A great (inexpensive) day at the track: Crystal Capritta

Crystal at the track.jpg

A fun (and affordable) day at the track with Crystal and Mike.

By Crystal Capritta

AOA is taking a little R & R this week. While we're enjoying a little summer, we've rounded up a few experts to share their tips for making summer fun simpler. Enjoy!

Mention Saratoga Race Track and many people think fancy clothes and spending a lot of money. But you can have a lot of fun at the track without spending a ton of cash.

My husband has gone to the track every summer of his life, and I've been right along with him since the first summer we met. Over the years I've won a few of the bets I've placed, and my husband has been known to hit a rare trifecta.

Here are some of our insider tips to having a good time at the track on the cheap.

Track Sign Crystal Capritta

Plan ahead

Pick up a Racing Forum the night before at any Stewart's if you want to get your picks ready early. For those who are not that hardcore, you can pick up a program when you get to the track. This is your guide to the day -- how many races, who's riding, who's running, and what the odds are. Don't forget things can always change on racing day, so make sure you check the monitors for the morning scratches (horses drop out of a race), and keep an eye out for additional scratches and odds changing before each race.

Saratoga Program.jpg

How to dress

Wear comfortable, casual clothes -- no need to be fancy if you're hanging at the picnic tables. Many ladies believe they need to wear big hats to the track. Unless you are protecting your face from sun exposure, leave them home. You will get hot up there, and wearing a hat will be a total drag.

Where to sit

Forget the clubhouse or grandstand. If you want a really good time go in general admission and grab a picnic table. You'll have to get there early to reserve one -- as soon as the gates open at 10 am. If there is not already a table cloth, cooler, or some other marker on the table, it's up for grabs -- get it. This will be your home base for the rest of the day. Don't forget to bring folding chairs in case you don't snag a table or you will be standing.


Bring your own cooler so you don't have to buy overpriced concessions. You can't bring bottles in, but luckily many specialty craft beer brewers are starting to can their beers. For a fraction of the cost of the run-of-the-mill domestic beers at the concessions, you can be enjoying quality beer all day long. If you can also fit some food in your cooler, bring it along. You can save your money for betting and to get a nice dinner out on the town at the end of the day.

If you're a smoker, you might enjoy a cigar or cigarello to get the authentic track experience. You are not allowed to smoke in the grandstand, but you can puff away back in the picnic area and at the rail.


Track betting slips crystal capritta.jpg

If you're not sure how betting works, the program you grabbed on your way in will give you an overview. Even for experienced betters, going to the window can be a chore, especially when it gets down to the wire for a last-minute bet. Go to the window once -- to exchange your cash for a voucher, then use the automated betting machines. They are much simpler and easier. DO NOT FORGET TO FINISH YOUR BET AND GRAB YOUR TICKET. If you leave your ticket in there the next person in line will bet your money and you can kiss it goodbye.

Track WPS ticket Crystal Capritta.jpg

You don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time. For those who have never bet before, stick to win/place/show or show bets. If you bet a horse to show and it comes in first, second, or third, you will get the show money. If you bet WPS and your horse wins, you get the payout for all 3, if it places, you get the payout for 2nd and 3rd, and if it shows, you just get the show money.

If you want to get adventurous, exactas (picking first and second place) and trifectas (picking first second and third place) are fun. Always box them, never play it straight. Or if you're gonna play it straight, back it up with a box. When you play a bet straight, you will only win money if the horses finish in the exact order you picked, if you box your bet you win no matter what order your picks come in. There have definitely been days where we neglected to box and ended up kicking ourselves for it later.


If you want to see the horses up close and personal to check out your picks before the race, they are walked from the stables through the picnic area to the track.

The best spot to watch a race is not at the finish line as most would think. The TV monitors will show you everything, and there will be so many people at the finish line you're not likely to get a good view anyway. The middle of the home stretch, right on the rail is the sweet spot. It's the most exciting place of the race because that's where everyone starts to make their move.

After the races

Once the last race has run, count up your wins and losses. This will determine your next move. If you haven't lost your shirt, you might want to get dinner at Max London's on Broadway or sushi at Sushi Thai Garden on Phila St. If you find yourself in the hole and are looking for some cheap eats, Stewart's might be your best bet. After dinner you might want to stroll Broadway to find a watering hole.

Win or lose, we usually find ourselves getting a drink at Desperate Annie's on Caroline Street and reminiscing about the highs and lows of a day well spent.

Crystal Capritta works her dream job at Etsy by day and is a photographer/blogger in her spare time.

More Summer School:
+ Hosting a great barbecue: Christian Noe
+ Buying a bicycle: Carl Johnson
+ Camping with kids: Katie Beltramo
+Making a fabulous summer cocktail: Nick Ferrandino


If you do need to eat something there (that's reasonable), take advantage of the following (it's only available at the 2 locations)...

The popular $5 value meal – hot dog or slider, chips and soda – offered exclusively in the backyard for the first time last season, will now be available in two locations for 2012: once again near the former Bunberry’s and a new location near the Big Red Spring.

and if you run out of alcohol...

NYRA will again offer $3 domestic draft beers and $4 draft imports at select locations throughout Saratoga Race Course (just got to find them).

As far as betting, it's important to remember that the standard bet is $2, but you can bet $1. The posted payout amounts are based on a $2 bet. So, if the winning horse is paying $10, you will only get $5 for a $1 bet. I like to do low bets with boxes and every year I get a little twinge of disappointment when I realize that I won't be getting as much as I first thought.

Solid tips! I have a couple things to add as a native, and having worked there once upon a time.

First thing I like to do is to head to the big scratch board and note any changes in my program - scratches, jockey changes, and so forth. They'll announce them prior to each race, but it's good to know if you're eyeing any daily doubles.

If you just want scratches, you can also ask a mutuel clerk (the people you place bets with) for a printout of the scratches. This ticket will also show bet types available, if I remember correctly.

Crystal mentioned the programs explain how to bet. This is found in the first few pages, and there's also a page that explains what all the stats and information are on the race pages, if you happen to care about more than the name or number.

Boxing exactas is a good strategy, but really all it does, is bets each permutation of your picks. With an exacta, and two horses, you'll double the bet with 2 variations. Boxing a trifecta with 3 horses has 6 variations. If you feel strongly about your picks, skip it, or maybe bet them a few different ways but not all 6.

The people having the most fun are winning, but the people winning the most aren't usually the ones getting big payouts. Usually they're new tourists winning a dollar and change every race on a show bet. Don't stress about a big payout, focus on getting *a* payout.

Smoking is allowed, and a cigar can be nice, but please don't smoke at the betting windows. It's not allowed there but not always enforced. It's rude and there's nowhere really for the smoke to go but in their face.

Lastly, if you prefer to bet with a clerk rather than the SAM machines, it's nice to throw a tip their way if you have a good day. While they're not permitted to solicit them, they are allowed to accept them.

I like my day at the track to begin with breakfast, then grab some leftover grandstand seats for the day when they go on sale (they are inexpensive and provide a quiet refuge all day long). I usually go once a year and bring about $100 in cash and that is my limit for spending for the day (breakfast not included). I usually go home after a full day of racing and enjoying the expensive track food/drinks with most of my $100. Once even with more than I brought (that was a good day!).

I don't get the picnic tables at the track. They are in limited supply, and everyone I know who likes going to the track seems to be crazy about going early enough to get a table. It seems like most people come in, place their stuff on them, then spend the rest of the day trackside, coming back to the table when they need a drink or whatever. Rendering all the tables both unused and unusable.

Here's my track protip (as someone who has been to the track a whopping two times despite living here my whole life)

There's a Shake Shack at the track. They serve a delicious concoction called the Sloppy Track. It costs $6 (+ $3 track admission).

There is no god-awful line, but you will probably have to park a few miles away from the entrance.

It's worth it!

My husband grew up in Toga and we worked the track together as tellers each summer after we got together/pre-kids.

Bet the Jockey, not the horse. The better horses are going to have the better jockeys.

Hattie's has an outpost at the track. The food is cheaper than what you're going to find at the concessions, and is simply divine to boot.

Stand up at the rail for at least one race. It's worth it.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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