For six weeks in late summer, top Thoroughbreds, owners, and trainers assemble in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to put on a one-of-a-kind equine display. Saratoga Race Course is often referred to as “America’s Great Race Place” or simply “The Spa.” My wife and I have made the sojourn each August since 1999 and we admit—we’re hooked!
As we bask in the afterglow of celebrating the birth of our great country, my thoughts can’t help but to wander patriotically to the many benefits available to us here in America. The fruits of my pondering yielded an unmistakable connection between America’s greatest virtues and the embodiment of those virtues that come alive each summer in Saratoga.
For centuries, folks from near and far have followed the irresistible urge to go to Saratoga Springs to renew their health, by drinking in the many mineral springs; their spirit, by basking in the peaceful beauty and serenity of the physical surroundings; and their energy and vitality, by their close interaction with those majestic Thoroughbreds. Horse racing has long been referred to as the Sport of Kings, but an afternoon of people watching amidst the red and white color scheme at Saratoga Race Course reveals that kings, as well as commoners, equally comprise the body of those in attendance.
What is it about a day at the Saratoga races that draws such a wide range of interest from such a broad spectrum of Americans? A day at the Saratoga races contains three key elements that serve as a metaphor for what we find so valuable and enticing about living in America, and serves as the draw for so many.
America is a melting pot of people, many of whom immigrated to this country in search of a better life. What they found when they arrived and what we all enjoy to this day is a beautiful and bountiful landmass. Along with this beauty, we have the freedom to pursue our dreams, which for many includes the hope of a reasonable opportunity for finding prosperity.
Beauty—No matter from what direction one approaches Saratoga Springs, the raw beauty of the countryside takes the breath away. With the Catskill Mountains to the south and the Adirondack Mountains to the north, Saratoga Springs lies nestled, like a 10-carat gem in a solid gold ring. The mountains, lakes, streams, and rolling farmland are amazing. And the trees—they seem to get taller and taller as you approach the track, and upon passing the admission gates, seem to rise into the heavens in an almost surreal way.
Once inside, the place has more of a campground feel than it does a racetrack. The dirt ovals that surround the tall pines in the saddling paddock remind one of how it must have been done a century ago, and the rustic grandstand remains as a traditional reminder of years gone by.
Freedom—I am continually amazed by the opportunities for Saratoga track patrons to get nose-to-nose with multi-million-dollar equine athletes in the stable areas at the track. Sure, there are some security measures in place to protect the horses, but in general, there is an air of laid-back trust that is not found at any other track in the country. This gives the “common guy” the freedom to rub elbows with the inner sanctum of the sport without the risks and costs of actual racehorse ownership.
Prosperity—A day at the races in Saratoga, in close contact with the elite horses, owners, and trainers, gives the fan a sense that prosperity is attainable. As a small-scale Thoroughbred breeder, I often get a sense of the “possible” as I watch the races at Saratoga. It seems somehow as if the opportunity to breed or race a graded stakes horse is not that far a stretch. Prosperity is simply a matter of perspective, and I always leave Saratoga with a renewed sense that we as Americans are indeed amazingly prosperous and blessed.
Indeed, I would concur with former President Reagan’s words. I would also add that seeing that horse in Saratoga Springs makes it an over-the-top experience.
Whether you are involved with racehorse ownership as we are—or whether you are just seeking some new kind of vacation experience—it is a veritable certainty you will enjoy your day at “The Spa.” Come bathe yourself in the red and white—and renew!
KEVIN LAY is a Thoroughbred owner and breeder from Minneapolis, Minn., doing business under the Triple B Stables banner.