Best Bar None

Someday, someone will decide it is time to put the old lady down. That’s what they do to classic racetrack buildings like Ascot and Churchill Downs, and, ultimately Saratoga. Blueprints for a glass-enclosed structure to replace the inadequately-accommodating At the Rail Pavilion are sitting in some bigwig’s top desk drawer - thank goodness. But, once up, the effect will be the same as substituting Splenda for aspartame in Diet Coke and ending up with Coke Zero.

Change is inevitable and, luckily, given seasoning, it eventually becomes palatable. A clubhouse with air-conditioning would have had even the staunchest contingent of Saratoga’s stiff-collared gentry scampering for cover today. Last night at 5 pm, the power went out in the East Side neighborhood that’s only two blocks north of the track.  Certain sections of Madison, where the yearling stables are located, and the “Doc Block,” on which NYRA’s president resides, were dark for ten hours.

“This is a nice day in Houston,” quipped horse owner Bob Devlin, using a perfect oxymoron to describe the suffocating heat.  Meanwhile, members of the Wellington Mara family – owners of the proud New York Giants franchise, including the clan’s grand dame Ann Mara, sought comfort at the Wishing Well restaurant.  The ongoing talks between NFL owners and players and the rumor that a settlement was imminent didn’t seem to faze the spry sportswoman, as she chomped down on dinner while remaining cool as a cucumber.

Reluctantly, racecourse patrons started the process of accepting the Jim Dandy Bar without its landmark circular bar.  Demolition and renovation of the iconic space took place over the winter, creating a pedestrian party room out of what was once a fashionable gathering place.  Barons of horse racing, dressed to the nines, used to flock to this room 40 years ago to sip sidecars and rusty nails.  Now it looks like a VFW post. 

“I liked the style and history of the old bar,” said Peter McGill of Boston, MA. “But this floor is better,” he conceded.  Amy Hyzer, his partner, said the new room was more spacious.  

Today’s weather caused additional grumbling about NYRA’s elimination of 22 lemonade stands and the Carvel soft-serve ice cream stations, although, generally, the crowd stayed upbeat. Draft beers, for example, come a buck cheaper than last year.  Penny Saver from Red Bank, NJ found a stand that sold them.

Of the 116 horses entered to run, 90 ultimately started – a 9.0 horse per race rate.  Jackson Bend won the James Marvin Stakes. Stopshoppingmaria stumbled at the start of a 5-1/2 furlong sprint for maiden two-year-old fillies and finished third, but she’ll win next time out.  All but one horse in the seventh race’s 11-horse field had never started a race and the one that did finished last.

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