Considering the frequency with which New York’s racecourses opened and closed in the last two centuries, Saratoga is fortunate to be open, claimed Paul Roberts, the British strategic development adviser to NYRA and historian, at a presentation held Thursday evening at Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.
Roberts credited the city of Saratoga Springs, the bucolic nature of the racecourse’s setting and the fact that the short meet provided a vacation destination purpose. He said racecourses owned and operated by sportsmen produced the best horse racing.
This was to be the summer in which former CEO Charles Hayward and Roberts were to present NYRA’s Board of Trustees with a remodeling plan for Saratoga. But then Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided the State could do better at operating horse racing. Roberts’s outlook was optimistic, but what he didn’t express openly was that the sport in the United States is falling behind world standards.
Saratoga runs more graded stakes in 40 days than the country of Ireland does all year. But there are only three U.S. horses in the top 26 of the World Thoroughbred Rankings and no horse race held on these shores with a purse that’s among the world’s 30 richest. Irish jumpers are the best in the world. It was only fitting that Irish day, a festival of step dancers and bagpipers, was held on a Thursday afternoon, Saratoga’s traditional time for steeplechase racing.
Irish step dancers perform to a bagpiper as horse racing fans line up to enter Saratoga.
The first race, number one of two over hurdles, was a 2 1/16 mile $30,000 claiming race won by Alajmal. The second, the Grade I, $100,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase, went to Spy in the Sky. Women played prominently in both jump events, as Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot saddled Alajmal and Daniellle Hodsdon rode Spy in the Sky. The Daily Double paid $631.
When the flat races began, there was no luck of the Irish for horses with Irish connections. The Irish-bred Noll Wallop ran to his 27-1 odds in the fourth. Irish Wedding, the favorite in the fifth race, was divorced from the leaders at the top of the stretch and finished out of the money. Frenchman Julien Leparoux rode the filly Irish Exchange to a second place finish in the ninth.
New York State Police with sniff dogs walked the property before the gates opened. On Wednesday afternoon, some jerk on a NYRA phone line called in a crank bomb threat.
George Strawbridge, Jr., an owner, breeder and former steeplechase rider, received the Safe Home Equine Protection Award from Equine Advocates at the organization’s 11th annual fundraiser at the City Center. When Equine Advocates hosted this event at Stone Bridge Farm in Schuylerville, it was the season’s best party.
Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races in Saratoga for 47 straight summers.