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Trying Out Travers

August 31, 2015

Saturday I got bit by the bug. Going to the Saratoga Race Course for the 146th Running of the Travers turned out to be a great idea.

Crowds aren’t really my thing. For example, I won’t stand in line to get into a bar on principle. Battling traffic drives me bonkers. And masses of people in one place tend to make me uneasy. But the reality of this historic event in Saratoga Springs was that the crowds just weren’t that bad.

Sure, parking was expensive. But I arrived super early, a little after nine o’clock, and avoided downtown entirely. Plus I stayed at the track until the last race had finished, so getting out wasn’t that bad either. We hit Shake Shack early in the day, when there was almost no line at all. Burgers for breakfast are never a bad call. Later in the day, when it was time for a Hattie’s fried chicken sandwich, the line was fast moving and pretty painless.

It was a great day of learning all around. I took in a ton about horse racing, a bit about the food at the track, and even something about myself.

Thanks once again to America’s Best Racing who invited me as their guest to the track. For the sake of full disclosure, I was provided with a grandstand ticket, a program, a $25 food voucher, a $2 betting card, and quite a bit of hand holding.

Getting to spend time with people who deeply love something and have a vast knowledge on their subject of interest is always rewarding. Provided, of course, that you ask enough questions. Dan, who was one of the brand ambassadors in attendance, walked me through the ins and outs of reading through the race sheets contained within the program.

It’s amazing how much data is contained on each of those pages, and I have to confess, as a numbers nerd it was a lot of fun to delve into the details and try to figure out which horses might have an advantage in the upcoming race.

The process felt something like doing a crossword puzzle. But then on top of that you had to add all the options for wagering. And it had the energy of going to a professional sporting event, but without the obligation of staying glued to the action for the entire time.

After running through many of the basic the betting possibilities, the one that generally appealed to me the most was betting a $1 exacta box on three horses. It works out to a six dollar bet that any of the three horses you pick will finish in first and second. If you hit it, the payout is significant. Of course it varies based on the odds of each horse winning. And those odds are ever changing.

Really, I wanted to bring a laptop and work some things out in a spreadsheet. That’s my kind of fun. But what I also learned is that I’m no longer much of a gambler. For me, the joy of winning money is less than the disappointment of losing money. Maybe that will change should I get better at handicapping the horses. However, for now, I’m happy to just see if I can pick a set of three horses that will contain the top two finishers.

You know what else made me happy? Track food.

This is hard to write. But if you are only going to buy one sandwich at the track, and you have to decide between the double Shack Burger or the Hattie’s fried chicken sandwich… I’d have to throw my support to the burger.

Man, was that thing good. I had only tried Shake Shack one other time in NYC and I customized a much simpler version of the burger. I may have even asked for it without the shack sauce, but I certainly stayed away from the american cheese. Since then, I’ve had a complete turnaround on our national cheese and burger construction. Now, I rejoice in its impossible creaminess, and I want to taste what each burger maker thinks is its best product.

The secret is in getting the double, because you get that great melted cheese layer between the two patties. And those patties. They may be thin on their own, but the crust they pick up from the griddle is incredible. When you put two tasty thin burgers on top of each other with a layer of cheese that comingles with beef fat, then you’ve got yourself a winner.

Which isn’t to say the chicken sandwich is a slouch. It’s not. Spicy cole slaw on top of two crispy boneless chicken thighs? It’s fantastic. But you can pick one up any time at Hattie’s Chicken Shack in Wilton. The drive to Shake Shack is a bit more daunting.

The Sloppy Track shake I found less appealing than I had expected. More than anything, it was just too sweet. I’ll be glad to expend those calories elsewhere.

One really fascinating thing about the day was realizing just how many different kinds of experiences you can have at the Saratoga Race Course. It ranges from super fancy, to super skeevy, and everywhere in between. This first visit I wore my white linen pants and a silk tie. Maybe next time I can try shorts and sandals in the picnic area.

Really, I should mention that while the grandstands and concessions weren’t crowded during Travers, the picnic area was jammed. I’m not sure what it’s normally like, but viewing the parties jockeying for space, I could really see the benefit of having a reserved picnic table in the paddock area.

Hopefully, I’ll get back here on my own dime next season. The issue isn’t the desire, but carving out a full day to hang out and watch the horses. My guess is that Young Master Fussy, who has a great math mind, would be fantastic at solving some of these probability questions in his head. And he loves burgers. So maybe I could pass it off as a father and son activity. We’ll see.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2015 10:44 am

    One of these days, you and I will have to go have a burger together.

    The fam and I are headed to the Jersey shore tomorrow, and I plan to stop at 5 Napkin on the way down. And I’m hoping it’ll be worthy of a write up on my blog.

    • August 31, 2015 10:53 am

      Maybe you can hit Pizza Town USA on the way back for a deep fried calzone and the impossibly crisp crust of their slices. And if you’re anywhere near Asbury Park, don’t miss the great pinball museum there.

      • August 31, 2015 12:45 pm

        Thanks.

        Assuming we don’t eat too much pizza while we’re down there, I’ll definitely give it a look.

    • September 2, 2015 2:38 pm

      I tried 5 napkin in Manhattan this summer and meh – they didn’t know how to sear a burger.

  2. Ryan H. permalink
    August 31, 2015 6:36 pm

    Now you’re a real Upstater. My wife and I try to get to the track once a year. My family came to visit when I first moved up here, and we ended up at the Travers. I think it was everyone’s first time at a horse race, except for me, and it’s a great memory. Taking and placing everyone’s bets. Heading into town for food. I hate crowds too, but I always have a good time in Saratoga.

  3. Cindy permalink
    August 31, 2015 9:29 pm

    But… but… did you bet against American Pharoah? Inquiring minds want to know! (And, this made me really miss the Saratoga Racetrack.)

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