Peace for a Change

A couple weeks before today’s start of the Thoroughbred meet in Saratoga Springs, NY, when thoughts went more to the Phish concerts and the New York City Ballet than to horse racing, a neighbor proclaimed that many full-time residents of this charming Victorian city wouldn’t care if the racetrack went away.  Hers was the most foolish statement made by anyone since George Washington told the Iroquois that the waters bubbling beneath their moccasin-shod feet weren’t magical.

Saratoga Springs without Saratoga Racecourse would be Ballston Spa, NY or, alternatively, some little one-horse town such as South Bend, IN, made famous only because a pretty good liberal arts college is located there.  Thoroughbreds have raced for 150 years in this precious, accommodating spot, 20 miles north of the State Capital, hard by the Hudson River where Kosciuszko defeated Burgoyne and Kentucky upset Tipperary – 2013 is the sesquicentennial. “Health, History and Horses” is the City’s motto. 

Saratoga Springs celebrates its 150th anniversary of horse racing.

The racecourse looks just about the same way it looked when left abandoned last summer.  The slate-roofed, wrought iron-ornamented, red-striped awning-hung building is a little more run down and almost a year older, yet still evokes memories of days gone by. The anticipation of things to come in the next 40 days of competition is high. Hotel and restaurant owners are happy.  There is peace for a change. 

Fans who enter the Clubhouse from the West where the Trackside hot dog stand stands will notice the new Hoofprints Walk of Fame honoring 30 great equine alumni.  The feature is little more than some bricks in the pavement – symbolic not monumental. But wouldn’t we all wish to have owned a racehorse with its name etched into one?  

Fans entering the clubhouse from the west will stroll through the new Hoofprints Walk of Fame.

The artist Robert Clark has painted a fiberglass horse with images that commemorate the track’s history. It’s somewhat whimsical compared to the walking ring statuary. To some people’s annoyance, the picnicker-displacing, view-blocking tent next to the walking ring, which used to go up for the Fasig-Tipton Festival of Racing, is already up.  One wonders how much the track’s new management, which is promising a more “enhanced guest experience” when taking over the reins of the franchise, will care about itchy details like this.

Artist Robert Clark at the unveiling of his 150th Anniversary commemorative horse statue.

The New York Racing Association has a new CEO – one that’s been on the job for fewer than 20 days.  He’s leaner than the last guy, both in industry experience and body weight.  Two stakes races headline opening day.  The weather forecast is for 96 degrees heat and a lightning fast strip. Lightning might strike in more ways than one in late afternoon.

Make the 12-1 morning line runner Laurie’s Rocket your selection for the James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) and fourth-choice Brazen Persuasion for the Schuylerville (Gr. III).

“Why?” you ask. “Why not,” I say.  It’s post time for “The Graveyard of Favorites.”

Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers. In addition to these daily musings, he is posting real-time photos as viczast on Instagram.

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