The 2018 horse racing season at Saratoga Race Course opens Friday, July 20 and runs through Labor Day. Wondering what to expect when you get to the course? Do you want to have a better idea of the lay of the land? We have you covered.
WHAT DOES IT COST? Single-day admission tickets are $5 in advance or $7 the day of the event for the grandstand; for the clubhouse, tickets are $8 in advance or $10 the day of the event.
WHEN TO SHOW UP? It depends on how you want to experience it. If you have reserved tickets for the clubhouse, the grandstand, etc., it doesn’t matter when you show up. You can take your time.
If you’re not in any of those areas, it’s best to show up early. Gates open at 7 a.m. There’s a limited morning window in which you can watch practice runs and grab a picnic table. There will be a number of horses on the track each day, and you can enjoy breakfast there (bring your own, or there are dining options in the morning). The track will then be briefly closed so that everything can be cleaned up for the official gate opening at 11 a.m. on weekdays, or 10:30 a.m. on weekends.
If it’s a weekend, though, there are no guarantees that you’ll get a table if you wait. First come, first served. There are a limited number of picnic tables that can be reserved through purchasing tickets, but generally, the tables are public domain.
Some people like to be by the paddock; some like the Big Red Spring area. Some like the top of the stretch, which is a smaller area that’s harder to come by. Some want to be closer to the food! The key is getting there early.
WHAT CAN I BRING? You can bring a cooler for your food and drink, but they have to be no larger than 12 inches by 18 inches, and they're not permitted inside the building or the clubhouse, per NYRA. You also need to keep coolers off seats and out of aisles, so people can walk freely.
HOW TO GET THERE? If you’re looking to save money, your best bet is to park at the Oklahoma Training Track, which is across the street from the course. There is no cost for parking on most race days, but it’s a longer walk to the course than parking at the main lot. There is also no shortage of private home owners around the track who charge various fees for parking. Generally speaking, the closer you are to the gate, the more you’re going to pay.
There are now ride-hailing options, of course, as well as taxis if you want to avoid parking altogether. If you're in Saratoga, the CDTA also runs a trolley in the city to get you between landmarks, including the course. Check out the route and times here.
WHERE DO WE EAT? There are a number of different options.
A popular option is the Post, close to the paddock and clubhouse entrance. Shake Shack is there, as is La Taqueria. The Shake Shack line will always be the longest food line, especially on a weekend.
There are food trucks and stands everywhere, ranging from pies on wheels to Hattie’s Chicken to Ben and Jerry’s to macaroni and cheese. There are also normal concession stands, and NYRA has its own dining areas in the clubhouse. The concession stands may be more cost-effective. You can now even order food from some of the vendors on hand through the NYRA XP app.
Of course, you can also bring your own food, which is a popular choice in the picnic area!
WHAT IS THE USUAL SCHEDULE? After the gates first open at 7, they close again briefly at 10 a.m. to reset the grounds. The gates reopen for the day at 11 a.m. on weekdays, and 10:30 on weekends. The first race of the day, unless otherwise noted, is at 1 p.m. On bigger race days, like for the Whitney and Travers Stakes, races will start earlier to accommodate a larger race card.
The number of races per day varies, but typically it’s around at least nine or 10 races. There is typically a half-hour between races. The featured race of the day can often be found between the eighth and 10th race of the day.
The final race of the day is usually held around 6 p.m., depending on the schedule.
The “dark day” of the week, in which no races are held, is Tuesday.
The biggest races of the season are the Whitney Handicap, on Aug. 4, and the Travers Stakes, on Aug. 25. NYRA has the full calendar on its website.
There are also non-graded stakes races, and then allowance races, which are a more basic level of competition. There are then maiden races, which are for horses who have never started or won a race before; and then there are claiming races, in which the horses are for sale on the spot (but for serious buyers and breeders, not for fans — and the horses are bought before the race).
There are also races exclusive to horses of certain ages or genders, and there are races on both the grass course and the dirt course. There are also steeplechases, held on most Wednesdays or Thursdays.
HOW DO I BET? From the grandstand to the clubhouse and the backyard area, there are betting terminals everywhere. You’re never far from one.
If you prefer to avoid the betting windows, NYRA also has its own NYRA Bets app which allows you to bet from home or on a mobile device. You have to open an account and link a bank account to it to use the app.
Once you’re at the betting window, there are easy ways to wager on races. We won’t cover the more complicated ways, like boxes, here.
First, say the amount of money you’re wagering. Then the bet type. Then the horse’s number. For example, “Two dollars to win on No. 3.” If the bet isn’t for the next race, note which race you’re betting on. There are approximately 30 minutes in between races.
There are different kinds of bets you can make. You can make a simple bet on the horse that will win, place (first or second place) or show (first, second or third place). This is the best option for a novice bettor. Making a place or a show bet increases the odds that you’ll win money on a race, but lessens the amount of money you’ll win.
There are also bets called exotics, for more seasoned players. These include exactas and trifectas — in which you are trying to pick the first two or three horses in for one race, respectively — or daily doubles and pick-threes to pick-sixes, in which you’re trying to correctly pick a consecutive number of winners.
If you would like more assistance, or for any logistic or strategical questions, the NYRA Bets squad is on hand to help with the basics. They have multiple kiosks set up throughout the track. NYRA also has programming on closed-circuit TV and regular television with expert handicappers who will tell you their picks.
Betting, of course, is a lucrative business for NYRA. The on-track handle -- how much money is bet by people at the track -- has surpassed $150 million per season in each of the last four years, and five of the last six years. The on-track handle for the Travers Stakes alone has been $10 million or higher every year since 2013.
- Saratoga umbrella (Aug. 6)
- Saratoga blanket (Aug. 20)
- Saratoga windbreaker (Sept. 2)
Of course, all giveaways are while supplies last.