A meal fit for the sport of kings. By Paul Post, The Saratogian. Posted: 08/17/17, 4:12 PM EDT | Updated: 13 secs ago. # Comments. Fans get an up-close look at horses while enjoying breakfast on the clubhouse porch. Paul Post — ppost@digitalfirstmedia.
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. >> It might be the best breakfast spot on the planet.
You won’t get any arguments from Susan and Chris Thompson of Montara, Calif., and their sons, Dylan and Sean.
PHOTOS: Breakfast at the Track and Backstretch Tour
They were among the dozens of people who enjoyed a favorite Saratoga Race Course ritual on Thursday, a trackside breakfast buffet followed by a free tram ride to the backstretch for a crash course in Racing 101.
“As a family it’s our first time here,” Susan Thompson said. “We got up early and showered at 6:30 so we could get here.”
Their early-bird reward was the sound of thunderous hoofs pounding by, warm sun to chase the morning chill, and a colorful array of fresh fruit adorning plates like paints on an artist’s palette.
“You’re closer to the horses here than we were yesterday during the races,” Susan said.
Sean was more interested in the food laid out before him.
“Breakfast is great,” he said. “They have all kinds of stuff — cereal, pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage.”
Plus quiche, fresh-sliced ham and countless other tasty treats.
Chris Thompson found himself enamored with the atmosphere.
“I’ve been to tracks in California,” he said. “This is kind of like the Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium of horse racing. It’s classic, beautiful, and has lots of history.”
Breakfast on the clubhouse porch is served daily from 7 to 9:30 a.m. on a first-come, first-served basis, while horses work out on the track. There is a fee for trackside parking, which is refundable for those who leave before 10 a.m.
The track is cleared after breakfast and fans must pay admission upon re-entry for the afternoon races.
Starting at 7:15 a.m., trams take visitors to the fascinating world of the backstretch, departing every 15 minutes. The last tram leaves at 9 a.m.
Upon arrival, guides lead guests on a 40-minute walking tour, starting at Clare Court, the training track built for industry legend August Belmont in 1902. Headstones mark the final resting place of three horses including Fourstardave, the “Sultan of Saratoga,” where he won nine of 21 career starts and at least one race for an amazing eight straight years.
Emily Nelson and her retired thoroughbred, Tequila, tell visitors about a day in the life of a race horse.
“Jogging happens about three or four times per week to maintain fitness and stretch out their muscles,” she said. “Full workouts, four to six furlongs, are done 10 to 14 days apart.”
After coming off the track, horses are hot-walked outside around the barn, giving them a chance to cool down. Then they’re bathed, groomed and fed three to four quarts of grain, twice per day, plus hay to nibble on in between.
Such work is done by racing’s unsung heroes, the stable workers who care for the sport’s equine athletes.
“There are 1,800-plus horses here,” tour guide Ella Felcher said. “People in this industry work seven days a week. They are very hard workers.”
She explains the role of lead ponies, who accompany race horses to keep them calm.
A steady stream of mounts with exercise riders pass by on their way to and from the track, bearing the colors of leading trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown and Linda Rice. Every rider wears a protective vest to prevent injury in case there’s a fall, a reflection of the sport’s ever-present dangers.
The trip ends at the starting gate where guests learn how horses are trained to use this equipment at an early age.
“We school horses as young as 2 years old,” assistant starter Gus Rodriquez said. “That’s when they start their racing careers. We teach them how to break out of the gate.”
Then it’s back to the tram, which returns fans to the clubhouse, filled with excitement for the coming day’s races after getting a brief taste of the many things involved with making it possible.
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