For horse racing fans, it’s a slice of heaven on earth.
On Friday afternoon, Saratoga Race Course will open the gates to its 149th racing season with plenty of action over 40 days of summer through Labor Day.
Located in the foothills of the Adirondacks, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) will produce racing six days a week, with the track going dark on Tuesdays throughout the meeting.
The stars will also be out in full force at the Spa this summer.
The three Triple Crown race winners could face off in the Travers for the first time since 1982. Always Dreaming (Derby), Cloud Computing (Preakness) and Tapwrit (Belmont) are all pointing towards the meet’s feature race. The 3-year old male division championship will likely be decided on Aug. 26.
Gun Runner, the third-ranked horse in the world is headed to the Aug. 5 Whitney Invitational. Songbird, the two-time Eclipse winning filly is likely to start in the Aug. 27 Personal Ensign.
It’s a four-and-a-half hour jaunt down the Thruway and well worth the trip to North America’s oldest sporting venue. While we’re at it, let’s take a look at the summer place to be, from A to Z.
A is for Always Dreaming, the Kentucky Derby winner will be entered in the Jim Dandy on July 29, looking to avenge his defeat in the Preakness.
B is for Broadway, the main drag in downtown Saratoga, a great place to people watch or handicap in the morning before the races.
C is for Chad Brown, last year’s leading trainer at the Spa, who will run Preakness winner Cloud Computing in his first start since the win in Baltimore.
D is for Druthers, one of the fine brewery-based restaurants downtown, with home-made beers. It’s also a place where NYRA has held big race draws in the past.
E is for Exit 13, the off-ramp from the Northway and your gateway to the Spa. We’ll also give an E-shout out to Equestricon, the first-ever horse racing convention to be held Aug. 13-15 during the meet.
F is for the Forego, one of the big Grade 1 sprint races held on early in the meet and a “Win and You’re In” race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.
G is for giveaway, and there’s four premium items this year. This year’s giveaways include a ball cap (July 23), a T-Shirt (Aug. 7), a cooler bag (Aug. 21) and a Saratoga clock (Sept. 2).
H is for Hattie’s, with its backyard bar and the best chicken sandwich in Saratoga.
I is for Ice-cold exactas, a favorite bet of yours truly, where you pick the first two horses across the line in the exact order.
J is for jockeys, and there will be plenty vying for the riding title, including the two Ortiz brothers, Joel Rosario, Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez and Hall of Fame-elect Javier Castellano.
K is for King’s Bishop, which was renamed the Allen Jerkens, for the late trainer who had such a positive impact over his career. The Jerkens is one of the premier Grade 1 sprint races in the country and looked at by breeders as a key race on a stallion’s resume.
L is for the Lemonade, which a horse named Somali Lemonade made for us at 10-1 in the 2014 Diana. There's also plenty of the tasty drink that can be found at one of the many vendor stands in the backyard. It’s also for Buffalo-based Lobster Hut, which I hear is going to offering oysters this year at their location in the Carousel.
M is for Midsummer Derby, which is the nickname for the meet’s feature race for 3-year-old colts, the Travers, scheduled for Aug. 26.
N is for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, located on Union Avenue across from the track, a must-see attraction while at the Spa.
O is for Oklahoma, the name of the training track with a viewing area for morning workouts.
P is for the Pick-5, a bet with just a 15% takeout that is available for the first five races on the card. This bet can be very lucrative if a longshot or two win during the sequence.
Q is for quinella, a bet that requires you to select the first two finishers in a race in either order.
R is for railbird, those folks who lean on the rail to watch the races at the Spa. If you have general admission tickets you can get one of the best views of all of sport, by securing a spot on the rail for a race.
S is for Siro’s and Sperry’s, two of the most popular watering holes in Saratoga Springs, where you’re likely to run into someone famous or more likely a media person.
T is for Todd Pletcher, who has won the Spa training title an eye-opening 12 times. As usual, he’s loaded with 2-year-olds who will make their debut at the Spa.
U is for Union Avenue, the track’s address is officially listed as 267 Union Ave. in Saratoga Springs.
V is for Victorian homes, many of which surround the streets around the track.
W is for the winner’s circle, the place many owners dream of ending up. Being in the winner’s circle at Saratoga is a cherished moment and the meet that trainers point their horses to.
X is for scratches. Handicappers x-out the day’s scratches off their racing forms and programs after track announcer Larry Collmus announces them before the first race.
Y is for Yaddo, a race held during the meet for New York-breds, named after the artist community located on a 400-acre estate in Saratoga. It’s mission is “to nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment.”
Z is for Zippy Chippy, who is stabled at Old Friends at Cabin Creek just outside Saratoga, who never won a race in 100 career races.
We’re off at Saratoga.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.