It's more than ninety degrees outside and the humidity is so heavy that a thin coat of moisture covers my sunglasses. I step out of my car and onto a dusty, makeshift roadway nearly a mile from the Saratoga Race Course. It's virtually the only free parking in all of Saratoga Springs. It's Thursday afternoon in an otherwise normal August week, but it's also the middle of the horse-racing season in upstate New York. Walking toward the race course, people are everywhere. They carry coolers, picnic supplies, and cigars. Some are dressed in sport coats; some wear giant hats. I might as well be on a different planet. In my hand, I have my Fujifilm X-Pro2. It's so warm outside that it constantly feels as though it will slip out of my hand at any moment. I double my X-Pro2's strap around my wrist and present my ticket at the gate. I arrive just in time for the afternoon races to get underway.
I am a runner and an animal lover, and the two combined add up to someone who doesn't particularly understand horse racing. Running is hard. Racing is harder. And racing around a track is one of the toughest things you can do, let alone the idea of someone riding on your back forcing you to go harder than your muscles or your nerves can stand. Plus, I can't help but think the horses would rather run in the wild than around in circles. With that as a backdrop, it's not surprising I found more interest in watching the people than I did the horses.
The races go off on what feels like a bit of a lackadaisical schedule. As I wandered around the track to find a position at one of the turns, I happened upon a group of five smartly dressed spectators. In the group, there were three men, one woman, and the alpha. The men had suits on, and the woman wore a lovey sundress. Alpha was leading the pack with the woman at his side while the three other men trailed. He boasted he knew all the secrets to placing bets. The woman feigned interest. For nearly ten minutes they stood next to me while we waited for the next race to begin. When it did, Alpha shushed the group as the horses charged toward us. With fists balled, he shook his hands high in the air yelling for the horse he wagered. My shutter clicked over and over, capturing the beautiful beasts giving it their all on the track. Seconds later, the race ended. I was pleased with the shots I captured, but from the group, a string of profanities echoed into the atmosphere. Alpha stormed off... his entourage following with heads down.
You win some, you lose some. If I had to characterize the mood of the track, I'd say it matches that of a casino. People taking chances with money, betting on things that are unpredictable. Sure, you can look at the odds and make calculated decisions. But nothing is certain. Except, maybe, for one thing: when it's summer in Saratoga Springs, it's horse-racing season.
Footnotes: All images, Fujifilm X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 R WR and Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 LM OIS WR