Place is Jumping

Thursday’s 10-race card wasn’t exactly the kind that horse players support with their greenbacks.  It began with two steeplechases, one a stakes and the second an allowance optional claiming race for $30,000 claimers.  Races three, four and five were for maidens on the flat tracks.  The odds of picking a winner improved after that.

Of the races at the tail end of the program, two immediately come to mind.  An overnight stakes at 1-1/8 miles for older horses called the Birdstone was won by the odds-on Todd Pletcher-trained Rule, once a Kentucky Derby hopeful.  The eighth race’s lone first time starter, the British-born Humadea, broke his maiden for Graham Motion under a hand ride by John Velasquez at 8-1.

People with long memories remember when there was a race over hurdles every day.  Saratoga ran a jumping event as the third race so the Daily Double, the only exotic bet, wouldn’t be interfered with.   But today’s gamblers prefer certainty to risk when they plunk money down and the sporting chance that a horse jumping over fences provides is too risky for their wherewithal.

Divine Fortune, an eight-year-old gelding by Royal Anthem, won the Gr. 2 $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Stakes that opened the program.  Royal Rossi, a five-year-old son of Rossini, won the second race.  Trainer Jonathan Sheppard and jockey Brian Crowley were involved in both victories. The normal assortment of serious-minded gentlemen in blue blazers, penny loafers and khaki pants and prim ladies in old-fashioned sun dresses graced the walking ring.

In the evening, many of the same people let their hair down – a little. Equine Advocates drew about 300 A-list industry leaders for its 10th annual Gala at the City Center.  Jeffrey Tucker, a New York horse owner, used to host this event on his farm outside of Schuylerville, when such performers as Liza Minnelli and the Beach Boys made the Equine Advocates event the place to party. 

Suzie O'Cain of Highcliff Farm dressed in stark contrast to other guests at the Equine Advocates 10th annual Gala and Auction.

Julie Bonacio, the event chair, and Bo Derek, a guest of honor, added up to a 20.  Bonacio wore an indigo gown that revealed dangerous curves and one bare shoulder. The petite Derek wore a black floor-length dress with a self belt and short sheer black raglan sleeves. 

The style setter among men was Jules Sigler of Ottawa, Canada.  2011 marks the 42nd year Sigler has come to Saratoga for the races.  He won top prize for his Andy Warhol haircut, pink buttoned-down shirt with knit tie and clear plastic glasses.

Horse lover Jules Sigler, deemed the event's male fashion plate, owns thoroughbreds in the USA, jumpers in France, Ireland and England and harness horses in Canada.

The City Center is a concrete and glass structure with convention room ceilings and acoustics that makes small talk indecipherable to men wearing Miracle Ears.  The conditions didn’t prevent honorees from speaking excessively.

“I have a young son. Well he’s not that young. He’s 60,” said Dick Duchossois, which might explain the cause of one speaker’s long windedness.

Vic Zast is the author of “The History and Art of 25 Travers.” He has attended the races in Saratoga for 48 straight summers.

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