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Monday, July 15, 2013

Ten reasons to decide who is better: Del Mar or Saratoga?

The two biggest meets of the summer kick off this week as Del Mar opens on Wednesday, July 17 while Saratoga opens Friday, July 19.  I have lived near Del Mar for most of my life and even worked three seasons there.  I did get to Saratoga for three weekdays and I will be as fair as I can about my judgements. Listed below are my 10 reasons why one track is better than the other.

1. Weather: With the beach just two furlongs away, Del Mar almost always has a cool ocean breeze and rarely any rain.  If you like 75-80 degree weather and lots of sunshine, you will love the weather at Del Mar.  Saratoga can get pretty humid and thunderstorms are no stranger to upstate New York.  There can be days where the weather is pleasant, but you can't beat a southern California ocean breeze.
Advantage - Del Mar

2. Entrance: The entrance at Saratoga has a fountain surrounded by jockey figures with silks painted for winners of last year's Grade 1 races.  This year, they will introduce the Saratoga Walk Of Fame with hoofprints of famous horses on the walkway outside of the admission gates.  The ticket booths at Del Mar are well, just ticket booths with no real horse racing flair.
Advantage - Saratoga

3. Promotions: There is no race track in this country who promotes like Del Mar.  There is 4 O'Clock Friday's with concerts, Donuts at Del Mar, Family Weekends, Beer Fests and Food Truck Festivals as well as contests like the opening day Hat Contest and Miss Cougar contest.  There are daily handicapping seminars and a few giveaway days as well.  Saratoga has Family Fridays, New York Marketplace days and a few giveaways and I'm sure they have handicapping seminars.  This really is no contest, though.
Advantage - Del Mar

4. Racing: Slot machines were finally put into place last year and New York racing (NYRA) has really boosted their purses as a result.  The daily large fields (outside of the Aqueduct winter meet) are easy to like for horseplayers, there is a Stakes scheduled for each racing day at Saratoga and the lowest claiming price is usually $20,000.  Racing in California has struggled the last few years and Del Mar had to switch from six days to five days along with only carding eight races on most weekdays.  Yes, there are top races at Del Mar, but Saratoga seems to have more in their favor.
Advantage - Saratoga

5. Atmosphere: There is nothing like opening day at Del Mar as it is just one big party.  The rest of the meet may not be as intense, but it does feel like a laid-back party-like atmosphere whether you are in the grandstand or in the infield.  I did not get that vibe at Saratoga at least on a weekday as it seemed a more serious approach.  Some people may enjoy that and they have every right to especially if you are a serious horseplayer who does not like to be distracted.  Still, I think Del Mar holds the edge whether you are serious or not.
Advantage - Del Mar

6. Around town: This is a close call as both have surrounding natural landscapes that are easy to like.  Del Mar has the ocean and lagoons while Saratoga is surrounded by trees and lakes.  Both have their share of really good restaurants as well.  In Del Mar, I had duck tacos for the first time and in Saratoga I had alligator for the first time.  However, the deciding factor is the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame which is right across the street from Saratoga.
Advantage - Saratoga

7. Wagering: Based on takeout, Saratoga has a lower rate in the Doubles, Exactas and non-carryover Pick 6's.  Del Mar has a lower rate in all other wagers including the 14% takeout of the Pick 5.  Del Mar also offers a Super High 5 in the last race, a Place Pick All and the Pick 6 pools are often much higher.  
Advantage - Del Mar

8. Paddock: The Del Mar paddock is where you can often see celebrities, you get a close up view of the horses being saddled and a quick view of the horse as they are led out by the jockey.   The Saratoga paddock is enormous and you need binoculars if you want to see your horse being saddled.  However, you get a much longer view of a horse with a jockey in the saddle.  This to me is more important as you can see how a horse is walking and observe its body language.  
Advantage - Saratoga

9. Cocktails: I do not remember or cannot find any kind of specialty cocktail that is offered at Saratoga.  However at Del Mar, they have the Del Margarita, the Del Martini, the Bloody Del Mary and the Red Bull Fecta.  There seems to be no argument who wins this battle.
Advantage - Del Mar

10. Parking lot: This may seem a strange one, but I've never been to a nicer parking lot in my life than the one at Saratoga.  It is surrounded by these tall trees and the walk to the track is really nice.  Del Mar is either asphalt or dirt depending on where you park.  Getting into and out of the track by car is not easy either as the traffic backs up very fast and you can be sitting in your car for at least on hour on busy days.  
Advantage - Saratoga

The final score of 5-5 is really no surprise.  Both tracks are special in their own way and many race fans share the passion of looking forward to each one every summer.  There may be some out there who thinks one is better than the other and that is great, too.  In this battle, though, the race fans are the winners between these two historic tracks.  

Good luck and we look forward to six weeks of the best racing around!

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit I'm dying to go to Del Mar, although I'm a serious, serious, serious Saratoga fan, set my last novel there, and basically think the entire town is a long love-letter to the racehorse.

    Plus Saratoga has the Shake Shack, and as a I refuse to wait in a line out the door for the Shake Shacks in Manhattan, this is the one time a year where I get to eat all the deliciousness that is a Shack Burger.

    And Woodford Memorial Mint Juleps while leaning against the paddock rail. What what!

    But still, I really want to visit Del Mar.

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