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Before The Gates Open At Saratoga Race Course

As the sun comes up over the Oklahoma track, horses are already being worked out. This is where viewers can catch a glimpse of the thoroughbreds before the gates open across the street.

Here, John Mooney is standing alone on the viewing stand taking it in.

“This is a great place to enjoy the little quaint atmosphere and be up and see some workouts and some nice horses. You really don’t know who they are, but you see some nice horses,” says Mooney.

It’s quiet at the training track, but on the sidewalk along Union Avenue, a line of fans with lawn chairs, coolers and tablecloths is busy with anticipation.

Many of the folks in line got here before sunrise.

Tyler Ralph and his father Bill are at the front of the line and have been here the longest. Tyler parked his chair on the sidewalk at 9:30 the night before. They’ve been among the first in line for a few opening days.

“We’ve been coming a while,” says Bill.

“Opening day, three years,” says Tyler.

“First year we were second, last year we were first,” says Bill.

Before the gates swing open, the local news crews are lined up to watch the mad dash, where patrons will claims their picnic tables in the backyard. Unofficially at least, it’s the first race of the day.

Just after 7, it’s showtime.

Guests are warned not to run, but that doesn’t stop the first few in line.

Getting his pop-up shop tidy for the first day of racing, Peter Canzone is keeping cool. He says this year’s so-called running of the bulls is tame.

“Generally they open both gates and it’s like the Oklahoma land rush, but this year it’s just filtering in one at a time, so that’s why I’m calm,” says Canzone.

Canzone has been running his art shop for 24 summers.

“There’s no other place like this in the country, in the world,” says Canzone.

Guests can hang out at the track for a couple hours, but they’ll have to exit and re-enter at 11. In the meantime, New York Racing Association officials celebrated opening day with a couple ribbon cuttings to mark some of the new projects on the grounds.

After a short ceremony to commemorate a new escalator to the grandstands, NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay commented on the energy in the air.

“There’s an overall level of excitement and it should be. This is a beautiful racetrack, we’ve made a number of enhancements to the facilities so a number of people of all ages and backgrounds can have a great time. And we’re going to have some great racing,” says Kay.

Post time for the first race of the Saratoga meet is 1 o’clock.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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