Much Ado About... Saratoga

August 2011 Archives


So, you've heard that there was this battle here in town about 230-some-odd years ago, right? Some called it the turning point of the American Revolution.

You've heard that this town has more than a few mineral springs, healing waters if you will, too right?

How about the racing game? Know much about it? They like running horses here too. Oldest racetrack in North America is right here in Saratoga.

I guess what I'm saying is this joint's got itself some history and if ever there is a town worth promoting, preserving, sponsoring, and helping, it's this piece of land right here in the Adirondack foothills.

So .. now ... let me ask you this: Are you familiar with Saratoga P.L.A.N. at all?

Saratoga P.L.A.N. is Saratoga Preserving Land and Nature.

They are currently working with a property owner, their neighbors, Saratoga County, and a local town to purchase the development rights on a farm growing alfalfa, clover and grass hay for a thoroughbred breeding operation.

saratogaplan.jpgBut they want you too. They'd love the support.

This piece of land is an 84-acre piece of property that has been in the same family for 90 years. What they want to do is protect it with a permanent conservation easement, to ensure the grounds will always be available for continued agricultural pursuits.

Unless you've been living under the rocks of these aforementioned foothills, horses have played a pretty big part in the growth of the town, its tourism, its economy ... hell, it's a way of life up here.

What Saratoga P.L.A.N. is working to do in this instance is to secure the land base that the local equine industry depends upon for pasture and hay.

Agricultural fields shape, support, and sustain the region's horse industry and the community's character. If you like racing - standardbreds or thoroughbreds, if you like to trail ride or just dig the serenity of watching horses grazing in the pasture Saratoga P.L.A.N. is hoping you might give them a hand.

Here's the good news. They've raised 94% of the costs for the conservation project of this farm but need just under $20 grand to complete the easement process this summer and summer is running out.

Visit them. Go to their website. Just click Saratoga P.L.A.N. and take a peek for yourself.

You have no idea how much they'll appreciate your support ... not to mention the horses.

Granted, the gratitude of the equine may not come in the form of a thank you note, but next time you're hangin' out near a pasture and a horse looks your way, keep an eye peeled.

It may neigh, it may whinny, it may wink, it may gallop around in circles for you to watch. That's just their way of saying "thanks."

"Just start with 'Well, I didn't throw up, but I cried like a baby' for your next blog," laughed Paul Morgana.

Actually, everyone laughed when Paul said that at dinner Friday night. Myself included.

So, what the hay. I've tried writing this thing a dozen times and can't come up with the lead. So, here it is.

Well, I didn't throw up, but I cried like a baby.

He is right though. I didn't throw up. I was sick to my stomach, I was as nervous as I've ever been and it was all I could do to keep it together.

story1.jpgIt wasn't because of the walk into the paddock I looked forward to. It wasn't just because I am with Stacy. It was because, on paper, he had a shot at this thing. This was a good spot for him. If he breaks clean and runs like he usually does we're going to get more than some of the spoils. Baby, we're gonna get all the spoils.

So, naturally, I was sick to my stomach. BUT, I didn't get sick.

So, Ha! Take that!! Score one for me.

No worries though. I wouldn't let you down. I promise. Because even though I didn't get sick I can report that moments after the race I did cave. I buckled and I crumbled. Not unlike a baby having' it's pacifier stripped from its hands (or worse, a glass of wine out of mine) I bawled I bawled I bawled.

Guess you can take that point back I just scored. Sigh.

"Come on honey, it's time for the win picture," Stacy tells me as I lean on the rail looking out at the track.

I turn and she sees me. My sweet kind woman, always there with a gentle hand and an encouraging line of support sharply reminds me "Alright. Come on. Get it together. We got a win photo to take and you don't want to be crying in it."

Boom. Like that I dried up, stood up straight (maybe a little shaky), got to my place in the winner's circle and for the first time ever had my picture taken there.

42 years. Seven months. Five days. That's how long I have been alive. That's how long I've wanted to be in the winner's circle at The Spa.

Well I got it, baby. I got it!

And I owe it all to the Scelfo family, and Runaway Jim.

* * *

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A field of 10 assembled for the mile and sixteenth test on the inner turf at Saratoga Friday afternoon for the eighth race.

After breaking alertly with a little brush at the start, Runaway Jim stalked tepid fractions of 24 4/5, :48 4/5, allowing rivals Duel Citizen and Wishingonadream to carve out the early fractions in a speed duel. When they turned for home Runaway Jim was fanned four wide after a perfect ground saving trip from jockey Rajiv Maragh.

He changes leads. He puts it in another gear.

Maragh lowers himself for the drive, rides chest to saddle, fully extended.

Jim's ears pricked, legs striding, eyes on his business. Whip tucked. One crack on the right shoulder to keep him from drifting out.

With a furlong or more to the finish Jim took command under strong urging.

The favorite, Seattle Mission, was in an all out drive to catch Jim but it wasn't happening. Not this day. This was Runaway Jim's day.

Ridden hands and heels to the wire in 1:42 2/5, his jock came back telling us he wanted to keep going. He could run all day.

All day, baby. That's our Jim. Runnin' all day!

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* * *

This race for Jim was different than the others. Not just because he won at the hardest racetrack there is to win a race, but because he had a couple people in attendance he normally doesn't.

First and foremost, the man responsible for putting Seabrook Stable together and running all the less glamorous side of things, Rich Scelfo. He's also my Stacy's Dad.

The bills. The paperwork. The conversations with Tim Hills, the trainer - the fun ones and the hard ones. All the hard work. All the leg work. All the heavy lifting.

As he does all of that, and we enjoy the fruits. But on this day, it was a little extra special because this was the first time Mr. Scelfo got to see his boy Runaway Jim run - live and in person.

Mind you, he's never missed a race ... on TVG. But now here he is, at The Spa, to see the gelded son of his homebred mare Miniconjon. This makes it even more special.

Also in attendance are Mr. and Mrs. James Chatfield. They are co-breeders with Mr. Scelfo and if it weren't' for them getting Miniconjon a midnight rendezvous with Freud, we all wouldn't have been standing somewhere other than the paddock Friday afternoon.

Paul Morgana, a close friend of the Scelfo family for many years, and a co-owner of Jim was there. He also was the life of our dinner party a couple of short hours after the race. Every 10 minutes like clockwork he raise his wine glass toasting Jim. It should be also noted everyone of us welcomed every toast.

Danny Szymanski his wife Alison were also in attendance. So was his buddy and colleague Mike Samples.

The bummer of it all was that there were a few who couldn't make it. Sue DirRenna, a part-owner of Jim and Pauls bride. Randy Johnston, an owner who lives in the Midwest; Ken and Anna Scelfo - Stacy's brother and sister in law who just welcomed a beautiful little baby girl into the world less than three weeks prior; and of course, Patricia Scelfo, - Rich's wife; Stacy and Ken's mom.

Ken, in fact, is the one who is single-handedly responsible for the naming of Runaway Jim. An avid phan of the group Phish (he's been to 75 shows for heaven's sake) he was given the reigns to name him a couple of years ago. Without hesitation the family took to the name like Ken does to a Phish tour and a legend among the family was born.

Of course, Runaway Jim couldn't be more suited to his style, particularly as he looooooooooves to run away from his rivals.

* * *


"So, what was your favorite part of today?" I ask Stacy early on in the 200-mile drive home.

Every day we get to spend a day together it's how we close our evenings, with that question.

"What was your favorite part of the day?"

I turn to my right and catch a glance as she thinks. There it is again. That smile. I never tire of it and I love (selfishly) being responsible for putting it there whenever I can.

"Ugh. There's so many. I can only pick just one?" she asks.

"You know the rules. If you can only pick one ..." I reply.

She thought on it for a while. You can't hurry someone with a question like this after the day we had. And when the answer came to her there didn't seem to be a shadow of doubt as to what it was.

"Standing between you and my Dad when Jim won," she told me. "To be right there with my two favorite men, to share that amazing experience with both of you there. I was so glad you were there with me. I can't believe that my Dad got to be here too. It was just amazing. Yeah. If I had to pick one thing, it would be that."

Awww crapo. I'm gonna start with the water works again. Ha!

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"Your turn, honey," she says. "What was your favorite part of the day?"

At first I thought it was that moment I knew Jim was going to win. About three strides before he hit the line, when I knew anyone charging late wouldn't catch him, he'd fend them off. When I knew he was in command. When I knew he was going to win. That moment stood still in time for me and is the first thing I think of.

Then I thought about standing in the winner's circle. Leaning against the rail. Emotional as I have ever been. I figure that had to be a contender for "Moment of the Day."

Then there is the realization of my one dream - to be involved with a horse that wins at Saratoga and get my picture taken in the winner's circle here. That is one thing in horse racing I always wanted and never thought attainable for me.

Not a Kentucky Derby win. Not a Breeders' Cup win. Just give me a nice respectable allowance at Saratoga Race Course and every racing dream will have come true. I need nothing more in the sport. That is MY Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup rolled into one.

All these thoughts rattled through my head. All of them carrying equal weight.

But the truth of the matter is, as much weight as each of those memories carry - the moment I knew he'd win, the win picture, the dream of a lifetime realized - each and every one of them paled in comparison with knowing I had it all ... with Stacy.

Where can there ever be joy in life if it isn't shared with your best friend, your heart, the most important person in your life?

Her endless stream of kindness. The music that is the sound of her laugh. The happiness that resides in those eyes. Her arms wrapped around me the moment after Jim crossed the wire (hell, someone had to hold me up it may as well be her).

Runaway Jim had won. Stacy is in my arms.

THAT was my favorite part of the day.

THAT was my life's favorite racing moment.

To Stacy, her father and her whole family there is a debt of gratitude I will never be able to repay.

You provided me with the greatest moment I have ever experienced in Thoroughbred horse racing.

Ever.

And even though I have no idea how to repay such a gift, I can assure you that you will always have the lifelong gratitude of a blubbering idiot. One who feels no shame in weeping like a child in the Winner's Circle of Saratoga Race Course.

Because, I can assure you, I am aware of its worth.

I am aware of its magnitude.

I am aware that none of this happens without you ... or Runaway Jim.

Go Jim, Go!

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Dinner that night. (L-R: Danny, Stacy, Patrick, Rich, Paul, Alison)

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Rich Scelfo and Stacy Scelfo


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Rich Scelfo with Mr and Mrs James Chatfield - Breeders of Runaway Jim


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Mike Samples and Danny Szymanski

Bang the drum! Ring the bells! Sound the alarm!

Open wide the gates to the Land of Anxiety and Idiocy, for your Leader is coming home!!!

It's that time again. All things Saratoga. All things Jim. All things ... nerve-wracking.

Yup. Jim. Runaway Jim. My girlfriend's horse. Not even mine, mind you. Hers. Stacy's. And I'm the one who can't pull it together. Some things never change. Nice. Very nice.

jimheadshot.jpgThis Friday afternoon Runaway Jim will make his 10th career start; his fourth at The Spa. In his prior nine starts he has earned a check in all but two of them, more than paying his way for sure. He's a New York bred that's won once, ran second once and third three times. On Friday he makes his second start off the layoff and stretches out from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. He drew the six hole, out of 10, in Friday's eighth race.

So, basically, between now and then, it's all I can do to keep from throwing up small children after I've eaten.

So, here's the rub. I don't get it. I don't. I mean, I suppose in some ways I do. I can understand the nervousness leading up to a race. The feeling of walking into the Saratoga Paddock. Watching Jim make his way to the track. Knowing his jock Rajiv Maragh is a great fit. Loading into the gate. Springing the latch. Hearing Durkin call the race. All of it.

But wouldn't you think if you've done something over and over you'd get used to it?

Wouldn't you think that it's like anything else you've done nearly a dozen times before?

Wouldn't you think ...

Then again, this is Saratoga. Unique. Special. Historic. Storied. Glorious.

All valid reasons to feel heightened levels of anxiety.

All valid reasons to feel like a rumbling stumbling bumbling dolt who reverts back to his eight year old year thinking he can one day be a jockey himself.

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I'm just a big hot mess and the fact is, I will be worse on Friday.

If you've read these pages last summer then you would know why. When it comes to the game of thoroughbred racing, there's no sport I love more. When it comes to thoroughbred racing in Saratoga, it is nothing short of Paradise on earth.

Add my girlfriend's racehorse into the mix, compounded by the fact that he's fit and well and (dare I say) has a halfway decent shot at this thing, and I'm in a territory I have been in very few times in my 42 years.

In the fall of last year, when Jim won his first race, Stacy and I were not there. I had a work commitment that kept us from going and wouldn't you know it ... he wins. The only race of his that we miss, to date, and he wins.

Figures, right?

But we did watch it on TVG. We saw his burst of speed at the head of the stretch. We saw him keep his mind on his business. We saw ... we saw a professional racehorse coming into his own.

We saw something special and so much more than just a handsome face.

We also heard the call. We heard Tom Durkin.

" .... Runaway Jim has built an insurmountable lead! Runaway Jim, the winner" he bellowed.

I've heard it over a hundred times. So has Stacy. She even wanted to send a Thank You note to him for giving her the memory of a lifetime. I stuck my cell phone next to my computer, captured the stretch call and made it my default ring tone. There's even a handful of people in the Seabrook Stable who have done the same.

We never tire of it.

But to possibly hear a win call from Saratoga would be ... would be ....sigh, I don't know what it would be like.

Until then (should that day even come), I will pray I don't spit the bit from frayed nerves. I will pray my juvenile idiocy, like a bratty kid let loose in a candy store, will be kept in check. I will pray that I keep it together until post time.

But I'll tell you this folks, if he wins ... oh dear God, if he wins ... I'm going to make Roberto Benigni look like Buddah!

Go Jim, Go ... you make life beautiful.

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I gotta hand it to NYRA.

Horse racing is antiquated in many ways and so many talk about moving forward with the times yet their feet are stuck in quicksand.

Not NYRA.

They have embraced the world of Social Media and recognize its value in reaching out to educate and excite fans - die hards and novices alike. Constantly updating their Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter pages they are as current as can be and I'm not sure who else in the industry can match strides with them.

Add Play Saratoga to the list. playsaratoga.jpg

Beginning tomorrow, August 3rd, The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and Equibase Company will launch the official "Play Saratoga" Facebook game.

It's free, and includes daily prizes, weekly prizes and grand prizes that run through the close of the meet - Labor Day.

Here's what you do: pick the top three finishers of each race on the Saratoga card before post time for the first race. The scoring goes from 175 points for a cold trifecta down to 25 points for picking a horse to run third.

Here are a list of prizes they are offering:

  • Daily Prize (August 3 - August 17): Saratoga Special Premium Past Performance subscription, courtesy of Equibase
  • Daily Prize (August 18 - September 5): Past Performance subscription, courtesy of Equibase
  • Weekly Prizes (Wednesdays through Mondays): $200 gift certificate to Online NYRA Store
  • Grand Prize (Total Points August 3 - September 5): Choice of two Clubhouse seats to 2012 Belmont Stakes or 2012 Travers Stakes, including airfare and hotel accommodations. Subject to conditions determined by NYRA.

So if you're on Facebook, and lets face it, you probably are go "LIKE" the NYRA and Equibase pages for more details.

I love this. I absolutely love this. It's simple. Its free. Its competitive. It's fun.

Well done, NYRA. Well done, Equibase.

Thanks for recognizing that we're all in 2011, not 1911.

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Patrick Kerrison

While most American men of Patrick's generation grew up talking to their Dad about baseball and the likes of Mantle, Ford, Berra and DiMaggio, he and his father covered the racing beat and talked of Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and John Henry.

The son of a newspaperman, Patrick spent his summers a "spoiled" child, but not in the traditional sense. Spoiled because his August months were spent at Saratoga Race Course watching the best the game ever offered.

Breakfast in the mornings, races in the afternoons and the occasional party when kids were welcomed in the evenings, he has lived a privileged childhood. For better than 10 years Patrick worked in varied frontside positions in racing, "living the dream" as he calls it.

Today at age 41, he reverts back to his life as an eight year old with the same passion and love for the town of Saratoga he always had, but with the perspective of an adult. His appreciation for her history and his desire to go back in time revives every summer, while never forgetting the glorious life he lives today. Patrick and Saratoga.com invite you to come back to Saratoga's 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and a little bit about today, too.