It’s really one of the easiest things to do in life: Go to the horse-racing track. And when it comes to Saratoga Race Course, home of NYRA’s summer meet, it’s one of the best things to do.
It’s like a big, open-air, sensory-overload festival where you can wander around, people-watch, drink, eat, pretend you can read a racing chart, and stand at the paddock and watch a parade of impressive, equine athletes.
And, yes, it’s the place where you get to feel that heady thrill of laying money down on a horse. It’s all so accessible and democratic: Anyone can go!
Still, here we are about to start Week 3 of the 2018 meet at Saratoga, and wannabe track goers continue to question where they should sit, how much does it cost and where to go to buy tickets.
You would think that this head-scratching stump-fest is all about first-time visitors to Saratoga Race Course, but it’s not. Even with plenty of information online about track tickets, including Saratoga.com’s handy guide for 2018 tickets and seating, several questions are persistent:
- Is Ticketmaster the only place for advance purchase of Saratoga Race Track tickets?
- If I buy a ticket for Grandstand admission, do I get a seat?
- If I make a table reservation at The Porch, does the cost of reserving the table include admission to the Clubhouse?
- Can I reserve a picnic table?
The answers to those questions, in order, are:
- Pretty much
- No. (You have to purchase a separate Clubhouse admission ticket in addition to the $35 or $55 charge for Monday through Thursday reservations, more on the weekends.)
How to Decide Where to Sit & Watch at Saratoga Race Course
The main thing to keep in mind about Saratoga Race Course is that it’s sprawling, and able to contain 50,000 people on its biggest day of the meet: The Travers Stakes. (It used to be 55,000 patrons were allowed in on Travers Day, but that was scaled back to make it more user-friendly.)
There’s a very informal and inviting atmosphere unique to Saratoga, because the horses are walked through the crowd and paraded in a paddock area accessible to everyone.
The appeal of this track, which dates to 1864 and is rich with history, is that there are dozens of ways for track goers to enjoy the day.
Reserved Seats: You can buy a reserved seat in the Clubhouse or Grandstand, which involves extra charges above the general admission price. These prices range from $15 to $40 for the Grandstand, and $23 to $55 for the Clubhouse, depending on the day.
Restaurants: You can make a reservation at a restaurant or more private bar areas like The Stretch, The Porch, and Fourstardave Sports Bar — each of which has its own, separate list of options and pricing according to table size and day you go.
Free Picnic Tables: You can go early in the morning, when the track opens for breakfast, reserve a picnic table for free with a cooler or tablecloth, then leave when the track closes at 10 a.m. between the morning workouts and breakfast, then re-enter when gates open at 11 a.m.
Reserved Picnic Tables: NYRA offers picnic table reservations for sale in the Miller Lite Picnic Paddock area. These can range in price from $60 to $180, depending on the day.
Or, Just Buy a General Admission Ticket for $7 or $10 and Walk In
As complicated as it all seems, and as many choices as there are, there’s still the easiest, most elemental way to get into Saratoga Race Course. On most any of the meet’s 40 racing days, except maybe the Travers (held on Aug. 25th this year) you can walk up to the gates off Union Ave. or Nelson Ave., plunk down a little bit of cash and get yourself inside the gates.
You don’t really need to buy a seat, since there are benches all around the track — along the rail, under the Grandstand, near concession areas — where you can take a load off, or study your Daily Racing Form.
In the end, given the myriad ways to enjoy the races at Saratoga, the track is only as confusing as you let it be.
Mobile Applications for Your Smartphone Help!
NYRA offers a mobile app called At The Track. If you’re one of those track patrons that would like to get answers and maximize your experience, this is probably one of the best ways to go.
One word of caution: Don’t spend your entire day at the track staring at your smartphone! This is easy to do, but would be a bummer, since NYRA also offers an online betting application called NYRA Bets that adds a whole other way to place your bets. It’s very tempting, and easy — especially since NYRA provides free WiFi at the track.
But betting online means diminishing one of the best parts about betting at Saratoga: Having a clerk at the mutuel window wink at you and tell you “Good Luck” every time you place a bet in person.