SOME OF MY FAVORITE THINGS TO DO AROUND SARATOGA SPRINGS

Quaint:  attractively unusual or old-fashioned.

It is that time of year again when racing fans gather at the magical place called Saratoga Race Course.  I’ve been making the journey from Ohio for the past 24 years and find it an elixir.  Some of my favorite things to do and see are…

Attend the opening night of the Fasig-Tipton select yearling sales, where the great Man o’ War was sold when his owner, 65-year-old August Belmont Jr., decided to volunteer for the First World War.  The atmosphere is electric, and people watching is as interesting as horse watching.  Several years ago I found myself standing next to a woman who looked familiar.  She was, Bo Derek, star of the 1979 movie 10, still looking plenty good.

Leave the motel in downtown Saratoga Springs where I stay and walk through Congress Park and down bustling Union Avenue, with its stately homes, for an afternoon at the racetrack.  Browse the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame gift shop.  Meander around the racetrack grounds to see the exhibits and mingle among the fans, dressed in all manner, from sartorial splendor to shorts and flip flops.

Casually stroll down Broadway and take in the shops, and then go to North Broadway to admire the fine Victorian mansions.  The Lyrical Ballad used bookstore on Phila Street, just off Broadway, is a must, and expect to spend a lot of time there if you enjoy mostly old but some new books, especially on horse racing.  I was in the Lyrical Ballad in 2003, in the old bank vault section, when there was a power outage on the East Coast.  Later that day, I had dinner in a sweltering restaurant sans air conditioning, where cooking was propelled by a generator.

Dine in the excellent restaurants in the Saratoga area, which has choices for virtually any taste.  Don’t pass up the Ben and Jerry’s in a renovated service station.

Journey to the elegant Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing on Lake George for lunch or dinner.

Visit Congress Park at night and venture by the Canfield Casino…and imagine its founder John Morrissey, the former bare-knuckles heavyweight champion, in his tuxedo greeting customers 150 years ago under the flickering gas lights.

Take a day trip on winding country roads by farms and through villages to Manchester, Vermont, to shop in the outlets, and in particular the headquarters store of Orvis.  Maybe afterwards dine at Equinox Resort and Spa, where Mary Todd Lincoln and her sons took refuge in summers during the Civil War.  She made reservations for the family, including her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, for the summer of 1865.  An event, of course, tragically intervened.  The eldest Lincoln son, Robert Todd, built his summer home, Hildene, in Manchester, and it is open to the public and is well worth visiting.

Wander around the Saratoga National Historical Park, where the fledgling American colonial army defeated a major British force in a 1777 battle that helped turn the tide in the American’s favor.  Benedict Arnold was heroic at Saratoga and would today be one of the most revered Americans had he died of his wounds.  Instead, he is first among America’s greatest traitors.

Hope to see you at the “Spa,” the venerable racetrack founded by John Morrissey in 1863, for the best racing in America.

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