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.


Leave a Comment:

Walt Gekko

At the time the decision was made to move everything to the main track on Monday, the turf at Saratoga looked waterlogged from photos I saw AND there was 100% chance of rain according to around the time the Glens Falls was scheduled (around 4:15 PM ET). While The Weather Channel site only had .07" of rain listed (and at the end, officially .45" of rain as the final number for Monday), it looked like Saratoga had more like 2-3" of rain during Sunday night into Monday morning based on what was said previously and what I saw on the radar early Monday. Some of the trainers I believe had to ship from Fair Hill for the Glens Falls, and I'm sure the last thing NYRA wanted was a trainer shipping a horse from Maryland all the way up to Saratoga (a six-hour+ drive) only to have the race taken off the turf half an hour or so before the race was scheduled to be run because the jockeys refuse to ride over the turf OR the rain that WAS FORECAST hit and made the turf unsafe.

What happens if say NYRA "caves in" to those who feel NYRA has to run on the turf no matter what on closing day and a horse or two break down or worse happens? How would that have looked.

In the end, what NYRA should have done in my view would have been to have carded an extra race on dirt that only would have been used to be substituted for the Glens Falls in the eighth race spot (as I believe due to the tote upgrade, NYRA could only run 10 on Monday as I believe they had to finish the card by 5:30 PM ET so there was a half-hour before everything was shut down at 6:00 PM for people to cash tickets), with it as soon as it was realized the Glens Falls would have to be taken off the turf, the substitute race inserted into that spot. If that could not have been done, I would have simply cancelled the race (that I also would have carded as the 6th, between the two pick-fours) and declared that event an ALL race for Pick Six and other multi-race purposes and re-scheduled the Glens Falls for this coming Sunday at Belmont Park (and if I were at NYRA, I would ask the Graded Stakes Committee to consider the Saratoga race an overnight stakes and NOT the actual running with the race run again this coming Sunday at Belmont and THAT considered the official running of the race so trainers who had to scratch because of off-the-turf being able to run in the race, even if it is a week late).

That to me would have been the best way of handling a bad situation like what happened Monday at Saratoga.

03 Sep 2013 10:23 AM

Thanks for the memories Vic, and thanks for posting Saratoga Diary every race day. Good job.

03 Sep 2013 11:13 AM
Stephie Clare

Come back next year Vic!  I love to read your Diary.

03 Sep 2013 4:28 PM


Loved the daily updates and thank you for covering the Saratoga scene aside from the race track.

03 Sep 2013 11:16 PM

Love the reference to the Black Stallion novels. Thanks for that, and for bringing a little taste of Saratoga to those of us who can't attend.

04 Sep 2013 2:46 PM

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