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Track opens gates early for family fun

Famed horse trainer Gary Contessa taking some time to talk horses – and NYRA. Contessa is seen here with Social Saul, a friendly horse who won the New York Derby last year.

Famed horse trainer Gary Contessa taking some time to talk horses – and NYRA. Contessa is seen here with Social Saul, a friendly horse who won the New York Derby last year. Photo by Julie Cushine-Rigg.

— Whether you call it the flat track or the Saratoga Race Course, one thing is for certain: it’s the place to be during the Spa City summer.

A crowd of all ages turned out at the track on Sunday, July 15, as NYRA, the New York Racing Association, hosted the course’s 32nd Open House. According to NYRA’s Director of Communications Dan Silver, there are about 2,000 people employed at the track by NYRA and their partners and during the meet, it will also be home to 1,850 horses.

The Open House provided a look into track attractions and information on the meet itself before gates swing open for the official season on Friday, July 20. This year’s meet runs through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 3. On Saturday, July 21, and Sunday, July 22, the track will feature its traditional annual Hats Off to Saratoga Festival, where attendee will don their prettiest headdresses. It’s the first of many special track events.

“The Open House event not only welcomes people to the summer Saratoga season at the track but is also intended to generate much needed funds for worthy local charities,” said NYRA President and Chief Operating Officer Ellen McClain.

“Every year we raise about $15,000 for local non-for-profit groups through the purchasing of the very discounted food and beverage offerings,” said Silver.

Organizations that benefited from this year’s Open House include The Knights of Columbus, Saratoga Elks, The Girl Scouts of Northeastern New York and Saratoga Rowing.

What’s new for 2012

One of the things that NYRA is introducing this year in hopes of creating a kid-appropriate atmosphere is Family Friendly Fridays.

“Saratoga has the best jockeys, the best horses, the best trainers and we also have the best fans. At Belmont Park we do Family Fun Days on Sundays with face painters and pony rides … it’s going to be a similar type of thing occurring on Fridays,” said Silver. “It features Coca-Cola’s Best Bet Offer which includes adult grandstand admission, a post-parade program and a hot dog and a Coca-Cola all for $5.”

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