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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Clubhouse? Grandstand? Mysteries of Saratoga Race Course revealed

Saratogian Ad Director Barbara Fignar at an early breakfast
Friday at Saratoga Race Course, where you can watch horses
work out and enjoy a meal. You can just go right to rail or
sit in the boxes without eating, too.
The New York Racing Association has done a good job this season enhancing the track-goers’ experience at Saratoga Race Course, with such things as better TVs in the picnic areas and a friendly, helpful demeanor from name-tagged employees.

But understanding what’s what and how to get there is still something of a mystery, as I was reminded recently when talking to new newsroom staffers and first-time track visitors.
So here’s a quick primer.
When you go to the track you have two choices: Grandstand admission for $5, or clubhouse for $8 ($10 and $15 on Travers Day); kids 12 and younger are free.
Grandstand is basically general admission (and should be called that, for clarity’s sake). It gives you access to most everywhere on the grounds, from right up to the rail at the races, to half the seating areas, to the huge backyard with all the picnic tables and the paddock area where they saddle up the horses.
Clubhouse admission gets you up to the rail closer to the finish line, to about half the seating areas, and to the reserved dining just past the finish line.
Neither admission gives you a seat in the stands.
The long area of covered seats is actually divided into two areas, called the grandstand and the clubhouse. The difference: the grandstand section is accessible with grandstand/general admission and the sections are in the second half. Meanwhile, the clubhouse area is basically divided into two sections: the regular pull-down seats with sections in the first half of the alphabet and the “boxes” with five wooden chairs that are sold in advance for thousands or doled out as needed by NYRA to horse owners, politicians or celebrities. The dress code for the regular pull-down seats is casual, whether in the grandstand or clubhouse areas; the clubhouse boxes are where men and women are best-dressed by regulation. 
To get one of those seats, you purchase them well before the season begins through a NYRA lottery system or you buy from what’s available on a given day, as explained at
There are lots of benches around, and picnic tables, and people generally respect bench spaces that are informally reserved with a Pink Sheet or other newspaper. People also bring folding chairs.
I picked up a nice map of the grounds at the track information booth last weekend. For an out-of-town colleague coming to the track with her two kids for the first time next week, I recommend watching the horses circling and getting saddled in the paddock area, looking at the brightly colored jockey uniforms through the windows of the Jockey Silks Room, watching races from the grandstand, maybe catching a race at the rail if they can get up to the fence, and enjoying the musicians at the Gazebo Stage, where last Sunday Big Medicine was playing to an appreciate crowd when I wandered by.


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