SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – From a hat contest to a cap giveaway to a “Party at the Park” that spills into downtown, opening weekend of the 141st season at Saratoga Race Course is destined to be a slam dunk, replete with a dunk tank featuring several of Saratoga’s more notable jockeys, trainers and executives.

Opening day – an unofficial holiday in the Capital Region – arrives on Wednesday, July 29 to launch a six-week, 36-day celebration that is unmatched in the world of thoroughbred racing. The opening day feature, the Grade 3 Schuylerville for juvenile fillies, is a staple of Saratoga’s renowned stakes series for two-year-olds.

Gates open at 11 a.m. with first post scheduled for 1 p.m. – the prelude to a blockbuster weekend of entertainment as Saratoga commemorates the rebirth that arrives annually with the return of thoroughbred racing.

The first 10,000 fans on opening day can pick up a Saratoga Winnings coupon book with their paid admission. In partnership with the Saratoga Downtown Business Association, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) will distribute coupon books to the first 10,000 paying fans each of the first three days of the meet. The books contain valuable offers and discounts to more than two dozen Saratoga merchants.

Fans on opening day will also be able to purchase the inaugural Jockey Autograph Book, which will be available for $3 all season long at the NYRA store. The book features the top 10 NYRA jockeys from 2008 with photos, graphics, statistics, and, of course, room for autographs. Also featured is Sam the Bugler. Sponsored by Price Chopper, all proceeds from the sale of the autograph books will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

The New York Lottery sponsors opening week at Saratoga Race Course.


FRIDAY, JULY 31: PARTY AT THE PARK/HATS OFF TO SARATOGA

Opening weekend festivities will begin with a “Party at the Park” on Friday, July 31, the first of two scheduled for the season (also, Friday, September 4). A special first post time of 2:30 p.m. will lead off a nine-race card that will culminate in a live concert after the conclusion of racing. Rockjunky, a New York City-based rock n’ roll quartet known for its three-part vocals and “Southern California sound,” will take the stage in the backyard at approximately 7 p.m.

Just after the conclusion of the eighth race, several of Saratoga’s jockeys and trainers will become sitting ducks in a dunk tank for the benefit of two of the sport’s premier charities. NYRA Chairman Steve Duncker, President Charlie Hayward, Executive Vice President Hal Handel and racing analyst Andy Serling will also take their places inside the dunk tank, which will be stationed in the backyard, near the English/SoCal Racing Tent, beginning at approximately 6 p.m. Fans will have a chance to dunk the celebrities and executives in return for a donation to benefit the Disabled Jockeys Fund and Retired Thoroughbreds Fund.

The opening weekend celebration will continue in downtown Saratoga Friday night with the start of the traditional, three-day “Hats off to Saratoga” festival. As fans make their way towards Broadway nearly a dozen musical groups will perform for free at popular downtown locations from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Friday’s musical performances will feature blues with George Fletcher’s Bourbon Renewal; good time oldies with GTO; the fiery, soulful Indie-pop band Sirsy; 50s and 60s tunes with Slick Fitty; high energy party music with High Definition Band; jazz with April Marie; a-capella with Saratoga’s own Racing City Chorus; and a showcase by Collar City Records.


SATURDAY, AUGUST 1: A DANDY OF A DAY

Saturday will be just dandy as horseracing fans get a first look at several possible Travers entries in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy for three-year-olds. The Jim Dandy is the traditional tune-up for the $1 million Shadwell Travers Stakes on August 29. The Jim Dandy is one of two feature races of the afternoon alongside the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares on the turf.

Before the exciting day of horse racing, runners will take part in the Satins & Silks 5K race to benefit Special Olympics New York. The gallop through the streets, in the shadow of Saratoga Race Course, gets underway at 8 a.m. at East Avenue and George Street. Participants can call 518-388-0790 to register.

Saturday culminates with day two of the “Hats Off” music festival in downtown Saratoga and another four hours of free performances, from 7 to 11 p.m., by many of the area’s most popular bands. In addition to several returning performances from Friday night, Saturday night will include the Caribbean influenced Acoustic Circus; acoustic performer and former member of The Newports, Jeff Strange; and Next Generation Stage.


SUNDAY, AUGUST 2: HATS AND CAPS

The chapeau-centric weekend continues with a Saratoga classic - the 18th annual Saratoga Hat Contest. This memorable millinery event is comprised of three categories: Uniquely Saratoga, Fashionably Saratoga and Kreative Kids (for millinery minors).

Registration begins at noon under the Grandstand. Hats will be judged after the second, third and fourth races on the track apron, in front of the Grandstand, with the contestants vying for a variety of prizes including Saratoga merchandise, lunch in the Clubhouse and betting vouchers.

Hats Off weekend culminates in the first of the season’s premium giveaways: the Saratoga baseball cap. All fans on Sunday, August 2 will take home a tan Alabama Stakes branded baseball cap with their paid admission, while supplies last.

The 141st season at Saratoga Race Course begins Wednesday, July 29, and runs six weeks through Labor Day, Monday, September 7. Post time is 1 p.m. with the exception of Party at the Park on Friday, July 31, and Friday, September 4, when post time is 2:30 p.m. and on Shadwell Travers Day, Saturday, August 29, with a special first post time of 11:35 a.m. There is no racing on Tuesdays at Saratoga.

For up-to-date information on Saratoga’s Hats Off festival and other special events, please visit http://www.nyra.com/saratogaevents.