Should I go to the Spa?
August 3, 2016 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Is it worthwhile for me--a lifelong, but casual racing fan--to make the trip to Saratoga?

As noted above, I've been follower of equestrian sports my entire life, but I'm not obsessive about it. If events are on TV, I'll try to catch Canadian or American Triple Crown or G1 races, events from Spruce Meadows, etc., but I won't schedule my life around them. I've gone to a polo matched, attended live show jumping and dressage events and watched Standardbred and Thoroughbred ponies dash around the track. I don't need to bet while at the track--there are times I've gone and never put down a wager--and if I do bet it's rarely more than a few win/place/show picks or if I'm feeling particularly adventurous, maybe an exacta.

The one thing I've never seen, however is steeplechasing, and I think I'd really enjoy watching some races, which is why I'm considering a visit to the Spa.

The thing that's making me hesitate, however is the distance. I'd be looking at more than six hours just to drive there (never mind the trip back), so I've been trying to figure out if it's worth my time. Ideally, I'd like to make it a four or five day road trip (two days for travel and a couple of days there) but I don't know if there is enough to do in the area to keep me entertained once my day at the track is over. How is the shopping? Are there attractions worth seeing? How difficult is it to find accommodations and how expensive is it to stay there? (I'm more of a hotel person than a B&B type if that matters.)

I know the big event of the racing season there is the Travers, and while it's not as likely to be as packed this year, I really prefer to go to races that are less crowded (I like to be able to move between the rail while the race is on and the hitching/walking ring before the post parade) so is it worth it for me to stay for that? (I'm aware that flat racing and racing over jumps occurs on separate days.)

Overall, I'm just looking for impressions of Saratoga from people who have been there and can tell me a bit about visiting the area and attending the races.
posted by sardonyx to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Native here. Ask a racing fan and horse lover, you should absolutely go. It's beautiful. You can treat yourself to fancy seats (note the dress code) or just wander around the track. If you want to see the horses at their best, reserve a seat at the breakfast so you can watch them train. There are several hundred things you can do in the area based on every taste and interest. The track is closed on Tuesdays, so shopping/other things tend to be busier.
That said:
It's ridiculously expensive to stay in and around Saratoga during the season. Rooms are certainly booked out for this year. The city's population triples, so everything is more crowded/expensive. Unless you want to be stuck in traffic or like ridiculous hats, avoid the Travers. It's a madhouse every year.

Memail me if you want specific tips on things (other than wagering, that is)!
posted by mrcrow at 11:13 AM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a cabin about 1.5 hours north of Saratoga and one of the highlights of the summer is going to the track for a day. We also go to several concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) every year. Most of the rock shows have gone through town already, but the Phila Orchestra is playing a lot this month and Snoop Dogg is there for a night too. I happen to love the town too. Lots of nice restaurants, cute shops, etc. Accommodations will be difficult. Lake George or Glens Falls not too far, but this is the height of the season in LG too.
posted by AugustWest at 12:15 PM on August 3, 2016

Born and raised in the area. I have literally never been to a horse race, but I can 100% vouch for the Saratoga Springs area in general as being worth a visit. Reminiscent of Ithaca or the Berkshires. What kinds of things do you like?
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, this is sounding promising, outside of the accommodating situation.

As for what I'm interested in, I can do the museums/galleries thing, but I'm also good with shopping--everything from small boutiques to major chains. I don't need the outdoors (hiking/biking/etc.) stuff because the landscape and geography isn't that different than what I can get locally. Nice small town scenery, however is appreciated.

Glad to know my instincts about staying away from the Travers (too busy) were right, mrcrow, although you do tempt me by mentioning ridiculous hats. I've done big race days before, and while it's fun to see world class horses, the overall experience is never as good as on smaller stakes days.

So if anybody has any specific suggestions about what I should do and what I shouldn't miss, feel free to post them.

Actually, if I do make it down this year (as opposed to planning something for next year), I'm tempted to post a Meet-Up and say hi to all you nice folks in person.
posted by sardonyx at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2016

Within the local area there's the entire spectrum of shopping: boutiques (Broadway and side streets plus some in Ballston Spa), outlet malls (up by Lake George), antique hunting (in town but also in the surrounding towns), art, excellent handmade goods, wonderful bookstores (Lyrical Ballad is world class), I could go on. Saratoga is known for its Victorian buildings--there are whole neighborhoods to cruise and enjoy. SPAC Is a wonderful venue for a wide range of acts, and I also recommend time at the state park there. There's the National Museum of Dance, too. See some of the springs there and taste the water! Drink the water at Excelsior Springs in Congress Park (no don't, it's pretty foul/an acquired taste). The Canfield Casino is a museum that shows the colorful history of the town--the ballroom has a stained glass ceiling depicting the zodiac. Have a drink at the Adelphi Hotel. I'm not as current on the best places to eat but there's at least one blog dedicated to Saratoga food.

When you decide on when you want to go, let me know and I'll see if there's anything special going on around then.
posted by mrcrow at 11:32 PM on August 4, 2016

Also: Benedict Arnold Boot Memorial.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on August 6, 2016

FWIW, be aware that in February 2017, nearby Schenectady will be unveiling the first wave of their waterfront development thingamadoo. Casino, restaurants, boat slips, yadda yadda. I have no idea if it will be worth anything, but it's an additional factor in play.

Lyrical Ballad is indeed a great bookstore.

Mrs. London's makes excellent pastries.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the follow-ups. I think I'm convinced. Now I just have to figure out the timing, and whether I'll be able to swing it this year or plan it for next year.
posted by sardonyx at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2016

Response by poster: Well the timing just didn't work out for me this year, but the good news is I have the better part of a year to plan the trip. Thanks for all the answers. They're all best answer worthy in my opinion. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet you all next year.
posted by sardonyx at 6:54 PM on August 28, 2016

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