Worry not, I shall write a great deal more about Rachel Alexandra as the week goes on and we get closer to Woodward Stakes Day. Me, and every other racing writer in North America. The time I spent in the Queen's royal presence last Monday morning gave me ample material to write a book, or a screenplay. I wish Jess Jackson would love my writing, and ask me to document his big horse's life for the silver screen. Rachel is not only a feast for the eyes and food for the soul--she's worth her weight in printer's ink.
I'll whet your appetite for the whole story from last week by telling you tell you that, in the midst of the storm that surrounds her--the mighty, invincible, unequaled Rachel Alexandra is a model of serenity. On Monday morning I dubbed her, Her Serene Highness, for I believe that this is her archetypal name, the moniker that was written in the stars before she was born.
I've written about visionary artist, Brian T. Fox, in a previous column here on Saratoga.com. I know Brian as both a friend and as an artist. I first met him four years ago, at an event for the Jackie Robinson Foundation. He'd painted the late legend, and was present to show his work to a throng of admirers of the great athlete--including Mrs. Robinson, herself.
In the four years since then, I've been privy to the inner workings of the artist's brain and soul. I get to see his paintings before they're finished, and consider it an honour and privilege to see the process, first-hand.
On Wednesday, August 26th, we'll have the opportunity to thank the good hearts of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society (henceforth, CGHS) for all the work they do, day-in and day-out, year after year.
But the work for which we who love horses are most grateful is their tremendous work on behalf of the nearly 200+ horses who were neglected, sick and starving on Ernie Paragallo's farm in Climax, New York.
Unless you've lived under a rock for the last half-year, you know the story. Paraneck Stables, the racing arm of Paragallo's dysfunctional empire, has a farm in Upstate New York. On this farm lived Thoroughbreds who somehow fell through the cracks. How an 1,nearly 200-pound animal can fall through the cracks is beyond me. How over nearly 200 of them can go unnoticed is absolutely unfathomable. Somewhere along the line, "benign neglect" was replaced with "intentional, passive-aggressive murder attempt."
And so the CGHS stepped in in April, and confiscated the horses whose lives were endangered. All were treated, pro bono, by a man I am dubbing, Saint Jerry--Dr. Jerry Bilinski, the equine veterinarian who could not let these horses suffer when he had the tools, knowledge and compassion to help. Ronald L. Perez, Jr. (Ron Perez), the dedicated and compassionate Director and Investigator of the CGHS, would not tolerate these actions: his team of Board members, volunteers, staff and enforcement officers snatched the horses and got them to Dr. Bilinski for Phase I of their rescue.
The next step, that of adopting them out once they were healthy enough to be weaned from medical attention, is in process even as I write this.
This piece is not intended to be a downer, in any way. Inasmuch as I have very strong feelings about the events, I am neither the judge nor the jury. I needed to provide background so that you can know what good has been done so far, and that you may realize that more help is needed in order to assure that each of these horses are loved and safe.
Many people make a healthy living handicapping horse races. Math, science, statistics, pedigree and workout times all play a role in the determination of a horse's odds in any given race. The handicappers who hunker down over the papers and come to conclusions as to Who Will Take the Day have at their disposal the aforementioned arsenal of ammo with which to make their prognostications. The odds help bettors decide how to place their wagers, and the sport of racing Thoroughbreds thrives--or doesn't--according to how well the bettors fared on any given day.
The only variable, the one that no one in the game of handicapping ever seems to take into account, because it is totally unpredictable, and therefore cannot be factored in--is the wild card fact that horses are sentient beings. Living, breathing, thinking creatures who don't care about the odds. (I wouldn't say that they don't know--horses know when a tornado is coming, long before the humans in its path are aware. I believe that horses know about the odds, and no doubt have their own sidebets. When you hear whinnying down a shedrow, it's probably the horses placing bets on which handicappers will almost get it right that day.)
Horses, as sentient beings, have good days and bad days. A 5-2 favorite may get into the paddock on a particular day and decide that s/he simply isn't doing it this time. S/he doesn't care that Joe from Hoboken has bet on that race, and needs the cash to pay the mortgage. Or that Judy from Syracuse has a sidebet with her friends, that she will once again win the most money at the track on Girls' Day Out...
Well...there are myriad experiences available for the taking when one makes the pilgrimage to the renowned Saratoga Race Course. Some prefer the Clubhouse. Others like to picnic with friends, camped right outside the paddock.
One fellow on YouTube documented his entree to the track for the first time--and hauled himself out of bed to be outside the Union Avenue gate for 4:30AM. God bless him! I wish I could relate to this experience, but I can't. I've never gotten up that early for anything other than to watch a horse workout at the track!
But many people DO get up at a beastly hour, to run through those gates when they open at 7AM, to get their preferred picnic spot. As said the gentleman, himself, it looks like the running of the bulls.
Please watch the embedded video, and send in your comments. We'd like to hear about your preferred way to go to the races. If you're a 4:30AM, outside-the-gate runner--because those folks DO run like mad to get to their favorite spot--or perhaps you're a Clubhouser. Or you arrive just before the first post at 1PM, and take your chances.
Whatever your favorite way to go to the races, please tell us. As many people exist who are fans of racing--that's how many different ways there are of experiencing the racetrack that is unlike any other on Earth. Everyone has their own wonderful memories of Saratoga Race Course, and a Day at the Races. Tell us yours!
Oh, and...the poor fellow who did the vid must, indeed, be a newbie: he didn't realize that the Saratoga Raceway is NOT the Saratoga Race Course, whence run the Thoroughbreds. Saratoga Raceway is the name of the harness track on Jefferson Street. We love the harness track, but all racetrackers know the difference in the names, breeds and styles of racing of the two racing ovals. So cut the guy a break--we'll tell him if ever we meet him. But enjoy his video, and then please send in your comments to us at Saratoga.com. We want to know how YOU best enjoy your Days at the Spa!
Thanks, and--may the Horse be with you, as always!
P.S. Word to the Wise: If you ARE among the group of people who get there for 4:30AM, to run in at 7AM and get your favorite spot...you might want to consider going to the NELSON AVENUE gate, instead of Union. Clubhouse entrance and general admission there...and they open the gates for breakfast. Far fewer people with whom to compete as you cruise onto the grounds, to find your ideal spot.
Link to YouTube video:
[Photo of Rachel Alexandra credit: Cathleen Duffy, The Horse Whisper Photography]
Thoroughbred racing is the most exhilarating sport on Earth. Thoroughbred sales, contrary to popular belief, are far more than a shopping excursion. A night at the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales is the most stimulating, blood-pumping and intriguing night one can experience this side of the Casbah.
Fasig-Tipton, the world-renowned equine auction house, presented two days of spectacular racing at Saratoga Race Course the weekend of August 8th and 9th. This weekend was a brilliant way to highlight the natural relationship between the two industries: after horses are created, they are sold at auction at age one. At age two, those horses may be in training, and end up racing just down the street from the sales facility where they first made their debut. The Festival of Racing, presented by Fasig-Tipton and NYRA, was the first-ever wed-ding of these two facets of the sport--a brilliant idea, and a spectacularly successful weekend.
Creating a Buzz: World-Class Racing on the Oval--then Outstanding Sales in the Ring
The weekend of racing built up the excitement, and that wild enthusiasm culminated in the two days of the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearling Sales on Monday night, August 10th and Tuesday night, the 11th.
Fasig-Tipton recently went through a multimillion-dollar facelift, upgrades sorely-needed after many years of wear and thousands of horses. Synergy Investments, Ltd, of Dubai, had purchased the auction house in 2008, and in so doing gave to the equine industry a boost in the arm as they presented us with the world's most elegant, important and prestigious facility for the sale of exquisite Thoroughbreds--and it's in Saratoga Springs, New York. Not in England. Not in Hong Kong. Saratoga. This is an amazing fact, that the brilliant and insightful people from Dubai who own the company recognized that this place, this Mecca of racing, should be the location of the world's most important horse sales...
It is a supreme joy to be able to report that on Wednesday, August 19th, Saratoga Race Course will host the fourth annual Women's Day to honor the gender that is the majority of the fanbase of Thoroughbred racing. The event it co-sponsored by NYRA (New York Racing Association) and B95.5 (Albany Broadcasting). Enthusiastic moral support is offered by Saratoga Publishing (Saratoga TODAY newspaper; The Saratoga Experience magazine) and www.Saratoga.com.
2009 is the first year that the event will offer the Racing Vocations table, a booth womaned by females of all stripes who work in and around the magnificent sport of Thoroughbred horse racing. Jockeys, trainers, farriers, veterinarians, owners, grooms, hotwalkers, exercise riders, pari-mutuel tellers, writers, artists and administrators of the female kind are invited come together to speak one-on-one with women and girls about the joys, frustrations and victories of their jobs. Horsewomen, Sara Dunham of All Play Stable, Kate O'Brien Veitch, Nina Miskiewicz and Ronnie Betor; Artist, Rumara Jewett; and Jockey, Maylan Studart are just a few of those who are expected to spend time at the booth and meet girls and women who drop by...
Travers Weekend always offers the opportunity to experience something new: someone, somewhere, sets up shop in or around the famed Saratoga Race Course--and before you know it, your heart has stopped dead in its tracks; your imagination is running wild and you fall in love with a horse, person or form of expression which--just ten minutes ago--was foreign to your life and experience.
Your spirit is renewed: you see the universe around you with eyes and a heart that has been regenerated by the pure soul of another. That other may become your best friend; favorite horse or guru--regardless of the relationship that is forged, your Life after that first chance meeting is never again the same.
A human who has fallen in love--but it's so-much-more than mere "love," it's a spiritual awakening--a person who, once awakened from the sleep of ordinary life--is forever changed for the better. Eyes sparkle from the place deep within, from that place from which you originally bellowed the announcement that you were born, and that the world should welcome you with open arms and hearty relief that you're finally here.
Chaos Theory is that branch of mathematics which studies the behavior of certain dynamical systems that may be highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity is popularly referred to as The Butterfly Effect.
Phew. Chaos Theory is entirely too complicated for my pea-shooter brain to comprehend. The idea that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Vermont will cause a blizzard in Siberia or a typhoon in China may is a fascinating concept to me. I adore the notion that something as seemingly-meaningless in the proverbial "big picture" as a butterfly, weighing less than an ounce--can alter the weather thousands of miles away. But the implications reach even beyond that: since weather can impact even war (it's hard to attack a neighboring city in a typhoon featuring 200 mph winds)--in theory, said creature's fluttering wings can even create new situations for the unfolding of human history. Now, that's deep.
Besides their role as orchestrators of weather and history, butterflies are also very dear to my heart. It goes back to 1991, when a huge Monarch butterfly befriended my Mother and me, and many subsequent sightings and omens were delivered by the little oracles of the skies. Monarch butterflies were tres important to Mom as she made her final journey--so important, in fact, that I cannot see one without saying in my spirit, "Hi, Mommy," and expecting her to hug me from her celestial boudoir...
THE ALPHA MARE, commonly known as M.E. Altieri, is a writer/editor/activist who lives and breathes the art and sport of horse racing—both Arabian and Thoroughbred.
At the tender age of six months, her Grandmother plopped her on the back of a pony. (See photo.) Three years later, Mare first rode a horse—an American Quarter Horse—on her cousin's farm in Stephentown, New York. That same year her Mother and Grandma took her to Green Mountain Park, a now- (sadly) defunct Thoroughbred track in Pownal, Vermont. Next stop, Saratoga Race Course. The seed was planted, and a passion, born.
While she does have other interests (Medieval languages and theology, cats, tigers, etc.) none hold a candle to her passion for horses. She finds that horses are far-more intelligent, compassionate and kind than 99% of the people she meets. Mare's career is fascinating, if nothing else: in 2011, she served as Editor of a beautiful history book, The Purebred Arabian Horses of Iraq: Myths and Realities by Dr. Mohammad bin 'Abdul-'Aziz Al Nujaifi. She's contributed to several international horse racing publications, including Al Badia, Arabian Finish Line, Desert Mirage and Galopp Magasinet.
She's the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of f!lly Magazine-- the magazine by, for and about women in horse racing. f!lly will debut in 2013. Both Thoroughbred and Arabian racing--and women, f!llies and mare from all around the world--will be featured in the full-color, beautiful, historic publication. Magazines are the first of the media M.E. wishes to tackle: she's also writing a screenplay, and seeks the perfect venue and producer for her horse racing radio show. She's got the voice; God knows, she has opinions--she feels led to put them together and broadcast to the 51% of the racing fan base that's too-often been overlooked. (Hint: 51%...could it be, women?)
An Alumna of Mount Holyoke College, Mare hopes to use these media, including her blog here at Saratoga.com, to encourage women and girls to find their vocations in horse racing and to help make the world a more loving and nurturing place for all equines. When asked to identify her Mentor, the woman who encouraged her to follow her bliss, Mare names the great Penny Chenery. Through these various media projects, Mare hopes to do for other females what Ms. Chenery did for her--open doors, encourage and bless.
Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga
The Thoroughbred is a distinct, created breed of horse. Saratoga Springs, New York is a unique, pristine city in Upstate New York.
Put the two together, Thoroughbreds and Saratoga, and you have America's most prestigious, lushly beautiful and important racing meet. For six weeks every summer, the world's best horses, jockeys and trainers come together to compete for trophies, cash and fame.
In this blog, we'll discover All Things Thoroughbred and the lovely international community of horsepeople, both professionals and fans, alike who set up camp in this city. Some come for six weeks, only. Others are here from April through November every year, when the Oklahoma's open. Yet others trek to town to race their mighty steedsâ€”then fall in love with the place; buy a home and move here.
The Saratoga racing family of humans and horses is a year-round endeavour. You think that all the horses all go elsewhere after Labor Day? Then this blog is for you, too.
(Is the reference, "the Oklahoma" lost on you? Stay tuned, you'll feel like a pro in no time.)
Welcome to the only experience on Earth that can boast of such otherworldly beauty and heart-stopping thrills, all in the same breath: Thoroughbred racing in Saratoga.