Saratoga Springs, NY. Thousands of people look forward all year to coming here for the truly unique racing experience and to soak in the bustling ambiance of this small city in upstate New York. When you stroll around the racetrack and downtown, you are following in the footsteps of countless visitors going all the way back to the U. S. Civil War when the larger-than-life John Morrisey founded the venerable Saratoga Race Course in 1863, about a month after the three-day carnage between North and South at Gettysburg.

If one can’t find a restaurant in Saratoga Springs that meets his or her tastes, the tastes are very rare. Hattie’s Chicken Shack is indeed a ramshackle place that serves up fried chicken at nearly $19 a plate, yet the line to get in usually forms before the place opens. At the other end of the spectrum are some upscale spots as well as a number of good family-style restaurants. You know you have had a relaxing and fulfilling day away from the routines of life when your major decision is where to eat after the races.

Taking an evening walk down Broadway is experience that is essentially the same every year but welcome. Street musicians entertain in front of the shops and restaurants for whatever money people see fit to donate to them. Up North Broadway are the eye-pleasing stately 19th century houses and mansions that end near the entrance to Skidmore College. One fairly new mansion is unwelcoming–fenced in with a guard booth–but the old houses have no such barriers.

Lawn jockeys are commonplace in front of North Broadway homes, as well as in front of homes near the racetrack. The jockeys are painted in some cases in colors very familiar to dedicated racing fans.  The classic Phipps Stable red and black colors still adorn one of the jockeys, but, unfortunately, Ogden “Dinny” Phipps, one of the last members of the first families of horse racing from its glory days, has passed into Saratoga history.

I see many of the same people at the racetrack every year, but normally do not know their names. Age is catching up with many of us but I am sure most of us hope to be able to come back to Saratoga again next year and the year after that. There are many wonderful racetrack experiences, but none of them are Saratoga.

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