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Saratoga Race Course.

Seven bells chime, signaling the 17-minute countdown for rollers — both high and low — to place their final bets. No announcement or explanation is needed: This time-honored tradition is simply how things have always been done at the Saratoga Race Course. Men in seersucker sportcoats and women donning their finest, sometimes garish, summer hats file into the clubhouse and box seats while, below, bleachers fill with casually-dressed spectators. Everyone is giddy with anticipation. Then it sounds, the loud clap as the starting gate opens, followed by the rhythmic pounding of hooves bolting around the 1⅛ mile dirt track. In roughly two minutes, the thrilling race has ended and a new champion is crowned in the Winners’ Circle.

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The gates open at Saratoga Race Course.

In the 2013 season, days at the Race Course are far from routine. Saratogians, hippophiles and tourists hailing from near and far will honor the Race Course’s 150th anniversary in a five month-long celebration called Saratoga150. While the first day of racing season isn’t until Friday, July 19, Saratoga150 officially kicks off on Friday, May 24 with live entertainment, a picnic and fireworks at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC).

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The crowd at Saratoga Race Course.

On a typical day at the Race Course, visitors’ senses are treated to the melodic sounds of live music, the tempting aromas of wood fired pizza and barbecue, and the spectacle of seemingly larger-than-life thoroughbreds approaching the paddock to don their saddles.

It is remarkable for a sports venue — and industry — to achieve such a milestone, and there’s no denying that the thoroughbred culture has become a true part of the fabric of the Saratoga community. Even if horse racing isn’t your cup of tea, Saratoga150 has planned activities of all varieties which run through the end of September. “The idea is to celebrate not just horse racing but everything that is involved around it,” explains Rita Cox, a member of the Saratoga150 Committee and Senior Vice President of Marketing and External Affairs at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. “The entire community is so invested in what’s happening at the Race Course and we want to make sure every facet of the community has the opportunity to participate and celebrate. And, we want to make sure there is something for everyone.” Check our “Not to Miss” event picks below for help on where to begin.

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The Adirondack Trust Co. in downtown Saratoga.

To join Saratoga Springs in its 150th celebration, purchase the $15 Official Saratoga150 Lapel Medallion. The Medallion grants free entry to the May 24 kickoff as well as other Saratoga150 events all summer long. Packages are available, too.

The Basics:

  • Friday, May 24-Monday, September 30, 2013.
  • Admission: Usually covered by your $15 Saratoga150 Lapel Pin Medallion.
  • Purchase your Lapel Pin Medallion at the following locations:
    • Adirondack Trust Company, 473 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, and all other branches.
    • Impressions of Saratoga, 368 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
    • The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame,191 Union Avenue, Saratoga Springs
    • N. Fox Jewelers, 404 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
  • When to travel: Find an event that suits you and plan around it. Day trips will allow a full experience, but if you want to stay overnight, book now as hotels quickly fill up.

Not to Miss:

  • Saratoga Arts Fest: June 6-9. Submerge yourself in three days of live music, dance lessons, visual/film/literary art classes and viewings and theatrical performances. Buy a $40 ARTSPASS for free admission to most events, discounted admission to others, savings at restaurants and shops around town, and deals at Saratoga’s arts organizations throughout the year.

[Photo Credit for Saratoga Race Course Images: NYRA/Adam Coglianese]