While the secret brotherhood of 20 “Mohicans” from Schenectady, NY lay sleeping in a palatial white tee-pee on Fifth and Ludlow following a long night of sausages and firewater, a gathering of horse racing fans sat huddled on beer coolers and lawn chairs outside the clubhouse turnstiles on Union Avenue.
By 5:00 am Saturday – Travers Day, the parking spots on East and along Henry and Madison were taken. The personnel reported to work by 6:30 am to greet the public when the gates opened at 7:00 am. There were no free-bees allowed in to watch the morning workouts. What a difference a big day at the races brings.
Just about everything changes when stars take the stage in the Sport of Kings. It wasn’t the full moon that caused the commotion. People applauded when the horses paraded. Money flowed like the water that trickles from the tap at Big Red Spring. Fashion reigned. Cheers rang out when announcer Tom Durkin said, “They’re at post.”
More than 45,000 people saw Afleet Express win the 141st Travers at historic Saratoga. He beat Fly Down in a stretch duel by taking a shorter route home. You’d have expected a speedball to win; every earlier race on the main track was won on the lead. But that didn’t happen.
Another capacity crowd is expected on Sunday to watch Rachel Alexandra, the Horse of the Year, make her triumphant return to the Spa Course in the Personal Ensign Stakes. These are rare heady days in a season that’s had its ups and downs, beginning with a near-disastrous six-month prelude during which various authorities did all but proclaim that the sport was on life support.
Jockeys Edgar Prado and Javier Castellano, who later rode Afleet Express, traded horses for the third race. Castellano was luckier. He landed on Forum, a smart looking son of Roman Ruler with the stride of a Lemon Drop Kid. The race he won was only a maiden race at 1-1/16 miles on the grass, but Forum’s form was impressive.
Repole’s Uncle Mo exploded out of the pack on the turn in the fifth and broke his maiden suggestive of future stakes competition. The colt’s time of 1:09.26 was exemplary for a first-time 2-year-old starter. Genetics might be all that will stop him from a mile and a quarter. Indian Charlies are extremely precocious.
The only way bettors were able to catch the $1450.00 exacta of Monastir (12-1) and Mr. Hooker (53-1) in the fourth race was to bet that The Noz at 8-5 wouldn’t repeat his July 31 tally. Then you’d have to figure a horse that was one for 19 would win and a horse that was one for 13 would be second.
On the other hand, you could just bet your birthday like Joe Dicienzo. Dicienzo, a once-a-year fan from Rockland, MA, always bets the numbers that designate May 7 in exactas. He’s won before, but he’s never gone home quite as flush.
Vic Zast is the author of the award-winning book, “The History and Art of 25 Travers.” He’s a Saratoga Springs summer resident, who lives in Chicago during the off season.