As another summer day dawned bright and clear in Connecticut, I prepped myself for
the however-many-annual Father/Daughter Saratoga Road Trip, my favorite trip of the year. This year’s edition would take place on a beautiful Sunday, where the sun would shine on us and (hopefully) my chosen picks in whatever races we attended at the Spa.
After a scenic ride up the Taconic State Parkway, our first stops were, as always, the Saratoga Olive Oil Company--try their infused balsamics on a delicious
salad--and the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. There, I picked up a copy of Edward L. Bowen’s Legacies of the Turf, Volume 1: A Century of Great Thoroughbred Breeders.
Bowen had written some of my favorite books on Thoroughbred pedigrees, including Dynasties and Matriarchs, so I was engrossed in this volume.
Out of the blue, a woman standing nearby mentioned that she used to work at Eclipse Press with Bowen; she introduced herself as Rena Mitchell, wife of Eric
Mitchell, editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse. She kindly invited me to meet her husband and son; for me, it was a wonderful moment. I had written a column for the magazine’s website 10 years ago--when I was 13--called “Teen Tracks,” in which I analyzed the pedigrees of various contenders for major races. In a way, this was like coming full circle.
I was particularly interested in seeing Saratoga’s Uniquely New York Showcase, which billed itself as a 150th anniversary showcase of “products made
exclusively in New York State.” As vibrant as Saratoga is, I was afraid that its “showcase” would be nothing more than a few local T-shirts and apples from last
fall. Let’s just say that visiting Aqueduct’s “events” last fall and winter hadn’t done my impressions of tracks’ promotional opportunities any favors.
As we entered the Saratoga lawn, I was pleased, as always, with the day’s turnout. Something about the Spa--whether it’s the gorgeous location, the racing, or
something else--always attracts more visitors than the average track. Where else can you get a small-town ambiance, world-class horse racing, and high-society folks that pop up for anything from a maiden race to a Grade I stakes?
The Uniquely New York Showcase itself was rather inconveniently placed, shunted all the way to the left corner of the grandstand area. I must admit, though, that the lawn was so packed that there wasn’t anywhere else track officials could have put yet another tent, complete with thirteen booths and vendors. After finally finding the Showcase area, I was prepared for a small handful of tourists to be rifling through discounted tank tops--and that was it.
To my surprise, there was a lot more going on than just a few small booths and barely any business. There were dozens of folks milling around, tasting popcorn samples, getting a whiff of scented candles, and taking photos. The food that vendors were selling looked fresh and smelled delicious. The merchandise was, indeed, unique. Who wouldn’t want a piece of scrumptious maple candy, from local syrup harvested right around the corner, or delicacies like chocolate-covered bacon? Well, the latter is up for debate, but the point remains. Whether or not the merchandise was unique to New York in and of itself--let’s face it, candles aren’t an Empire State-only product--is debatable, but kudos to NYRA for living up to its name. Not only is it promoting great racing at Saratoga, but the products there are true New York-breds... and the public took note.
The chocolate-covered bacon was a particular draw. It’s good that I’m not kosher, I thought as I tasted a sample piece, overcoming my initial revulsion at the concept of the snack. It was surprisingly tasty, combining salty crunchiness with the sweetness of the chocolate and melting in my mouth but, ultimately, I chose against buying any, mentally citing not wanting elevated cholesterol in my twenties if I decided to devour bag after bag.
I then meandered over to Peanut Principle. Its fun, bright ambiance attracted a lot of
|RAD Soaps booth|
All in all, I found myself impressed and surprised by the Showcase’s showings. After the track’s visitors found the Showcase tent, they flocked to it in droves. The booths had varied and quality offerings, which did, indeed, showcase local talent. Kudos to Saratoga for pulling off a wonderfully marketable market.