Saratoga Springs, NY

Make like a high roller at the Travers Stakes.

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BEST WEEKEND TO GO: August 28--30

DISTANCE: 180 mi - about 3 hours 7 min

WHY GO: An adrenaline-fueled summer horse race in a serene, bucolic setting—filled with throngs of racing aficionados—awaits you the weekend of the 140th running of the Travers Stakes in upstate's Saratoga Springs. The equine competition for three-year-olds, dubbed the Midsummer Derby, is held at one of the oldest tracks in the country (built in 1864). It's the crown jewel of the town's venerated racing season and this year takes place on Saturday, August 29. Gates at the Saratoga Race Course (267 Union Ave; 518-584-6200, nyra.com; general admission $5, clubhouse admission $10, reserved seating extra $18--$25) open at 7am in preparation for the noon post time—when the first of the day's thirteen races begins. (Five of these races are so-called graded stakes—races of note with large purses. This year, three are Grade 1: the $1 million Travers Stakes, the $300,000 NetJets King's Bishop and the $300,000 Ballerina.) Bring comestibles and lay claim to one of the picnic tables in the "backyard" (coolers are welcome), or have breakfast trackside in the first-floor clubhouse and watch the horses warm up before. Two of the best spots for viewing the track are the grandstand and the clubhouse restaurant Turf Terrace, on the third and fourth floors; if you opt for the latter, make a reservation (518-584-6200 or 518-587-5070) and dress up. The Travers Stakes race is one of the last of the day, and takes place around 5:30pm.

WHY STAY: Thirty-minute, tractor-drawn Backstretch Tours (every 30 minutes, 8--9:30am) are not available on Travers day, but are a must if you're in town Friday or Sunday morning. You'll get a look at starting-gate schooling, a hands-on introduction to working ponies (usually an older, nonracing horse), visit the backstretch barns and take in practice runs on the Oklahoma training track across the street. If you're not completely equined out, stop by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (191 Union Ave; 800-JOCKEY4, racingmuseum.org; $7), which has an interactive thoroughbred genealogy chart, a retired starting gate and even a racehorse simulator on which you'll get an idea of what jockeying is really like. Or visit Tang Museum on the Skidmore College campus (815 North Broadway; 518-580-8080, tang.skidmore.edu) for its "Lives of the Hudson" show, a multidisciplinary examination of the famed river and the industries and cultures it inspired.

WHAT TO EAT: Relative newcomer Grey Gelding (423 Broadway; 518-584-0957, greygelding.com) is known for its huge variety of steaks, such as the Capetown version (topped with a creamy sauce of semispicy Peppadew peppers and melted blue cheese); seafood, like the red snapper du monde (blackened and drizzled with a lobster sherry sauce); and its myriad small-vineyard wines. For an eclectic menu of bistro favorites (crab cakes, nioise salad, chicken potpie), try Circus Caf (392 Broadway; 518-583-1106, circuscafe.com), done up in a festive, memorabilia-strewn big-top theme.

WHERE TO STAY: Be advised that this is the area's busiest weekend of the year. Reservations are strongly recommended, and the only bargains to be found will be far from the town center or out of town altogether. For a dose of Saratoga's famous 19th-century charm, try the stately Saratoga Arms (497 Broadway; 518-584-1775, saratogaarms.com; $350--$625 per night; three-night minimum) downtown. More modern but a couple miles from the town center is Longfellows (500 Union Ave; 518-587-0108, longfellows.com; $325--$385 per night, two-night minimum), two of whose buildings are renovated dairy barns built in 1915. A relatively inexpensive option is the Turf & Spa Motel (176 Broadway, 518-584-2550, saratogasurfandspa.com; $170-$190 per night, four-night minimum).

GET THERE: Finding parking downtown on this weekend can be problematic, so if you plan to stay in the town center, spare yourself the hassle and take Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express ($116--$138 round-trip), a 3.5-hour ride.

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