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Nothing Ventured, Nothing Lost

A half-dozen ways to enjoy Saratoga for free during the city’s most expensive season

By Kirsten Ferguson

Andrea Fischman

Saratoga Springs, in the summer, is a place where people come to lose money—to watch bills fly out of their wallets faster than Point Given raced down the backstretch in the days before his untimely retirement. Face it, unless you spend all your time poring over the hieroglyphs on the Racing Form, or you’re a mathematical genius like Picking Winners guru Andy Beyer, a day at the races is all about trying to enjoy yourself while kissing your hard-earned money goodbye.

Even the nongambling activities in Saratoga are costly. It’s no secret that city business owners bank on attracting summer tourists who are willing to throw their dollars away. Local restaurants, already expensive by upstate New York standards, raise their prices in the summer. Hotel rates triple. And there’s the August party scene, which revolves around expensive charity galas that allow socialites to accrue tax write-offs, er, indulge philanthropic tendencies.

If you live in Saratoga Springs, it’s somewhat gratifying to watch your local economy thrive—at least until the tumbleweeds return to blow down Broadway on Sept. 3. But take it from a resident: It is possible to enjoy August in Saratoga without participating in the monetary feeding frenzy. The following activities allow you to soak up the true essence of Saratoga Springs without spending a dime.

Gulp from the mineral springs. Sure, the sulfurous water that bubbles forth from Saratoga’s mineral springs can taste pretty bad, but the face-puckering elixirs become more palatable when you think of their medicinal properties. The Native Americans who discovered the springs were convinced of their various curative powers, and I swear the mineral water at the corner of Putnam Avenue soothes a sour stomach. Should you be feeling a tad anemic, a sip of the rusty tasting water at Big Red Spring (on the racetrack grounds) invigorates like a shot of pure iron.

Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities. In July, the most visible Saratoga somebodys are the ubiquitous ballet dancers. Their body types give them away: all gangly legs and arms, their feet seemingly fixed in that awkward toes-splayed stance. A record store like Last Vestige is the best place to spot well-known musicians—or their road crews—killing time before their SPAC shows. By August, the socialites have hit town. The best place to spot the grand dames of the racing season—aside from their finish-line box seats at the track—may be the Saratoga hair salons, where many go every morning for styling and manicures. The real celebrities in August, however, are the jockeys. Much like ballet dancers, their statures make them highly recognizable. You can often rub shoulders (or maybe an elbow) with jockeys who venture out in the evening to celebrate a good day at the races.

Surround yourself with artistic inspiration. You may never be welcome inside the artist’s retreat known as Yaddo (hell, fill out an application, it can’t hurt), but the administrators of Spencer and Katrina Trask’s estate allow you to visit the enchanting gardens that provide inspiration to the writers, composers and visual artists who are invited to stay there. Check out a roster of Yaddo’s past guests, and you may be surprised to find how many high-profile artists have visited Saratoga Springs, presumably for the peace and quiet needed to pursue their art (or for the free room and board). Celebrated authors Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections) and Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn) have stayed at Yaddo within the past few years.

Enjoy the sweet strains of music from outside the gates. Although you may want to spring for a full-price ticket to see a band you really care about, there are always a few acts on the Saratoga Performing Arts Center schedule that you’d like to see but aren’t willing to shell out big bucks for. On such occasions, bring your lawn chair and stake out a spot just outside the SPAC gates. You’ll be surprised how much company you have there. (Since SPAC sits in the middle of a state park, no one will shoo you away.) The sound comes through loud and clear outside the gates. Since they’ve added the big video monitors, you can glimpse the stage, too.

Andrea Fischman

Go behind the scenes at the track. To truly absorb the spirit of racing, take a walk past the track in early morning and watch the track workers as they lug water buckets, rub down horses and heft hay. Admission to the track is free at breakfast time, and you can watch stable workers put horses through their paces around the track. There’s something pure about watching the horses gallop leisurely during their morning workouts, before they’ve become hyper-adrenalized by the competitive nature of the afternoon’s races. To immerse yourself in the commerce of the racing business, lollygag around the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion during the horse sales in mid-August. Large plate-glass windows allow you to peer into the sales arena, where you can watch horses paraded in front of their potential owners while the auctioneer’s gibberish blares out through loudspeakers.

Marvel at the architecture. Forget the track; Saratoga’s true pride and joy is its architecture. In the 19th century, the Saratoga elite built lavish, flamboyant Victorian houses, many of which are still standing. Franklin Square has its Greek Revivals; North Broadway has its Queen Annes; Woodlawn Avenue has its carriage houses. The most interesting of the Saratoga structures, however, are those that juxtapose styles willy-nilly, combing minarets with classical arches with Gothic towers. Just take a look around and you’ll see.

This Week in Saratoga

Thursday, Aug. 15

Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, Broadway Joe’s Off-Broadway Theatre and Grille, Congress Street Plaza, Saratoga Springs. 8:30 PM. Cabaret performance with Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award-Winning singer/comic. $20. 587-3456.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Paul Arnold will speak on The Acoustics of Tchaikovsky. 584-9330.

Friday, Aug. 16

Bailey’s Café, Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs. 7-9 PM: Celebrity bartenders will appear to benefit the Disabled Jockey Fund. All their tips plus a donation from Bailey’s are donated to the charity. 583-6060.

Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, Broadway Joe’s Off-Broadway Theatre and Grille. 8:30 PM. Cabaret performance with Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award-Winning singer/comic. $20. 587-3456.

Saratoga County Arts Center, 320 Broadway, Saratoga. 8 PM: Catching Babies, a one-act play based on the life of Saratoga midwife Mariana Ferrara. $12. 583-2158.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Free lecture/demonstration. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra performs with Charles Dutoit conducting. Featured guests are Joshua Bell on violin and Evelyn Glennie on percussion. 581-9401.

Saturday, Aug. 17

Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, Broadway Joe’s Off-Broadway Theatre and Grille. 8:30 PM. Cabaret performance with Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award-Winning singer/comic. $20. 587-3456.

Petrified Sea Gardens, Petrified Sea Gardens Road, Saratoga Springs. 1 and 3 PM: Petrified Sea Gardens will offer two guided tours, free with a regular paid admission. 584-7102.

Saratoga County Arts Center, 320 Broadway. 8 PM: A Nash Rambler, a one-act staged reading of the works of Odgen Nash, one of America’s greatest wits. $8. 583-2158.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 7 PM: Pre-performance talk. 8:15 PM: The Philadelphia Orchestra will give a concert with David Kim on violin. 581-9401.

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, High Rock Avenue. 9 AM-1 PM.

Sunday, Aug. 18

Old Saratoga Farmers Market. Saratoga Apple, Route 29, Schuylerville. 1-4 PM.

Saratoga County Arts Center, 320 Broadway. 8 PM: Saratoga Shorts, an eclectic one-act program of contemporary short fiction, read by some of the area’s finest actors. $8. 583-2158.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 2:15 PM (Spa Little Theatre): Saratoga Music Chamber Festival ends the season with a Young Artists Concert. 218-0504 or 584-4132.

Monday, Aug. 19

Saratoga Springs Public Library, Children’s Room, 49 Henry St., Saratoga Springs. 7:30 PM: The library reading group Writers on Reading meets under the direction of William Patrick who will read his own work and lead a discussion of The Book of Evidence by John Banville. 584-7860.

Tuesday, Aug. 20

Congress Park, Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 10 AM-4 PM: Saratoga County Art Council’s Art in the Park II: Annual Visual Art Show and Sale. More than 70 artists will be showing and selling their work. Featured musicians will include Saratoga Strings and Kevin McKrell. 584-4132.

Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, Broadway Joe’s Off-Broadway Theatre and Grille. 8:30 PM. Cabaret performance with Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award-Winning singer/comic. $20. 587-3456.

Saratoga Wine Classic, Hall of Springs, Saratoga Springs. 6-10 PM: Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Capital Region will sponsor the wine tasting, which features hundreds of wines from around the world, live and silent auctions, gourmet food and jazz entertainment. 862-1250.

Wednesday, Aug. 21

The (Insert Something Funny) Players, Saratoga Arts Council, 300 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 8:30 PM: Short form improvisational comedy. $9.95, $7.95 seniors and students. 862-3475.

Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan, Broadway Joe’s Off-Broadway Theatre and Grille. 8:30 PM. Cabaret performance with Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award-Winning singer/comic. $20. 587-3456.

Saratoga Race Course
134th Season

Open daily through Sept. 3, except Tuesdays.

Location Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs, 584-6200

Admission $5 grandstand, $8 clubhouse, children under 12 free.

Parking $7 per car at the main gate and across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track.

Racing At least nine races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 24, when it’s 12:30 PM)

Major Stakes Races Travers Stakes (Aug. 24); Spinaway Stakes (Aug. 30); Hopeful Stakes (Sept. 1).

Promotional Item Giveaways 12-pack cooler (Aug. 18); T-shirt (Sept. 1)

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