Mornings on the Backstretch

The backstretch was a beehive Thursday morning. Joe and Anne McMahon, wearing blue ball caps honoring their fine sire Utopia, lingered with family members and stopped to greet friends.  McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, the outfit that produced Funny Cide, has bought two TVCs on the MSNBC telecast of Saturday’s Alabama. 

CandyLand Farm’s Herb and Ellen Moelis, who manage Thoroughbred Charities of America, had their two mile walk around the track interrupted by well wishers when they passed by the Morning Line coffee stand.  The Moelises meet so many people on a stroll that it doesn’t seem as if exercise but a social engagement. 

A cup of coffee at the Morning Line foodstand on the backstretch provides a different perspective to the sport.

Marilyn Lane, representing Saratoga War Horse, was buoyant with news that ESPN will be back in the fall to film interviews with Bob Nevins who started the program. Nevins’s program uses horses as a conduit to re-connect returning military veterans with society.  “We’re not a rescue program,” Lane said. “We’re more about helping people,” she said.

Trolleys deliver hundreds of casual horse racing fans to backstretch tours, adding to the morning's activity.

D for Democrat and R for Republican are on both ends of the word “dollar.” That’s why the buzz about Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo asking Republican John Hendrickson to be the New York Racing Association’s future board of trustees chairman won’t subside. The racecourse’s continuing decline in attendance has prompted some politicians to say that VLT proceeds to horse racing should be cut.  We Need V L T’s, a 5-year-old mare owned and trained by Linda Rice, finished last in the seventh race on Wednesday.

Steeplechase fans were treated to two jump races instead of one on Thursday afternoon.  In the second race, jockey Kieran Norris on Cornhusker miraculously stayed on his mount as it fell to the ground hurtling the last jump.  While ahead by a neck in a drive with the winner History Boy, the British-bred son of Dynaformer skidded head first on his belly for a couple dozen yards before springing up.  Yet, he managed to keep fourth. 

The 2-year-old colt Show Some Magic broke his maiden in the third race by beating Gombey Dancer.  Will Take Charge dumped his rider in the loading process, as if the events of the second were contagious.  Midnight Poppa finished third but looked like a colt with a future.  His trainer Nick Zito rarely wins with a firster.

The betting favorite finished first in the third, fourth, six, seventh, eighth and 11th races and second in the fifth and the ninth.  A cooling rain broke the stifling humidity and greeted the runners in the paddock for the 10th, the featured $150,000 West Point for New York-foaled horses.  Until then, the horses were mainly wet from their body sweat.  Lubash, a son of Freud that was ridden by the turf-adept Jose Lezcano for the turf-superior Christophe Clement, won the stakes.

Regarding the last race, say like Tom Durkin said, “They have Kibosh to catch” quickly without twisting your tongue.  You can’t and they couldn’t.

Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers.  He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.

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