Last Gasp

by Vic Zast

If anyone had doubts about what kind of racing surface awaited the 129 horses listed in the overnights for Saratoga’s final day, those doubts were obliterated at 6:25 AM Monday. A morning storm passed through the region in an hour and a half, but all hell broke loose in the first 15 minutes.  

The rain fell so hard it created the sound of an earthquake.  The racket, like nuts and bolts being dropped on a cookie tin, wasn’t unusual for America’s noisiest small city, especially at dawn.  But its jarring effects were responsible for compromised competition in the PM.  Eventually, only 76 horses ran in 10 races.

NYRA waded through four races involving $20,000 claiming horses before getting to the good stuff.  Then the fifth race, a non-descript non-winners of one other than/optional claiming race for $25,000 animals, became legend.  The first two horses dead-heated and the next two horses dead-heated, too.  It was stunning, the outcome.  Two well-bred maiden colts, each with a race under its belt, won the sixth and seventh.

Rare double dead-heat results board on TV monitor.

After the front-running Lady Cohiba won an ersatz Glens Falls Handicap (gr. III) for which seven turf-loving entrants scratched because the contest was held on the main track, Saratoga ran the 108th Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) for two-year-olds. Only NYRA knows why the Glens Falls wasn’t run on the turf course.  There was no reason to save the grass from damage and, even though there was a cut in the ground, it didn’t seem dangerous.  Europeans run on bogs without incident.

D. Wayne Lukas won only three races all meet, but the races were noteworthy.  He won the Travers (gr. I) with Will Take Charge and two races with Strong Mandate, the Hopeful winner.  It was an impressive Hopeful victory, achieved on the Hall of Fame trainer’s 78th birthday by a promising colt with a Tiznow pedigree.  Yet, the race didn’t compare with the 1947 Hopeful in which Satan, a son of The Black, defeated Desert Storm at Belmont Park, college freshman Alec Ramsay in the saddle.

More track proceeds were donated to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund in Ramon Dominguez’s name.  Jockeys gave of their time between races to sign autographs for donations.  In what a cynic might interpret as a clever plot to keep backstretch workers on the job 24 hours, Dunkin’ Donuts, a company that’s gone all in with NYRA on a promotional basis and sells excellent coffee – the best coffee by some people’s reckoning, donated a pound of “joe” per victory by the meet’s leading owner, trainer and jockey to B.E.S.T.  That total amounts to nearly 120 pounds, thanks to Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Todd Pletcher and Javier Castellano.

Jockeys signing autographs to benefit PDJF.

Retired jockey Ramon Dominguez leaving the racecourse.

With Labor Day’s last gasp and the refrains of Auld Lang Syne sweeping through the stands, the celebrity of being a member of the horse racing community began to subside for another year. Owners became drivers of fancy cars.  Horse trainers became faces in the crowd.  Jockeys became short people.

Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers.  He fell in love with horse racing when reading The Black Stallion series of children’s books by Walter Farley.

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