Coming Up Roses

Did baseball writers and fans really call New York Yankees outfielder, turned racehorse trainer, Mickey Rivers “Mick the Quick?”  That nickname seems like a fabrication of the truth for the sake of promotion. Maybe not. 

But, heck, if it is, hooray for making the most of inviting a sports celebrity with limited appeal to the racecourse.  Pitcher “Oil Can” Boyd, on the other hand, has always been “Oil Can.”  It was Yanks vs. Boston Red Sox Rivalry Day on Friday.  Both former Big Leaguers signed autographs and the fans seemed to love it.

Hardcore horseplayers often can’t comprehend why frivolity like this works to promote the sport.  Although, since the downfall of NYC OTB, there’s been a growing belief that horse racing can only be won back by exposing newcomers to the racetrack experience. 

“The boost in on-track attendance at NYRA tracks since the first of the year is a really good thing, and something of a surprise,” noted John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. “We’re enjoying a good trend now that will help us make changes.”

Nothing much changes in terms of Saratoga’s rapture with Marylou Whitney.  This morning, the grand dame emerged in public again to greet 250 people in Congress Park for a dedication of a garden featuring Marylou Whitney roses.   A year ago, on the occasion of Whitney’s 85th birthday, her husband John Hendrickson commissioned the rose to be botanically-engineered just for her. 

Marylou Whitney dedicating a garden of Marylou Whitney roses for Congress Park.

Whitney was dressed in a fabulous suit consisting of a floral print skirt and a creatively-conceived jacket suggestive of tweed with a broad-brimmed pink hat.  Hendrickson wore a pink seersucker sport coat.  He said that he loved her.

To keep the heat away, the ceremony took place under yellow umbrellas. The public received hand fans imprinted with Marylou’s likeness and bottled water that was labeled similarly.  Who will know (and care) to make such beautiful things happen when she’s no longer with us?  It’s a sin to even think that the time will someday come.

At the races, it was a day of highs and lows.  Bettors got their money back if they wagered on Scorch the Torch, a horse that was declared a non-starter when he failed to break with the field in the first.  Triple Crown-winning jockey Jean Cruguet watched a filly named Ratoath Special that he rides in the mornings and in which he has a part of win the fifth.  “I would have been disappointed if she lost,” said Seattle Slew’s rider.  Hook and Lateral raced way wide.

Jockey Jean Cruguet in a Saratoga clubhouse box.

In the seventh race, Bearpath took a bad step after two furlongs run and then ran on riderless for another six furlongs, dangling his right foreleg as he jogged until the emergency horse van caught up with him. The number one horse, Sportswriter, won the finale for Flying Zee Stable, splitting horses in deep stretch with apprentice Ryan Curatolo in the irons.  Flying Zee entered three horses, but scratched the 1A and 1X.  What luck!

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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