Saratoga Horse Racing

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OK, so I'm not a poet, and this isn't a poem to honor Lenny DeVito.

And it's taken me 10 days to write this, because it's one of the hardest things I've ever done.

Last Tuesday--January 7, 2014, Lenny died.  He and his wife, Patti, are two of my dearest friends on this side of the heavenly veil.  As close to family as I have here on Earth.

So writing about Lenny, and all he means to me--and to so many other friends from horse racing--seems to be a task of Herculean proportions.  Please bear with me if this isn't the most articulate piece of my writing you've ever read--I'm processing my grief, even as I rejoice because my friend is in Heaven...
Horse Racing in Georgia? 

It's legal, you know.  To race horses in Georgia, that is.

Pari-mutuel betting in Georgia?

Not so much.  In fact, not at all.

Yes, it IS a situation that makes no sense.  At least, not in a way that American horse racing fans understand.  In the U.S., horse racing without wagering is a sport that cannot grow, because the bucks from wagering are needed to pay the bills.  (That is the VERY simple way of stating a very complicated system.)
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I acknowledge that the conversation about horse racing and wagering is SO long and complicated--and I know that I'm not the ideal person to argue the economic benefits of bringing the sport in its full form to the great State of Georgia.  I'm not an economist.  Not a politician. I'm not in Georgia.

What I an opinionated Upstate New Yorker, and a woman whose heart is torn to shreds by horses every day, for one reason or another.  We'll get to the shredding part in a minute...because, like a great pulled-pork sandwich (and Georgia knows about barbecue, for sure)...horses and human hearts are the real, best argument for horse racing in Georgia, or anywhere...
I've tried for over two weeks to get logos and photos for this article, about the Race Track Chaplaincy's annual basketball game.

My efforts have resulted in nothing at all:  no photos, no logos, sent from the uber-efficient assistant in the office of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, New York Division.

That's because, while RTCANY has people who stop in, people who help out a lot--there is no such humanly critter as an uber-efficient Assistant, who works full-time, 40-hours-a-week.  

No Office Manager or Marketing Director, whose job it is to respond to the silly questions of writers.  Even writers with good intentions don't have the juice to acquire a digital copy of the RTCANY's logo--but that's OK. 

Speaking from personal experience, I've emailed, asked in-person, handed my card over to the Chaplain (whose known me for many years)--and still, no pictures or logos to draw your eye to this article.  (I guess I'm on my own:  thank God for NYRA, and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.)

The reason for this lack of attention to the perceives needs of a bunch of spoiled media divas is that Chaplain Humberto Chavez and his team are entirely too busy saving lives, souls, hearts, emotions and families to deal with media inquiries, 24/7...
What are you doing this weekend?  Yes, this weekend--June 14th and 15th, 2013.  Yes, I'm talking to you--horse racing fans and professionals.  Saratogians.  Residents of upstate New York, Vermont and Planet Earth.  Humanitarians and curmudgeons, alike.  ("Curmudgeon" =  those who normally wouldn't walk across the street to help anyone but themselves.)

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you have before you the opportunity to have a great time and help raise money for the Race Track Chaplaincy of America, New York division. 

Keep reading, or you won't get the info you need to join in the fun.
Keep reading, or...I'll know...

When Dan Silver left his post as Director of Communications & Media Relations at NYRA (New York Racing Association) last October, I was devastated.

I love Dan:  over the years he'd become a valued colleague and trusted Friend--a *genuine* 
Friend, the kind you count  on your fingers.  Dan was someone on whom I knew I could depend, a man of his word.  His move to Penn National to take the job, Director of Racing Operations, was a great move for him, no doubt.  Holding a Master's from the renowned University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program--Dan infused kindness and professionalism  into his job at NYRA.  I'm sure he's doing great guns for Penn.  Communications is one of those departments that  can be cold and harsh.  Too many horse racing admins, in far-too many organizations,  shut the doors to their offices, coming out only when someone "worthy" enters the suite.

Not Dan.  Dan is approachable, intelligent and open, and always is true to his character, at work and outside his offices.  I always smiled when I saw him, knowing that he respected me as a professional, and genuinely liked me as a person.

Doing business is so much easier when both parties set the tone for a relaxed relationship.  

For this reason, my first thought when I read Dan's resignation press release was:  

I cried.

My second response:  "Ahhhhhhhhh...crap."

When I was a little squirt, my Mother nicknamed me both "Mare" (how prophetic) and The Marti McGinnis Equine Connection Logo II.JPGBarefoot Contessa.   (I had no idea that she got the phrase from the title of a hotsy-totsy film starring Ava Gardner.)  For some reason, Mom associated my penchant for going naturally-footed with my Italian ancestry on my Father's side.  I think she thought I'd grow up to be Sophia Loren.  When she was feeling fanciful, she'd wave her arm and pronounce grandly that I was La Barefoot Contessa Ahl-TYE-ree, attempting to properly pronounce my foreign surname which (in the 1960's, in upstate New York) sounded to the locals to be tres exotic.

To me, shoes were an unnecessary cultural construct, created solely to be tolerated on Sundays as I sat cross-ankled, wedged between Mom and Gram in our stark, white Presbyterian church. 

The minute church was over, I ripped off the white patent leather Mary Janes and tossed them into my Mother's waiting hand.  She never tried to cut off the call of Nature to my wild-child heart, for which I am grateful.  I rode my cousin's Quarter Horse barefoot, also--a singularly remarkable experience.

My favoritest, most freeing thing to do was to wear a long skirt and run out into our overgrown grassy yard.  Grabbing a bunch of lilacs as they clung desperately to Grandma's huge, treasured lilac bush (they saw me coming, and ducked their fat little heads)--I relished that first big sniff.  Then, my head full of that fragrant opiate, I commenced to twirl 'round and 'round in the tall, soft green beneath my liberated toes.  I'd spin until I dizzied out, and collapse into that grass, under the sacred purple bush.  I can still feel the cool dampness of the unmown grass as it wrapped itself around me like so many tiny green angels' wings.  Staring up at the clear blue skies, my young spirit knew absolute freedom--the kind of bliss for which adults pay millions of dollars a year to self-help gurus and bookstores.  I often go back to that place and that time in a frail attempt to recapture some of that unbridled bliss...

Impressions of Saratoga Logo.gifResort destinations like Saratoga Springs often fall prey to carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen who come to town when the number are high, and stay only long enough to cash in on visitors' craving for reminders of their time spent in the Spa City.   Hawking cheaply-made t-shirts, shot glasses sporting scandily-clad, winking Hawaiian girls and birds that utilize the pendulum theory to dip into a glass of red water--there is nothing worse than a cheesy souvenir shop.  Just being around one of these smarmy types makes one feel dirty somehow.

Saratoga has seen her share of these joints, hastily rented and open just-long-enough to catch the racing season.  The owners then blow out of town, never to return.   The word, "accountability" is not in their lexicon.  Neither are "neighbors," "friends" or "respected" used to describe these takers.

How many times have you gone on vacation, and of course, wanted to get something that will bring a smile to your face every time you use or see it, because it represents a great time in a fun place?  But then you scope out the stores or kiosks that sell souvenirs, and you cringe because the products are all nasty, subtly (or not-so-subtly) sexual or just really poorly-made.  And you decide that maybe you can just commit to memory all the good times, and call upon your brain anytime you want to think about your vacation.  At least your memory doesn't have "I Went to __ with Stupid" written all over it.  Or rats in the basement.

When I was in high school in Watervliet, New York, I had friends who lived on Easy Street in Maplewood, a small enclave of the town populated mostly by Russian-Americans.  (It was because of this delightful community of Eastern Europeans that my school was one of only two, I believe, high schools in New York State that offered Russian as a language option.)  But I digress, per usual.  (Hey, cut me some slack:  it's the holidays, and I'm in the process of my annual hibernation.  I can't physically just curl up and sleep 'til the first day of Spring--which, in my world, is Opening Day of Belmont's Spring Meet--so I start sentences about one topic and meander through the woods, always ending up where I intended to go...but the circuitous route seems more interesting when I'm weighed down by the heaviness of Winter's spiritual and physical saddlepack.)

Ah, yes.  Easy Street.  I wanted to live on Easy Street.  Who didn't?  Easy Street is theEasy Street Horse Rescue Logo Earl.JPG mythical place where life is sweet:  all needs are met.  Love abounds.  Friendships flourish, and there's always a helping hand.  Many Americans work like dogs for 40 years, hoping to at least retire to Easy Street, if they can't figure out how to do it earlier in Life.

If you're a horse, getting to Easy Street is often harder.  When you don't have thumbs, you have to depend on the kindness of others to provide for you.  Birds are lacking that fifth digit, but they manage to forage and build cozy nests and find all the food they need.  But horses are another story.  For some reason, many humans feel a need to starve, beat or otherwise be cruel to horses.   Why, I've so often wondered angrily, are so many people intentionally rotten to God's most beautiful creatures?  We've heard entirely too many stories recently of horses in the hundreds, found starved to death or near-death.  Horses who've been beaten with chains, left to bleed out.   I believe, truly, that animal cruelty of all kinds--but most notably on the part of those who torture or abandon horses--stems from an innate jealousy of the archetypal Horse. 

The Horse in archetype represents strength, consummate beauty, speed and otherworldly, innate Wisdom...Easy Street Horse Rescue Wrangler.bmp

Brian T. Fox The Man Himself Headshot.jpgTravers 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.

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Saratoga Starting Gate Credit Adam Coglianese 1.jpgPeople You Should Know

This category, "People You Should Know in Racing," is really a subdivision of Racing 101.  The people in racing whose jobs we'll discover are essential to the smooth and safe operation of a racetrack, a Thoroughbred breeding farm and other industry-related businesses.  Their jobs are essential--so you should know about them.

But precisely because they're so important, I decided to give them their own category here on  As you read through the entries and meet these extraordinary humans who go to work every day and make the sporting world go 'round--you may gain new perspective.  You will come to respect and admire someone whose very existence was, just yesterday, below your radar.

You may even find your own vocation, your calling.

At the very least, I'll use these pages to introduce you to folks who are so darned good at their jobs that too often they become invisible.  Like actors who convince you that they're not acting--these people are  so good at what they do, and they move seamlessly through the workday--and most of the time we, the observers, don't notice them.

We hope you enjoy People You Should Know, and that, if you don't already--you come to understand more fully how much it takes to get a horse to the racetrack, and to run that track smoothly.  I hope that you will walk up to someone who works in one of these jobs, and that you will thank her or him for performing a vital service.  And I hope that you stop and look around the next time you go to the races, and realize that, truly, it takes an entire city, perhaps a small constitutional monarchy--to make this sport happen, day-after-day, week-after-week, year-after-year.  (For 141 years here in the United States, so far.)

Please enjoy this new category, and do send in your comments.  If you know of someone or a group of someones in racing who should be acknowledged--drop me a line.  I'd love to do the research and give kudos to those who deserve it.  Your input is valuable to us, as are you and all the amazing people who make Thoroughbred racing happen. 

And now, for our first entry in this category, we ask you to hold your buddy's hand, and slip into a hole in the six-ton starting gate.  You're about to encounter the Cowboys of Horse Racing.  Ready, set--run!

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M.E. Altieri

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, 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 steeds—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.