Horse races have been run on Union Avenue in Saratoga County for 145 years. It is "the August place to be." New Yorkers love gambling and love their equines.
Walk through the front gates, take in the air of royalty (it is the sport of kings). The scent of thoroughbred is pungent, the anticipation of money is liberating.
How I got there: Turned my car to the right out of campus, spilling onto East Genesee Street and headed, well, east. Route 5 took me through Chittenango, Schuyer and Vernon. I coasted into Scotia two hours later, a riverside town sitting across the Mohawk River from Schenectady and the massive General Electric campus. I could feel the power. Take Route 50 north into Saratoga Springs until you find Union Avenue. Hook a Ronnie (a right turn) and find the front gate at East Avenue. Hot tip – park at Fifth Street and East Avenue, just two blocks away. Money for parking is less money for gambling. Here's a Google map from Syracuse to the track.
Who I met: Mark Atkins from Oswego, N.Y., SU basketball and football season ticket-holder for 22 years. Mark has made the trip to Saratoga each of the last 27 years to Travers Weekend (aka the Mid-summer Derby with the winning horse getting $1 million), setting up chairs in the picnic area. We made small talk about Hakim Warrick’s block in 2003 -- “I’ve got that picture in my bar at home!” Mark was “about even right now,” one of my favorite gambler lines. Mark picked Summer Bird to win the 141st running of the Travers. Summer Bird did win the Travers, slopping to a 2½ length victory.
What I think: The best racehorse in the country will be at Saratoga if you stick around for Saturday's meet. Rachel Alexander, a filly owned by the Kendall Jackson wine folks, will be the big favorite to beat the boys in the Woodward. Calvin Borel, the jockey riding Rachel Alexander, needs to get clear and control the lead. If she gets to the front before the turn, the old boys will be chasing in vain.
What I did: Changed that $20 bill into a handful of George Washingtons. I took $1, placed a win bet on a horse that was favored and then another $1 on a long shot. I repeated the exercise for 10 races. If you aren't familiar with how to place a bet, check out the official guidelines.
For most races, I found the No. 5 horse appealing (five is my favorite number — you’ll learn) and then I started looking for names that popped at me. Billy Bear, Powder Princess, Stud Muffin. They all lost.
In the fifth race, running one mile on the grass, the number 5 horse, Stormie Gray was a sure thing. I was locked in. I touched my lucky tree and I switched my tickets from one pocket to the other (anything for luck). Other factors lined up – the horse described N.Y. weather; I had my number, cinco; 22-1 odds showed (meaning if I bet the dollar, I could win twenty-two). Stormie Gray came in second by a length of his head.
This horse also lost by a head.
Don’t be Stomie Gray. Finish the race. Win the money. Reach for your dreams. Win a scholarship even. Win it all ...