Sloppy Beginning

If Charlie Hayward didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.  First, the highway department advised the NYRA president that a lane of traffic at the Saratoga exit would be shut down for the first week of the meet.  Then he learned that a judge in Schenectady, NY won’t decide until next week if AEC, winners and, ultimately, losers of an Aqueduct VLT casino operator’s bid, has the right to a lawsuit that would hold up the appointment process indefinitely. Finally, the ugly weather, the first of its kind after a long string of glorious summer days, put a damper on the opener.

Even free grandstand admission couldn’t convince people to brave the elements.  Attendance and handle were considerably down.  Furthermore, with a large portion of the backyard mass huddled under the building, it was almost impossible to see what a splendid job Peter Goulet did with getting the old plant looking beautiful. The new facilities manager has Saratoga Racecourse as spiffy as imaginable.  Of course, some things never change and some things occur unexpectedly.

For example, service from the Racing Form vendors is a little slower this season because they are busy texting. The pre-Clinton television sets still challenge the color blind. Smokers are lighting up on the landings beneath the “No Smoking” signs. Two digital video boards in the infield were out of service.  And the one that was working – a new one, at that – was the butt of complaints by the underprivileged end of the clubhouse.

On the racetrack, it was vive La France. Julien Leparoux was two victories up in the hotly-contested jockey’s title competition after only two races. (His lead faded eventually.)  The talented turf specialist won both ends of the daily double - two races left on the grass despite pouring rain for hours before post time.  Another Frenchman, Frédéric Lenclud, won the Gr. 3 $100,000 Schuylerville aboard Le Mi Geaux. It was the 22-year-old’s first win at Saratoga. One of many for trainer Dick Dutrow, Jr.

As you’d expect in the slop, longshots prevailed in all but three races. But Vineyard Haven, at $.65 to the dollar, won the $75,000 James Marvin effortlessly in 1:22.30. When the gray son of Lido Palace was co-owned by the late Bobby Frankel in 2008, he triumphed at the Spa for the first time in the Gr. 1 Hopeful.  Last year, he finished first a second time in the Gr. 1 King’s Bishop Stakes but was disqualified; that time for Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin. Next up is probably the Gr. 1 Forego.

Vic Zast is the author of the award-winning book “The History and Art of 25 Travers.”  You can read more from him on Facebook and Twitter.

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