Go early and park where indicated. There's parking further down if that lot's full. There's a gate nearby. We always bring our own stuff(cooler with food/drinks) and some lawn chairs. Chairs not necessary as there are picnic tables, but they are hard to come by unless real early. Like 10. Lawn area has monitors for viewing every where. It's nice hanging out there for most of the time and then walking inside and watching a few from the rail. At the end of the day right where you parked is Siro's which is a fun stop
The track should be pretty quiet on Friday (things slow down dramatically for the final week), so it's a good day for you to go.
I don't know how old your parents are, but they may prefer sitting in the clubhouse. You pay $8 for clubhouse admission (rather than $5 lawn), but that doesn't get you a reserved seat. You can get a reserved seat for a few bucks more (I'm not sure how you make that reservation, check NYRA's website), just make sure you're in the clubhouse and not in the grandstand (which will be in full sun - hot). The lawn can be pretty crowded, and as Skimore mentioned it might be hard to get a picnic table (people come early and "reserve" them). If you're in the clubhouse rather than on the lawn there's no need to get to the track early. Plenty of people come in even after the first race has gone off. It's a long day, so you're not missing anything if you're after race 1.
Skimore's got you parking in Siro's lot, but there's plenty of parking on people's lawns all around there on Nelson Ave, Lincoln Ave, Wright St and others. You should not have to pay more than $10 to park, and the closer you are to the gate, the more expensive it gets, but everything on the Wright Street entrance side of the track is easy walking, especially for the Clubhouse.
The simplest driving directions are to take Exit 14. There may be a bit of a traffic backup along Union Ave (9P) going past the track to get to where Skimore has you parking, but it shouldn't be horrendous. Alternatively, there is official NYRA parking on the other side of Union Ave (on your right as you drive down Union), including free NYRA parking. The free parking is a bit of a hike, which may be a consideration for you.
Food is expensive, just like at a ski area. I think Hattie's Chicken Shack still has a concession at the track. If they do, and you like fried chicken, it's great. Hattie's restaurant in town (Phila Street) is also highly recommended and not overpriced. As a rule, restaurants in Saratoga do not take reservations during track season. Other recommended restaurants in town for after the track are Forno Toscano, Max's and Druthers. Siro's will be loud, crowded and you'll be standing.
Definitely try to see the horses in the paddock area and along the chute that goes from the paddock out to the track.
Bet the favorites to place or show and you won't get hurt too bad.
I worked at the track for 7 years as an usher. There are a couple of ways to go:
1. Cheap. Free parking (with a long walk), cheap admission (although they increased it this year), picnic table or lawn chair in the back picnic area, either watch the races on the TVs (which is stupid - why bother going to the track if you're basically watching the race on OTB?), or walk through the building and watch the races from the rail. Also, you can sit for free on the green benches in front, but those are in the sun all day, so it gets hot.
2. Moderate. Grandstand seats are available at the box office by the Union Ave. entrance. Buy one towards the top (lower letters in the alphabet) and you won't be in the sun. Park close (above advice is good, I usually pay $6 to park in someone's lawn. This is a great option for your parents.
3. Expensive. Buy clubhouse seats at the same place as the grandstand seats. There might be a couple available. There's an additional cost to get into the clubhouse. Don't bother paying it unless you have seats (or want to eat in one of the restaurants). The areas that you can hang out arent' THAT much better than the areas you hang out with regular admission (they're slightly closer to the finish line). Clubhouse admission without seats is one of the biggest scams at the track (along with food/alcohol prices, cigar prices, tip sheets, and hat prices).
Betting: Pick one strategy and stick with it. I play 3 horse exacta boxes of $1 or $2 ($6 or $12 total bet) that hit if two of the horses come in 1-2. They're usually good for $20-$200 wins (depending on odds). If I like a horse, I'll play $2 across the board on it, betting it to win, place, and show ($6 total bet), which usually hits nice if he wins, money back if it places, and minimized loss if it shows.
Every day I worked there, I took some tip money and tried the pick 6. It costs $2, but you can win over $200,000 if there's a nice carryover and you don't have to split the pot. It means you have to pick the winners of 6 races in a row. Over 250 tracks days I've played it and never hit it once (5 out of 6 usually pays around $150-300. I hit that 3 times). But someday I'll hit it big and it will be awesome.
Because it's the last week and the horses are not as good, results can be unpredictable. Friday will be a good day to try some long shots (especially if it's rainy).
The soup under section H is tasty. You can see the horses mounted up at the paddock, which is fun. The water from the Big Red Spring in the back is disgusting, but lucky if you need to turn your day around. People watching is more fun than horse watching. Hattie's has awesome fried chicken. The Beyer's speed rating (bold number in the program) is the most important handicapping stat. My grandfather said to "always bet the gray" and "always bet the horse that shits before the race". When looking at workout times (listed on the bottom of the horse's stat line), long workouts are better than short workouts and look for a 12 second per furlong pace. Electronic betting is better for beginning bettors because you don't have a lot of pressure from people behind you or anything. Just get a $50 voucher from any ticket window and take it to a machine - then you can see what your bets will cost and there's not a lot of pressure.
Siro's is a fun bar, the one next to it is fun, too (Horseshoe?) and Mexican Connection has good mexican food.
Always BYOB. No glass, but definitely bring a cooler with some beers in it. They're expensive at the track. Big coolers aren't allowed in the clubhouse (those small, lunchbox sized ones are), but sometimes I sit in the clubhouse and throw my big cooler down on the green benches and just walk down when I need a beer.