The Diva’s Dish: Some Dos and Don’ts to Guarantee a Great Day at the Races in Saratoga.

 I’m an Alpha Mare, you see–and the job of an Alpha Mare is to look out for the well-being of her entire herd.   So I pulled the lace wrist gloves off my hooves, and at a beastly hour of the morning, am about to write an essay that (like most of my columns for Talk of the Track)–hasn’t been drafted.  This off-the-cuff column could be subtitled, “How to Avoid an International Incident, Public Humiliation or Bad Memories While in Saratoga for the Races.”

I just read Tim Wilkin’s column in the Albany Times Union, about things that one should definitely do while at the track–and things that should be avoided.  A piece that’s both whimsical yet helpful in many ways, but IMHO–the list lacks a few (blunt, but helpful) items.  So it is my self-appointed mission to supplement here and educate you.  I urge you to read this–share it–and obey.  It’s hard to think about being grateful for a negative–but you’ll thank me when you DON’T end up in the Saratoga Springs lock-up at the corner of Broadway and Lake.

Sans further ado, we’re going to start with that which I believe to be the Most Important Don’t:

 DON’T touch a horse–ANY horse–unless you have absolute, definite permission from the person who owns/rides/grooms or otherwise is responsible for that horse.  That horse is NOT a toy.  S/he is NOT an inanimate object.  S/he is NOT an object that you or your kids can just rush up and grope–s/he’s NOT a mechanical horse outside Kroger.  S/he IS a living being, AND (here’s the important part):   S/HE IS NOT YOUR HORSE.  Every horse at a race track belongs to SOMEone–and, unless that owner actually is YOU–it ain’t YOU.

(Think of it this way:  how would you feel,  if a total stranger and his sticky-fingered kid rushed into YOUR backyard, and started messing with your dog?  Well, as much as you love your dog–people who own or work with horses generally are about 10,000 times more protective of their horses.  Rule of Thumb:  ASK.  If the horse isn’t yours–ASK.)

DO:  Ask permission.

The second DON’T is related:

DON’T sue the horse’s connections (owners/trainers/grooms/etc.)–if you disobeyed DON’T #1 and you or your kid get fingers bitten off.  You didn’t get permission to pet the horsie?  Well, read this carefully:   horsies are prey animals–and humans are predators–so your excited lunge forward probably will be interpreted by the horse as aggression.  And SOME horses–since they can’t flee at a race track–WILL bite.  Will bite the fingers that make the aggressive motion, forward.  So don’t be a jerk, and touch someone’s horse without their enthusiastic, “Yes!”  And if you DO–and something goes awry–don’t sue that horse’s humans.  It wasn’t THEIR stupidity that separated you from three of your fingers.

DO:  Play nice.  If you did something stupid, take responsibility and don’t sue every person who ever looked at the horse who snacked on your index finger.   And playing nice always is better than buying prosthetic digits.

DON’T try to get into the backstretch of the track without a proper credential.  I know, I know–I keep hearing, and I know from my own 57 years as a race fan–that, “in the Old Days,” everyone could go to the backstretch to watch morning workouts.  Yep, it’s true.  And the 60s were a glorious time, blah, blah, blah.

But the 60s were a long time ago, and there are now rotten human beings–like, terrorists, and malcontents–who would do harm to a million-dollar horse.  Or to any horse, just because humans can be vicious.  So NYRA (the New York Racing Association) has the right AND the legal obligation to protect every single horse who lives on its tracks.  And to keep things as orderly as possible.  Yes, a track’s backstretch IS a bucolic place–but it’s a WORKspace.  People are there, 24/7, working.  And those people have appropriate credentials: plastic badges that identify them as working media (researching and writing stories); owners; trainers; NYRA employees–and those otherwise employed by, say, a trainer, farrier or trucking company.

So if you’re not credentialed, don’t even try.

DO:  feel free to ask a friend who happens to be a trainer, or an owner.  AND DO be happy with all the beautiful places on the front of the track where you are very, very welcome!


DON’T make a scene if you DO try to slide in.  If you think that being verbally abusive or ranting to the nice security guards at the Nelson or Union gates will win you their respect–ummmmm, you would be wrong.  (When was the last time you saw someone acting like a jackass in a public place–and how you commented about what a jerk the person was?)   So, yeah, your thwarted attempt–and subsequent acting like a loud, entitled baby–won’t win you respect OR friends.  It may even get you put onto a list somewhere, a horse racing “no fly” list, as it were.

DO:  Put on your Big Grrrl and Big Boy Pants.

DON’T ask a media person to borrow her/his credential, OR to take you into the track–front or backside–as their “guest.”   People who hold media credentials have them so that they can do their work.  Yeah, their work is fun–they get to see horses race, and to talk to the people who make it happen–then write about it, or photograph it.

My first media credential. 1968. No, really. 🙂

But this is their real, actual work–and so NYRA (and all other racetracks) give credentials to media peeps.  But those credentials are NOT to be abused–not transferred, not used to get friends in through the gates.  If you put your friend into that awkward position, they will lose their credential just for trying.

And that makes YOU a lousy friend.

The only people who can get passes for their friends are:  trainers/assistant trainers–and owners.  Period.  Don’t ask a media person.  Period. 

DO:  Accept that this is the way it is.  Or get a gig writing for a magazine.

Now, on to other points of Etiquette and General Good Racetrack Behavior:

DO respect the rules at a track.  They were put into place for your protection–and for the safety of your children, the horses and all other living beings at that track.  There may be many rules, but they’re not arbitrary.  As you go down the list of Track Rules, ask yourself WHY this rule exists.

The track’s managers didn’t institute the rules just to wreck your day.  Be a grown-up, and recognize that the track isn’t your private backyard:  you’re sharing the space with some 50,000 other humans and 3,000 horses–and every one of those beings has the legal right to expect to be protected by the track’s managers.  That’s a heavy responsibility!  So track managers must have rules in place to keep everyone as safe as possible.  (Rules like, no glass bottles brought in, ’cause they can break and seriously cut human and horse flesh.)

  DO create your own traditions, and rituals.  You and your friends/spouse/family can start your own traditions, things that you do every year.  Like, Breakfast on the Porch during morning workouts.   Getting a section at The Top of the Stretch for your annual family reunion.  Taking the Tram Tour of the backstretch.  Splurging–getting all dolled-up–and dining at the Turf Terrace.  Betting at least one trifecta in every race–who knows, one of these years, you’ll win!

Whatever you do, you can tailor-make your race track experience to fit your heart’s desire.  You can make Saratoga Race Course and your trip there an experience that becomes familiar, like the track, herself and her horses are part of your own family.  And families have traditions, rituals that they intentionally create, which become part of their actual Family Story.  What a great legacy to hand on to your children.

Speaking of children:

 DO take your kidz to the track.  YOUR children are the next generation of horse racing fans–IF you teach them.   Isn’t that exciting???  My Mother and Grandmother took me to the races for the first time when I was four, 57 years ago–they taught me about horses, and about the sport.  They took me to the rail for the races.  I’ve never left that rail.

You can instill in your children the love and respect for horses that my parents instilled in me–and at the same time, teach them about the thrill of watching their favorite horsies race, and win.  My memories of going to the Spa and handicapping races with my beloved, late Mother–are the sweetest memories of my Life.  Every time I stand at that rail, I thank Mommy once again.  Your children will do the same, I promise. 

DON’T let your children run around like they’re insane.  They ARE welcome, at any racetrack–but a racetrack is NOT your backyard.  Again, this is a space that’s shared by upward of 50,000 or more human beings, every single day.  A modicum of mutual respect is expected, and necessary in order to avoid utter chaos.  So keep your kidz in check:  it’s no one else’s job (least of all, 50,000 strangers!)–to babysit YOUR kid.  Running, screaming, slamming into other children or adults–very uncool.  If you think that YOU, running and screaming at a track would be uncool–well, yeah, it’s uncool for your children, too.  You brought them, you show them how to behave in public.

Now, on to the Personal Decorum segment of our show:

DON’T dress or act like a trollop.  This one, I would expect, is self-explanatory.  Rule of Thumb:  if  you’re considering wearing something that you can wear to BED–then technically, it’s not clothing–and definitely NOT appropriate to wear in front of 50,000 strangers.  If you feel that you need the attention of those 50,000 strangers–then you need therapy, far-more than the attention.  A dress so short that I can see your liver, or with such a deep neckline that your navel is showing– is not appropriate for ANYone, to wear ANYwhere.

It’s a desperate plea for attention, a plea that’s born of lousy self esteem.  It’s a lot of things–but what it’s NOT, is correct to wear to a racetrack.  And especially, into the Clubhouse.   And, around someone else’s children.    No one came here to see your junk.   (Blunt, but TRUE.)

Only horses should wear that little at a racetrack.

REAL womyn, looking lovely for the races.


Hand-in-hand with the above advice…

DON’T get drunk.  “Drunk” is not a good look, on anyone.  I don’t care where you’re sitting, or walking around at the track:  if you’re drunk, you’re just an embarrassment to your wife (or husband), and an annoyance to everyone else.   (Clue:  Alcohol does NOT make you cute, funny, witty, savvy–and God knows, it does NOT make you sexy.)  

Another reason to remember that this isn’t your backyard, and you’re not the GrillMaster.   Those 50,000 other humans walking, sitting, eating–all came here to watch horses race, and to have a lovely day in the outdoors.  And they have the right to do so without being barfed-upon by an idiot who thinks that alcohol makes him charming.

They didn’t come to watch you verbally abuse strangers; thud into them because you’re stumbling;  frighten children (and give a really lousy example of How Grown-Ups Act);  or to barf on the ground beneath your picnic table.

Repeat after me:  A racetrack is not a frat house.  A racetrack is not a frathouse.  A racetrack is not a frathouse.  If you used to get dead-drunk at your frat when you were 19 (and underage)--leave that behavior back in the 80s.  At the races–stay sober.

If you need to get dead-drunk in order to have fun–get help.  Please.  (Not for US, for yourSELF.)   Things you can do, sober:  make new friends, people who are grateful that you’re not loaded.  Wager with a clear head.  Bask in the Sun, and thank God you’re alive.  And!   Actually REMEMBER your day at the races.

DO:  Monitor yourself.  Go on, you can do it.  ONE drink, maybe two.  Remember, Mr. Sunshine is NOT your friend:  Alcohol + Sunshine = Stupidity.  DO drink water, juice, soda, lemonade–quench your thirst, but don’t feed your need for negative attention.

DON’T:  Hand your mortgage money for this month to the nice teller at the $100 window.   My advice to you:  if the thought of taking your betting money and flushing it down the toilet before walking through the gates of the track makes you sick to your stomach–then DON’T take it in there.  If you can afford to bet $50 during the course of the day–but NOT $500–DON’T BRING $500 in with you.  Simple.  Bring what you CAN afford–and if you run out of betting money by the third race–stick around, the rest of the day still will be fun.

Just don’t wreck your month, by wagering with money that your family needs actually to LIVE, once you leave Saratoga.

DO:  Handicap, bet, pool your bets with friends–DO wager!  Responsible wagering is all we (the racing community) ask.  You don’t have to blow your mortgage in order to have fun–and when you win after a $2 bet, you feel OH, SO SMART!

DO:  Sample the delicious foods that are available both in the backyard, and in the Clubhouse and Grandstand areas.  It’s a virtual Disneyland of Dining at Saratoga Race Course–something for every palate, every wallet, every desire.  🙂

DO:  Check out the vendors’ many kiosks and tents–the artists’ paintings and prints–the gifts available for you to buy, take home and treasure.  Like a Middle Eastern souk, the marketplace at Saratoga Race Course is a smorgasbord for the eyes, the mind and heart.

DO:  Congratulate the guy next to you who just hit it big–Karma is real, it could be your turn next.

 DO:  Make a memory, and come back tomorrow.

Bottom line:  respect for yourself and your fellow racefans at a racetrack, including Saratoga, goes a long way to creating a harmonious day for everyone.  Not so hard to do, if you respect yourself and others.  (There, that’s not so difficult, now, is it?)    Together, we can have a great time–AND set an example for the children who are the Next Generation of fans, owners, trainers and other racing professionals.