got the table because you know so and so, in my case a track regular named Chris K. We don’t engage in this ritual anymore, if for no other reason that the food at the track wasn’t worth the price (and certainly not worth the price of admission). We also found that moving around during the five hours spent at the track was more interesting and more fun.
Our current ritual is to “establish a base” by securing seats at the Carousel Bar.
|The Carousel Bar|
The bartender will usually mind your seats and your drink when you skip out to place bets, go watch a race live, visit the next race’s horses in the paddock, or grab something to eat. You can bring back food from nearby vendors and eat right at the bar. A relative newcomer to the food vendor list is Saratoga’s own Hattie’s Chicken Shack, located on the first floor immediately below the Carousel Bar. $10 gets you four pieces of their delicious crispy fried chicken, which beats – hands down – anything else you can eat at the track. Just to the right of Hattie’s is Shirley’s, where you can sample a box of poutine, an upstate New York staple that traveled south from Quebec. The dish starts off as plain french fries, and adds a ladle of brown gravy and a handful of melted cheese curds. (Lipitor extra). A Montreal variation adds “smoked meat” to the dish. Not exactly Schwartz’s Deli (the best in Montreal), but a very nice contrast of flavors none the less. Two orders was actually too much for four people.
We plan our escape just before the last race, to avoid the rush and the traffic. We also plan the best meal of the day to enjoy on the way home – with a stop in Glens Falls at Bistro Tallulah, one of our favorite area restaurants. Always a great menu and a great time, and no $C-Note to get in the door.
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