FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

United States, Horse Racing

May 1, 2006
2006 / May 2006

What do you think is the oldest continuing sporting event in the United States? The World Series? The Rose Bowl? The Stanley Cup?

Guess again. The U.S. event with the oldest tradition doesn’t involve two-legged athletes. It centers on four-legged beasts racing at speeds reaching 45 mph; women in the grandstands wearing elaborate (sometimes gaudy) hats; and sipping mint juleps to the nostalgic strains of “My Old Kentucky Home.” This year, the 132nd running of Kentucky Derby takes place on May 6 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

With that in mind, let’s talk horse racing. Wherever you travel, there’s a good chance a racetrack is nearby. Each has its own characteristics, and spending a day at the races is a fun way to entertain a client or enjoy a day of leisure. Horse racing is unlike other sports. Instead of spending most of your time in a seat, you should be exploring the track, from the paddock (where the horses are walked shortly before the race), to the betting windows, to the food areas, to the spot from where you’ll watch the races. You may not even view the races live from your seat, but instead take in the action via a monitor mounted in a picnic area, near the betting windows or somewhere else on the grounds.

The Kentucky Derby is just the start of horse racing’s Triple Crown. The other races are the Preakness Stakes, which takes place at Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore two weeks after the Derby, and the Belmont Stakes, which happens three weeks after the Preakness at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. The big story in horse racing every year is whether any one horse will win all three races. Considered one of the most impressive feats in the world of sports, winning the Triple Crown hasn’t been done since Affirmed ran the table in 1978. If one horse wins the first two races (as has happened in recent years with War Emblem, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, and Smarty Jones), the atmosphere at the Belmont Stakes will reach Super Bowl levels.

In mid-summer, head for the quiet Upstate New York town of Saratoga which hosts some of the best horse racing in the world each year from late July through early September. The track is beautiful and the town is a mecca for racing fans. Throughout the season, it’s abuzz with talk of what happened at the day’s race, and what’s going to happen the next day. The town is also dotted with top-notch hotels (for a real Saratoga experience, stay at the Adelphi), terrific restaurants (Lillian’s is a must-visit), and plenty of shopping, especially antique shops.

Across the pond, you’ll find tracks throughout England, Scotland and Wales, but the schedules are a bit different from those in the United States. For example, at Newmarket there are eight race days each in July and August, while Saratoga has 26 racing days in August. It’s best to review the schedule before heading to the track. The five biggest “flat” races (as opposed to “jump” races) are called “The Classics” — the 1000 Guineas and 2000 Guineas take place in Newmarket in May; the Oaks and the Derby are scheduled for early June; and the St. Leger takes place in September. It’s best to purchase tickets for The Classics in advance, while regular race days usually allow for paying at the gate. Be aware that racetrack dress codes are a lot stricter in England than in the United States. Newmark’s Web site advises that dress should be “smart.” In some areas, jeans and collarless shirts aren’t allowed at all. For the July festival, dressing up is “positively encouraged.”

Since the introduction of the $6 million Dubai World Cup in 1996, Dubai has seen some of the best racing in the world. Past winners of the Dubai World Cup include Cigar (the horse that tied the record for most consecutive wins with 16) and Silver Charm, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1997. The race takes place at the Nad Al Sheba racetrack, one of four tracks in Dubai along with Jebel Ali Racecourse, Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, and the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club. The race season starts in October and culminates with the World Cup in March. The tracks in Dubai enjoy reputations for featuring state-of-the-art facilities. The location, which is a hotbed for tourism and business travel, provides access to the beaches, restaurants and hotels of Dubai.

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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