BY HEATHER MARLETTE
                I am a horse racing convert. I used to be the person who refused to go to the Saratoga Springs, NY race track because of perceived “abuse” of horses. Being a country girl who was lucky enough to be around horses and take horseback riding lessons, I was convinced that I had to hate the track and all it stood for. So the first time I went, I went very grudgingly. Then, I started having a good time. It was against my will, but it happened. The picnic like atmosphere, the goofy hats, the betting and of course the actual races drove me to the dark side. OH and I do not see how after spending even just an hour at The Spa, one could not be a convert…or as I have become a Saratoga Springs Horse Race Track junkie.
                I am not a huge better, if I bet more than $20 in a day at the track; it is because I made money on a race. I take about $25 for myself, and $25 for my wife, and we go. We are not clubhouse or grandstand ladies though – we are picnic area residents. We take our cooler – no glass, but of course – and we pay our $3 admission. We sit in about the same area every time, near the main gate in the shade of the trees, in between the 2 sets of monitors, across from the big monitor and kitty-corner to the betting veranda. No electronic betting for either one of us – you have to have a person. I have a few tellers that I switch between as I go, and they are familiar because I have used them for years. Of course, if you lose on a ticket, you have to move to a new one, and I generally stay with men – which the people reading this and who know me, are thinking that is slightly ironic…what can I say enigma here people. It is not about big bets or anything like that for me. It is simply fun. Not to mention, these are beautiful animals. They are graceful and strong, and the ones I tend not to bet on are really fast…
                I like to walk around the track in between races. I mean, where else can you see people mingling in such a way. You can walk to the “vendor” area and check out the hats, portraits and anything else that has anything to do with horses, racing or Saratoga that you can imagine. There is always some kind of band going, generally a jazz or horn ensemble. Let’s not forget the dancing that they have – generally a few good tap or jazz couples, it is a very entertaining turn. Visiting the Big Red Spring is always on my list – not that I drink from it, that is what bottled water is for! I love to go up to the rail for dirt races, not turf ones. I find the horses racing, kicking up dust in front of the infield gazebo to be a beautiful sight. I want for the call to post like a 5 year old waits to see Santa Claus, and get a goofy smile on my face every time. It is a very specific experience for each race course junkie, so not everything that I state here is going to apply to you – but this is my feeling, my reaction – it is the thing in my life that can automatically take me back to having that kid-like excitement, that makes me forget the trials and tribulations of being an adult.
                So how can I make such a turn around that my favorite activity from July – August (activity mind you, Shark Week is still my happy week, it just falls in this time period) is something I used to think was deplorable. I guess all I can say is that I opened my mind up and tried something new. I have talked to other people who are all about horses, either they ride or own them, and I haven’t found many that think horse racing is any kind of abuse. Yes, I talked to people because as much as I enjoy it, and as much fun as I have if the animals are being abused, I need reassurance that I am not causing pain to any of the magnificent animals that run there. At the end of the day, do I think horses are happier wandering fields and trails in the country – maybe, yes? I have never seen abuse though, and most owners, handlers and jockeys take excellent care of the horses in their care as they are the tool to run and win races that can make them very rich people.

So, I will go and I will continue to picnic the days away while watching my favorite jockeys = namely John Velaquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario and my personal jockey hero – Rosie Napravnik who this year became the first female jockey to run in all three Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) but she had a number five finish in the Kentucky Derby and a third place finish in the Preakness, the two highest finishes in these two particular crown races by a female jockey. She is known as not a great female jockey but simply as a great jockey, and that is impressive in such a male dominated sport. Between my favorites and the other jockeys, the horses and the atmosphere, I will continue to go to the Saratoga Springs Race Track and place my meager bets. For any who are still Spa hold outs, I highly recommend this great upstate New York tradition. 

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