Thursday afternoon produced a perfectly blissful day. But the bliss had little to do with the horse racing. A trio of early races, fraught with unconventional circumstances, were practically unbettable.
The opener was a steeplechase. It scared away gamblers who require an unsportsmanlike amount of certainty. A 1-5 favorite dominated the second race, destroying value for punters who view risk as frivolous. In the third, there were only four horses to choose from.
Demonstrative, the 15-1 winner of the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 26, took the 71st New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap, which carries a grade I designation from the National Steeplechase Association. Following the race, a radiant Rachel Robinson, wife of baseball great Jackie Robinson, presented a shiny silver cup to an animated Jacqueline Ohrstrom. Two horses, including the leader Divine Fortune, fell to the ground unseating their jockeys while leaping over the last fence. Both horses escaped injury. The riders drank beer in the Jim Dandy Bar afterward as if nothing untoward occurred.
Rachel Robinson, wife of baseball great Jackie Robinson, in the winner's circle.
The NSA’s Bill Gallo, wearing a nifty bow tie like Pee Wee Herman, noted later, “A jumper very rarely is hurt when it falls. We have almost no casualties.” On the other hand, the winner had a slice on his left hind leg that left blood on the mat of the winner’s circle.
Saratoga has two more steeplechase races next Thursday. Jumping returns to the track for four more non-betting events over fences and a bumper on Sept. 15. On that date, with fall in bloom, a bite in the air and more give to the ground, a crowd of 10,000 people is expected for the inaugural Steeplechase Festival of Saratoga. The infield will be open for viewing.
Saginaw, one of two New York-breds in the second race, was beat like a drum with a stick by David Cohen as he came down the stretch while winning a seven-furlong sprint. If Saratoga was England, the overzealous jockey would get days straight away.
Three horses scratched from the third race. Kent Desormeaux aboard Crooked as Can Be tried a crooked path–first from the outside and then on the inside–to catch Original Art, but he couldn’t.
Visitors to Saratoga like Jack Smith, 88, and Gene Hedrick, 78, of Salem, Ind. came to Saratoga to bet horses. When a rumor began that Kim Kardashian was about to appear at the racecourse, they began dreaming of other things. “I’m from a small town. We don’t see shoes like yours very often,” Smith told Ann Marie Flores in the walking ring, obviously noticing the wrong accessories.
In search of rumored racecourse visitor Kim Kardashian, Jack Smith found Kelly Zenella (left) and Ann Marie Flores instead.
The old Travers Celebration is no more. Last year, the traditional dinner dance was replaced with a fancy cocktail reception. The startling change has caused some people who used to attend the event to stay home.
Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.