When the gates open on big days at Saratoga Race Course, there's typically a mad dash to the day's best lawn seats and picnic tables.

This is frowned upon by course personnel. But that doesn't often stop too many people.

"Oh, I'm sprinting. No shame," said Nolan Isabella of Ballston Spa, to the laughs of his friends. "I'm getting a table, because I know the people on the other end are sprinting as well."

That 7 a.m. "open all gates" dash starts a run of horse races and special events that will go through Labor Day. The season was extended this year, hence the earlier-than-usual Opening Day.

For many, Saratoga is a yearly rite of passage. Friends Chris Garone, Joe Sciacca and Andrew Hoffman have been coming to Saratoga for approximately 14 years. They all met in Elmont -- site of the Belmont Stakes, the third and longest leg of horse racing's Triple Crown — but they prefer meeting upstate

"The charm, the people, the atmosphere, just a great venue," said Sciacca, of East Northport. "Just a great time and a great party grounds. Can't beat it."

Garone lives in Hollywood Beach, Florida, and frequents three different tracks throughout the year. Shortly after the gates opened, he and his friends — there will be more than a dozen of them on hand by the time the races start — had their party tent pitched.

"The plan was to come here with a bunch of friends and enjoy the day," Garone said. "I come up every year. It's an annual event and it's not to be missed."

Isabella and his friends arrived at the front gates at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. To pass the time overnight, they played poker, with PJ McHugh of Bethlehem taking the lion's share of the pot.

But by quarter to 7, the table and chairs were folded up, and the gang was ready to find their table. It was an important task; they had 20 more friends coming later in the day.

"As far as getting up early, it's my third year doing that, "McHugh said. "This is my first opening day. [This will be] a good time. Play some money, win some bets. A stress-free day."

Races start at the track at 1 p.m., and they'll go five days a week —  with Monday and Tuesday dark days — through early September. The biggest race of them all is the 150th running of the Travers Stakes on August 24.