Pilsner glasses a draw at track

Giveaways often saved as gifts at Christmas

Monday, August 20, 2012
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Brian Strack of Ballston Spa holds up his free pilsner glass at the Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.
Brian Strack of Ballston Spa holds up his free pilsner glass at the Saratoga Race Course on Sunday.

— A steady stream of spinners fought the tide of cooler- and lawn chair-toting track-goers Sunday morning. They crossed Union Avenue, heading for their cars, hauling shopping bags brimming with pilsner glasses — Saratoga Race Course’s latest giveaway.

Spinners are track-goers who don’t necessarily show up to see the thoroughbreds race. They do their own laps — through the ticket gate, then through the exit gate, then back again to the ticket line. The process is often repeated a dizzying number of times, all to amass race course memorabilia.

The pilsner glass is the third giveaway of the 2012 Saratoga meet. It was preceded by a baseball hat and a picnic mat giveaways. The final freebie is a fleece blanket, which will be given out with every paid admission on Sunday, Sept. 2.

The pilsner glasses were passed out Sunday at the Coors Light Top of the Stretch tent, which borders the racetrack to the right of the grandstand’s bleacher seats. The line of yellow-ticket-clutching attendees stretched long as patrons waited to redeem the slips for clear beer glasses emblazoned with the red and gold Saratoga 2012 logo.

According to Dan Silver, director of communications and media relations for the New York Racing Association, 55,000 glasses were ordered for the giveaway. Two hours before post time, they were going fast. In the past, the track has handed out beer steins and coffee mugs, but never glasses like these.

“These are some of the longest lines we’ve seen,” he noted.

JoAnn Miller of Tampa, Fla., has been spinning at the track for years. It took her about a half hour to amass 20 of the pilsner glasses, which she said wasn’t bad.

There’s a line people can stand in if they want to acquire more than one giveaway at a time without going around and around in circles at the entry gate, but it’s faster just to spin, insisted Miller, who comes to the track every year to stock up on the giveaways to use as Christmas gifts for out-of-town relatives.

“It’s $3 a pop and there’s four giveaways, so if you put them all together they get four nice little items and it costs you $12,” she said.

John Conboy of Latham and his father, John, got their holiday shopping done early this year too.

“It’s Christmas in August,” the younger Conboy laughed, toting a bag full of glasses. He’s been giving track memorabilia as gifts for the past 20 years. Although by now his gift recipients have a pretty good idea about what they’ll find under the Christmas tree, the Saratoga-themed presents are much enjoyed, he assured.

“Everything’s been good this year, the hats, the mats. They’re really nice quality,” he observed.

Marc Quinones of Stillwater plans to bring a number of the 12 pilsner glasses he acquired with him on an upcoming cruise to give to friends.

“I don’t know how I’m going to get these through Customs,” he mused.

David Caputo of New York City had a red Saratoga duffel bag — a giveaway from a previous year — stuffed full of pilsner glasses. He rattled off some of the other track memorabilia he’s collected over the past 10 or 12 years: the long umbrellas, the short umbrellas, the refrigerated bags.

Watching as people exited the Top of the Stretch tent with loads of beer glasses, Charlie Scriber of Cambridge reminisced, “I used to remember when gamblers came here. They wouldn’t do this, the picnic yard was not full, so that’s how it’s changed over the years.”

Those who came to the track for more than just the beer glasses Sunday enjoyed the second day of the 17th annual Travers Festival, which celebrates the 143rd running of the $1 million Travers Stakes. The Travers, the oldest major thoroughbred race in the nation, will be run on Saturday.

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