Name Blame

by Vic Zast

Everything considered, you’d expect the New York Racing Association to cancel Wandering Dago’s contract for screwing around with barbecue by flavoring pulled pork with sweet basil marinara and melted provolone instead of for using the word “Dago.”  Wandering Dago operates a food truck that was contracted to serve a new-fangled cuisine called barbecue-fusion at Saratoga Racecourse.  Well, it did for a day, anyway.

“Dago,” Wandering Dago’s co-owner Brandon Snooks, an Italian-American, explained, is a word born of homage to the immigrant workers who were paid by the day not some lowbrow social slur such as “racetrack executive” or “horseplayer.”  In any case, some NYRA representative telephoned Snooks at 10:00 PM Friday to say that a New York State official complained that the word was offensive.  After reprimanding the NYRA representative for phoning too late, Snooks accepted his verdict reluctantly.  

"The Wandering Dago food truck has been banned from the track."
Photo courtesy Wandering Dago

“We are a licensed New York State corporation, yet we are being blocked from doing business by State officials,” Snooks complained later to The Saratogian in a front page story about the incident. “They have no problem cashing our sales tax checks,” he added, explaining that he turned down other work to set up shop at the racecourse. He has hundreds of emails from barbecue-fusion gourmands who want him back, so he claims.

Celebrity TV chef and New York City restaurateur Bobby Flay, having a considerably better go than Snooks in the food business, is experiencing better fortune than the Wandering Dago with NYRA. He’s a high profile Board member of good standing who serves on several key committees.  More importantly, in the context of this Diary, Flay had maiden two-year-old colt named Pecorino finish second to Big Sugar Soda in the first race on Monday.  

"Bobby Flay after his Hall of Fame keynote speech before being named a NYRA Board member."

Pecorino, by the way, is the name of a family of hard Italian cheeses made from ewe’s milk.  Big Sugar Soda derives its name from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on super-sized sodas.

The season’s smallest crowd – only 9036 – witnessed several longshots reach the finish line first. It’s been a recurring theme.  Same, too, for Joel Rosario. The jockey rode three more winners.  And what’s most interesting about his success is that it’s emerging without the largess of leading trainer Todd Pletcher.  

The card’s biggest upset came when Angel’s South, a gray mare by Tale of the Cat ridden by Paco Lopez and trained by Andrew Mitchell, won the eighth race, an $100,000 claiming race with an $80,000 purse.  She paid $71.50.

Two grays besides Angel’s South won.  Of these the most noteworthy was Bigger is Bettor, a gray horse by Grand Reward that won the $100,000 Evan Shipman Stakes for NY-Breds.  Bigger is Bettor raced in third for most of the race before making his move in the last sixteenth and prevailing by a head. It seems a gray horse or two triumphs every day.  

Rain fell throughout most of Tuesday, the dark day. Live racing at the Spa Course resumes with the $200,000 Lake George Stakes (gr.II), with jockey Junior Alvarado who sat out the last two days and without the Wandering Dago.   

Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers.  He knows very little about good barbecue except that Sweet Baby Ray’s makes the best bottled sauce.

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