Saratoga in Bloom

The young passengers aboard America’s Best Racing tour bus look more like they’ve been hand-picked from the clubhouse at Keeneland by a Jockey Club member checking for dirt under fingernails than by a Hollywood promoter trying to bring together a cross-section of mainstream society to form a boys or a girls band.  Regardless, the innovative initiative is one of the best things that horse racing has done to reach out to fans outside of its natural demographic.

It’s too bad that the rain fell down mercilessly when the bus’s ambassadors descended on Saratoga Racecourse this past Thursday. But Friday was sunny and bright: that is, until late afternoon came and the heavens began to change color.  Locals call it the Adirondack effect. It was only the threat of rain Friday; rain Saturday morning.

America's Best Racing bus finds a spot in the backyard.

Fingers crossed that the weather clears before the young ambassadors clear out after spending a long week here. They made an assault on the Caroline St. bars, will meet and greet fans in a tent alongside Big Red Spring on the weekend and will be seated (and most likely announced) at the Hall of Fame ceremony next Friday.

Indefatigable Ed and Maureen Lewi predicted that the Floral Fete and Ice Cream Social would be the events of the season.  “We’ve waited 150 years for this,” said Liz Bishop, a local TV personality.  “But it was worth it,” she said afterward.

Fourteen horse-drawn, flower-covered carriages and a bunch of antique cars, bikes and wagons comprised the reprise of one of the City’s grandest traditions.  Marylou Whitney led the parade down Broadway to Congress Park in her white wooden carriage that was decked out in pink like a princess’s.  Those were Marylou Whitney roses, for those who caught scent of them. The spectacle was small-town America at its best.  An estimated 35,000 people lined the streets and paid homage to the woman without whom there wouldn’t be any of this.

Marylou Whitney's horse-drawn carriage in the Floral Fete Promenade was covered in pink to match her hat.

As for the ice cream social, NYRA announcer Tom Durkin handed out prizes and introduced speakers at the Canfield Casino.  Whitney, in antique white vintage dress, wide-brimmed, period-piece hat and magnificent lace gloves, was again the star attraction.  She, of course, deserves to be.  Who but her has made such an impact on lives in the town, it was noted by Charles Wait, the sesquicentennial’s Committee Chairman.   

All attention was focused on Marylou Whitney (left) at the Ice Cream Social in the Canfield Casino.  Here she is with TV actress Susan Lucci.

At the track in the afternoon, to the delight of many fans there were only nine races. Count on 12 races on Whitney Stakes (gr. I) day. Livingston Street caused a commotion by flipping over in the paddock before the eighth race.  He was scratched by the stewards, of course.  Wearing a straw Stetson with bright red flowers, Ken Ramsey walked Major Marvel, the favorite, into the winner’s circle.  Ramsey had three fingers raised in the air to let people know he had a hat trick.

With the winning ride, Javier Castellano illustrated that he wasn’t conceding the meet’s jockeys’ crown to Joel Rosario. Rosario rode the first Ramsey victor.  Alan Garcia, the second. How nice of the guy with the “Big Red R” silks to be so democratic. 

Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers.  He dripped some orange-flavored sherbet on his seersucker jacket at the ice cream social.

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