Dead Heats

The backyard is a dust bowl.  There is hardly a blade of grass on the picnic grounds. On Sunday, a cloudy start caused a smaller crowd than usual for the running of the fans. It's too bad, because if there was ever a day to run, this was it.

Dashing to reserve one of 150 tables is the ritual that begins the Saratoga experience.  Survival of the fittest has been the law of the arid land.  But, as in everything the world has to offer, that behavior, too, will change eventually.  As a matter of fact, it has already.

NYRA has a new policy whereby people have been invited to enter a lottery to win the right to pay $100 for one of 15 tables set aside for the Travers.  The proceeds will go to charity.  Imagine the lottery to be a kind of "Early Bird" seating like the one at Southwest Airlines. Whatever it is, there are some people who don't like it.

"You can't take something that was free and force people to pay for it," said Allan Goldberg, who prefers the stampede to an orderly assignment. "That's a shakedown," he wrote on Facebook.com, even though the fund-raising program invites voluntary participation.  It was 1978 - the year of Affirmed and Alydar - when NYRA began scattering picnic tables on the apron at the top of the stretch and televisions in elms.

Televisions played an important role in two of Sunday's 10 races. You had to watch the replays closely to determine the winners in several races. There were dead heats in the fourth and eighth races.  The first resulted in seconds for Spina and Lily Meadow; the second in firsts for Prize Catch and Codetta.  If you weren't a horse racing fan before the eighth race, you are now.  At the finish line, seven horses bunched up like a mini skirt.

Position Limit won the Gr.2 $150,000 Adirondack Stakes for Starlight Partners. She won handily despite the willies in the paddock and losing a front shoe while turning home.  Alas, the confident way that the Bellamy Road filly ran in only her second start must have Jack and Laurie Wolf thinking back to Ashado and Octave.

Lastly, there's more than meets the eye regarding the death of Thiscatismine and the collarbone injury that retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens incurred in a morning workout, according to one authority.  Stevens was to ride in a former jockeys' race at Arlington Park this week.  He wasn't licensed in New York State to exercise horses when the accident happened.  Oops, a no-no.

Vic Zast has attended at least one day of racing at Saratoga in each of the last 47 years. He is the author of the award winning book, "The History and Art of 25 Travers."

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