I’m sitting in the Saratoga press box on Monday morning, watching a sudden Saratoga downpour with some vintage Saratoga lightning and thunder. It’s a stark contrast to yesterday morning, which was gloriously sunny, if a little hot, for Saratoga’s annual Open House.
The day offered a little sneak peek at the track, and traditionalists may relax, or even rejoice a little, as there haven’t been any significant changes in the way the track looks, and the few visible changes are definitely for the better.
While money has been spent on upgrades, much of it has been behind the scenes, according to NYRA president Charles Hayward. Approximately $250,000 has been spent on the backstretch: upgrading electrical systems in dorm rooms, power-washing and repairing bathrooms, renovating barns.
On the front side, the old plastic fencing that lined the horse path and surrounded the paddocks has been replaced with wooden fences painted white…the design is more intricate but still simple, and is a huge improvement. Wood over plastic? No-brainer.
New tote boards and video screens will greet those in the seats and on the apron (profoundly disappointing, no doubt, those scoreboard-watchers from the last few years who delighted in pointing out the difficulty of determining, based on blown-out bulbs, whether your horse was 3-1, 6-1, or 8-1). And if I’m not mistaken, the old video screen in the back, just behind the clubhouse, is new as well.
Bye, Carvel. Hi, Dunkin Donuts.
And yes, the Dunkin Donuts Daily Double will be back this year…joined by this little gem. Get yours while they last in Dunkin Donuts from the Berkshires to central New York.
In other food and beverage news, Stephen Travers, director of restaurant operations and group sales, previewed for me last week some welcome changes, including a concerted effort to make a day at the races more attractive and less expensive.
Visitors will find $5 value meals on offer, such as a hot dog, chips, and a soda for $5, and a 12 oz. domestic draft beer will be $3 (imports will be $4).
The Jim Dandy bar on the ground floor of the clubhouse is being renovated and re-organized, with the circular bar in the center moved off to the right, along the wall.
Backyard denizens will find their areas less cluttered, as many of the vending carts have been removed to make walking around a little easier and to clean up the look of the landscape.
Travers and Hayward both struck fear into my heart when they mentioned that the lemonade vendors would be gone. No lemonade vendors? No Saratoga summer lemonade? The panic in my eyes and voice hastened Travers to add that the lemonade – made with the same recipe – would still be available at many locations around the track.
“We’re trying,” said Travers, “to bring the track into the 21st century while at the same time keeping the charm of Saratoga.”
Friday’s forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 94 – nothing like kicking off the meet with a serious dose of heat and humidity. But it’s better than rain (fingers crossed!), and in July, I’ll take Saratoga heat over moderate temperatures anywhere else.
I’ll be covering the meet for the Saratogian again this year, with a few articles planned for later in the week. Please follow me on Twitter and “like” the Brooklyn Backstretch page on Facebook for photos, updates, and comments from now until closing day.
Four more days!