What Was and Could Have Been

by Vic Zast

How will Saratoga’s 150th year of Thoroughbred horse racing be remembered?  Probably not by the cumulative effects of the many minor events that were organized.  But by the few standout days on which something out of the ordinary happened.

No doubt this was the summer of Marylou Whitney.  She established her rightful place in history with a dazzling array of contributions.  Undoubtedly, her appearance at the ribbon-cutting for the Whitney Viewing Stand at the Oklahoma training track stands out for the way it connects to a new tangible asset.  The Floral Fete and Ice Cream Social she spearheaded for the community drew 35,000 admirers.  It was generous of her and her husband John Hendrickson to put up $75,000 so five lucky fans could wager in $15,000 installments, but more generous on her part to show up in person over and again each time she was called upon.

Marylou Whitney at the Ice Cream Social. Her vintage dress was placed inside the Sesquicentennial time capsule.

It was a shame that NYRA Board Chairman David Skorton couldn’t prevail upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make an appearance just once during the historic season.  The last governor to visit a New York track was Alaska’s Sarah Palin, and she wasn’t even the Empire State’s own.  Like the 24-day August meet, the tradition may soon enter the realm of the unimaginable.

Missed opportunities?  How about one spectacular, commemorative Sesquicentennial Day of Racing on which each of the 10 races offered its own purse of $150,000 and each bore the name of a discontinued Saratoga race such as the Flash Stakes, United States Stakes and Kenner Stakes that was linked to the racecourse’s history?

If the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame can curate a show as impressive as the Alfred Z. Solomon Sesquicentennial Exhibit on its own turf, why hadn’t racecourse leaders asked the museum to outpost a grander display of the track’s history in the grandstand, one to which bus tours could be directed all summer and the faithful could visit during the season?

Alfred Z. Solomon Sesquicentennial Exhibit at the Racing Museum.

How much fun would it have been to be able to bet with a bookmaker on the racecourse apron the way people bet before pari-mutuel wagering?  Or to stand in the infield again, looking inside-out as people did when Kelso and Gun Bow ran?

Fans in the Saratoga Racecourse infield. Credit: Bolster Collection.

As it is, NYRA officials and operatives are so taxed to perform the mundane that the exceptional is beyond their creative capabilities.

Despite being the second last day of sport, the fans aren’t giving up easily.  The crowd numbered 56,579.  Three stakes, several salty optional claiming/allowance races and a few chances for horses to break their maiden were on tap.

The first stakes was the Speed Boat Stakes won by Samitar.  Samitar, a British filly trained by Chad Brown for Martin Schwartz, won by a neck.

The second stakes, the Grade III Saranac, made golfers pleased.  Five Iron beat the favorite Notacatbutallama by about the length of a long putt.

Sweet Reason provided trainer Leah Gyarmati with her first graded stakes win in the Spinaway (gr. I).  The juvenile filly by Street Sense swung five wide before sweeping to a commanding lead that she didn’t give up.
Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 consecutive years.  He has ideas for celebrating his 50th year.

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