07/22/2010 11:55PM

Spa Eve: 7/22/10


SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It's the night that visions of sugarplums dance in the heads of horseplayers. Fourteen hours until first post. I'm more than ready.

SaratogaExit I drove up this afternoon, following Red Smith's immortal directions to the track: "From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue, and go back 100 years."  I can report that everything's still here, including the flutter I still get, 31 years after my first visit, when I turn off the Thruway and the track suddenly comes into view.

This is the 142nd annual race meeting at Saratoga, and the 40 days of racing are the most that have been offered since 1882. The expansion of the meet from 36 to 40 days means an opening-day Friday and a first racing week of four days, folowed by the six six-day weeks that have been standard since 1997. The new schedule should get things off to a stronger start: Day Two of the meeting, usually a Thursday, was always one of the weakest of the summer but this year's Day Two will be a Saturday, featuring the relocated-from-Belmont Coaching Club American Oaks.

I've still got a lot of handicapping to do before doing Friday morning's Talking Horses  with Andy Serling at 11:45 a.m. in the Saratoga Carousel. The show, the stepchild of the old Siro's seminars, moved on-track last year and will be a little different for Season Two. We all felt that having three people going through the races was a bit unwieldy last year, so this year it will be just Andy and one DRF guest each day. I'll be doing the Friday and Saturday shows this week, most Saturdays and Sundays thereafter, with David Grening and Dave Litfin the other regulars on Wednesdays and Fridays.

If you're visiting Saratoga at any point this year, you'll find you've got some extra handicapping to do when it comes to lunch. Don't get me wrong, I'll be making a beeline for a Hattie's fried-chicken sandwich right after the seminar. I haven't had one in nearly 11 months and I'm jonesing. But tonight I got a preview of the two new Danny Meyer eateries opening at the track tomorrow -- a Blue Smoke barbeque stand and a Shake Shack -- and they're going to be prove mighty tempting.


Meyer, best known for his Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, opened a Blue Smoke and Shake Shack at Citi Field (home of the Mets) last year and Saratoga is his second sports foray. He seemed genuinely excited about it when I met him tonight, saying he's been coming to Saratoga since he was 16 years old and that he has long wanted to do something here. The two stands, flanking a small bay of betting windows near the Nelson Avenue gate (formerly the site of the At The Rail pavillion) are right across from a bar that will stay open after the races and have live music on weekends.

The masochists who actually attend Mets games say there is a two-inning wait at the Citi Field versions, and there are already winding airport-tape mazes set up here in anticipation of high opening-day demand for Blue Smoke's Kansas City spareribs ($10), pulled-pork sandwiches ($9) and chipotle chicken wings ($8). The Shake Shack does burgers, hot dogs, and the signature vanilla-bean, black-and-white or strawberry shakes ($6.75). I did a pulled-pork and a vanilla shake and give a thumbs-up to both. I was intrigued by, but too full to try, the "Blue Smoke Salty Peanut Jalapeno Chocolate Bar" ($3.75).

Almost time to fire up that midnight oil. As commenter hammer reminded me in a comment on yesterday's post, it was three Saratoga Eves ago that this blog began, initially conceived as a six-week exercise that grew into a year-round pleasure. A mere 588 posts and 18,567 reader comments later, I hope you're still enjoying it as much as I am.