Much Ado About... Saratoga

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For the first time since Sunday Silence in 1989, we have a legitimate Triple Crown contender. However, due to the black cloud that lingers over its trainer Doug O'Neill, I have conflicting feelings.

Do I, or don't I, root for I'll Have Another?

Yes. I understand this is horse racing and not trainer racing, but one does not win without the other.

Right now the portrait of a potential champion has been discolored based on the repeated violations and the pending 45-day suspension of trainer Doug O'Neill. The latest violation is an excess level of total carbon dioxide following a 2010 race at Del Mar. In O'Neill's defense, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has agreed with O'Neill in stating it may not have been a result of milkshaking (an illegal action which a horse is fed a mixture of bicarbonate, soda and electrolytes with a tube down their throat that is known to enhance performance and combat fatigue).

CHRB's support here is good news.

The bad news is this isn't the first time. It is not even the second or third. This is the fourth time he has violated the allowable levels of total carbon dioxide.

And so, here we stand, a game perpetually troubled to find a new fan base, thrown another knuckleball. We're 10 days away from a Triple Crown bid and a nation is questioning the integrity of the game's most recognized trainer of the day.

We wonder whether or not his behaviors toward others in his barn are on the up-and-up. We wonder is I'll Have Another on the up-and-up? It is nearly impossible for the question not to cross our mind.

O'Neill has repeatedly stated he runs a clean barn and his horses are taken care of very well. Without question, I want this to be true. On a personal level I find him engaging, fun and with a great sense of humor. For all intents and purposes he could very well be a charismatic face of the game. But it cannot be ignored that his past calls into question the present, and the possible future of racing history.

Once again, racetrackers just can't get a break.

So, what do we do? As fans of the game, what do we do?

For starters, let the Racing Officials sort out this mess. Not the media. Not us bloggers. No one other than those whose profession it is to police the game, appropriately. I am not the slightest bit interested in speculation. All I want are the facts when they are said and done.

If O'Neill is in violation as they say, then discipline him but do so justly and without emotion.

If he is not in violation, then jeepers-creepers, good luck erasing that stain. Win or lose this battle, the damage to O'Neill's reputation may have been done.

I am not judging O'Neill. I have not walked a mile in his shoes. But I cannot think that CHRB would levy such a ruling on him without just cause. I would be lying by omission if I didn't say that the alleged actions of the accused have me reeling.

This guy has been known to milkshake his horses - at least three times so far - and this is the same guy who has a horse that is 12 furlongs from racing immortality.

You've got to be kidding me!

We all know it is near impossible for a horse to withstand the grueling demands of the Triple Crown. And yet, here we are, with a legit contender...and the person most responsible for his well being is under fire for mistreatment.

Again I ask, will racing fans EVER get a break?

Sure it is selfish of me but I want things to be clean, done right and damn it, I want a champion.

Is playing by the rules too much to ask for?

I would be willing to bet that most of us have asked ourselves "is I'll Have Another clean?" I would win that bet. Then I would parlay those winnings, plus every dollar I have ever earned, in betting that the answer is "yes."

But that black cloud.

It just hangs there.

Looming above...wearing a checkered hat.

It really does get to me and I don't think I am alone.

But, I may have an answer to my question of "do I or don't I?"

I am going to do my best to remember this is horse racing. Not trainer racing. Let the officials sort the O'Neill mess out and I will focus on one thing: Believing.

Believe this is the year.

Believe in the strength, power, closing speed and heart of I'll Have Another.

Believe in a champion.

Our champion.

And, should the stars align and the Gods grant us this wish, this moment of history, we can look to the heavens in thanks, and do so by looking past that black cloud.

Because that black cloud is not I'll Have Another.

It is, in fact, another.

Go, IHA! Go!

019postFirstSecondItDoesntMatter1.JPGRunaway Jim ran a game second Saturday afternoon and to be frank, neither Stacy nor I would have known the difference had he won.

It felt that good.  We felt that proud.  And by God I've never seen the woman look more beautiful.

At day's end her handsome gray gelding left her gushing.  Absolutely, unequivocally garrulous - not her normal M.O. - and beyond overjoyed.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the racing experience is all about.

The pride in your horse.  The thrill of the game.  The bright silks of your stable and family atop your horse, striding perfectly.  Running through his bridle and having the time of his life.

It is the undeniable and startling beauty of the Thoroughbred racehorse.

There ain't nuttin' like it no where, now how, no way.

*        *        *

Stacy and I entered the day vowing, somewhat jokingly, we'd do everything opposite of what we've done before with regard to seeing Jim run.  In short, we decided to George Costanza our day.

  • 019postFirstSecondItDoesntMatter2.JPGWe didn't rush to tackle the 200+ mile drive to Saratoga.
  • We relaxed and left our nerves back in Jersey.
  • We visited Jim at his stall at Horse Haven earlier in the day.
  • We dressed down a bit, although still Paddock appropriate.
  • We didn't try to get an owner's box.
  • We milled about and talked with random people throughout the Grandstand.  You can do that at Saratoga.
  • We made it a point to go to the same tellers, who kindly punched winners for Stacy and were equally as happy to take my money for the bets.  Damn, she's played that well, didn't she?  She'd have made the most seasoned of horseplayers proud.  Just look at 'em laughing at me in the picture!  I am thinking I am now "conspired-against George."

Like I said, we took the Costanza approach and I'm here to tell you, baby it worked like a charm.

In three starts at Saratoga Runaway Jim ran 3rd, 4th and 2nd respectively.  Each time he earned Seabrook Stable a check.

Some may wonder how in blazes anyone could get so excited about losing?!

Well, we're not.  We want to win!

BUT the truth is it isn't about winning and losing when you're involved in racing as an owner; or in my case, the boyfriend of one.  You certainly don't enter the fray expecting to make money.

As a horseplayer?  Nothing else matters.

But in our case, in this instance, it has EVERYTHING to do with the experience of racing.  The stuff you used to hear the late Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wax poetic about how grand the game is.  And here we are, a part of it.

Amazing.

Cliché as it sounds it actually is the thrill of watching your boy, or your filly, running their hearts out.

Although winless in five starts, and earning four checks overall, I assure you Jim has not failed anyone.  Ever.

*        *        *

 019postFirstSecondItDoesntMatter3.JPG"Stacy's got herself a real nice horse there," my Dad told us from Monmouth last night.

"He's a real honest horse," he said.  "But when they hit the top of the stretch I thought he'd spit the bit."  

He started laughing, then continued "I even turned around and told your mother 'he's gonna spit the bit!'  But when he came on again and I saw that jock in front of him get into the winner some more, well, that's when I knew.  That's a real honest horse they have there."

A real honest horse.

Is there a better compliment?

What, if anything, could anyone possibly want more than that?

So we played him across the board and cashed out.  We even made a few bucks for a handful of Stacy's coworkers.

The ride home was different too.

We took Route 9 into Malta to get on the thruway instead of retracing our steps via Exit 14.  Why not?  After all, "opposite George" hadn't failed us yet.

But if I am being candid, the real reason is I didn't want to drive past the track one more time.  I don't think I would have been able to handle it.  I didn't want to leave Stacy holding the wheel while her boyfriend turned into a blubbering idiot.

It was partly because Jim had done so well.  We asked him time and again to Go Jim, Go!  And he did, every time and without complaint.  Such a good boy.  He (as of this writing) has over 180 Facebook friends!

019postFirstSecondItDoesntMatter4.JPGIt was also in part because our Saratoga season ended.

But it was mostly because Stacy had given me more thrills, excitement and happiness at Saratoga than anyone ever has - and I trust ever could - in my adult life.

This woman, this thoughtful and sweet woman, single-handedly turned lifelong childhood racing dreams into my life's new reality.

And all through this life - and this is the 100% truth - I never thought I could love anything or anyone the way I love Saratoga.  I'll be dog-goned, that is no longer the case.

She is that good.  She makes me feel that proud.  And by God I've never seen a woman look more beautiful.

The fact she races a NY-bred ain't hurtin' my feelings either.

#       #       #
 
 
Alright.  Why the heck not.  Let's try this again, shall we?

The good news:  Most of the nausea that came with the first two starts at Saratoga has dissipated.  

The bad news:    This is Runaway Jim's last shot at The Spa this year to break his maiden.

The better news:  He'll win the blasted thing.  We hope.

a0.JPGI'll concede the opening is not as romantic or heartfelt an approach as prior postings.  Sure.  But come on....we wanna win dag nabit!

And yet, that damnable truth which cannot be ignored begs this question:

Is there a harder track in the world to win a horse race than Saratoga Race Course?
Fugghettabout it pal.  No way.  Ain't no place tougher to win than the Spa.

But I'm not afraid to tell you, the hankering for a win is getting a might stronger.

On Saturday Runaway Jim makes another go of it.  This time he returns to the lawn (where he earned his best Beyer fig of 73), stretches out to a mile (which I, as a horse player am THRILLED about),  and gets a change of rider to Rajiv Maragh.

He's in the 11th race and races from the three-hole.

So this time there will be no great fanfare or lengthy article.  No description of the grown man fearing his girlfriend will have to hold him up.

Instead, I'll leave you with this ... the three words you just might hear from a blithering overgrown idiot, beside his aptly-mortified girlfriend, bellowing from the box seats late Saturday afternoon:

Go Jim, Go!

*                   *                   *

The Handicapper in Me:  Why I Like Jim on Saturday

He's returning to the grass for starters.  His first two goings we thought he didn't like it.  Fact is, he was immature on the racetrack BUT he ran a 73 Beyer in his first out.

Plus, he closed like a freight train!!!

In the stretch he was about five or six lengths behind the winner.  His late kick and post race gallop impressed the devil out of me and since that day I have been hoping (read: praying) that they would stretch him out.

Watching a horse gallop out after their race has always been a favorite angle of mine.

Below are the pictures I took of that first try on the lawn at Belmont.

a1.JPG a2.JPG
Runaway Jim (gray-outside) is several lengths behind the leaders, but gaining with each stride


a3.JPG  a4.JPG
Moments past the wire Jim passes the winner and then draws clear as he gallops out


So...there you have it.  That one race has had the handicapper in me pining for him to (a) mature as a race horse, (b) return to the lawn and (c) stretching out to a mile (or more).

Saturday he gets his shot and I'll find out if my handicapping abilities are worth the paper the DRF is printed on!

Go Jim, Go!
How can you not get a kick out of the Lisa's Booby Trap story?

Who?

Lisa's Booby Trap.

You know who she is.  She's the horse that got its name for her owner/trainer's now deceased wife and a popular trackside "gentleman's club" in Florida.

0016post-Lisas_Booby_Trap.jpgSigh.

I know.

Me too.

It's the stuff Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote of.  So rich with romance how can one not well up with tears.

OK.  OK.  I agree.  Most of racing's greatest thoroughbreds and classic winners are generally named something a little more regal and a little less hooter.  But in this case, for this story, it makes it a little funnier story and certainly worth paying attention to.

She's a gangly filly.  The NY Post's Ed Fountain said "she's as big as a bull moose and kindly as a cow."

Oh, and she's blind in one eye.

Did I mention the club foot yet? 

I grant you these are not the ideal specs for a winning race horse ... or a "gentleman's club" employee for that matter.  But come on - racehorse or stripper - how can you not be intrigued?  How can you not root for them?
 
Lisa's Booby Trap's owner and trainer is Tim Snyder.  A fella from way upstate New York in Finger Lakes who lost his wife back in 2003 to ovarian cancer.  She beat it once, but it came back and all her fight wasn't enough.  She passed a week short of her 38th birthday.

He bought the filly for $4,500; but was short $2,500 and made a promise to pay the balance upon her winning.  Fate was on Snyder's side and she won her first three starts by a combined margin of just under 37 lengths.

Snyder took a chance and shipped his filly and dreams of success to The Spa.  He entered her in the $70,000 Loudonville Stakes on August 6 and Kent Desormeaux got the call to ride.

As if someone in Hollywood wrote the race's script, Lisa's Booby Trap came from off the pace and drew clear to a six length win.

Ever since then Lisa's Booby Trap and Snyder have made waves all across the country.  There are rumors that a script is in the making for a movie and Dateline NBC is planning a one hour special on the pair.  Snyder got a call from the folks at Simon & Schuster for a book also.

And get this...he turned down a half a million dollar offer on the horse.

Half a million bucks!

Now that's somethin' for a $4,500 Finger Lakes purchase.

I can't say I would have turned it down.  Not $500 grand.

But I'm not Snyder and he has more than just a racehorse here.  He has, so he feels, the spirit of his bride under the saddle.

Snyder admits to a connection with this horse with respect to his wife that, no matter who comes calling and no matter the price tag, she ain't for sale.

The NYRA news release offered this quote from Snyder:

"My wife was a good lady," he said. "She told her mother the last week she was alive that she was coming back as a horse, and now all this has happened.

"I'm having too much fun with her to ever sell her. I get cards and letters, people send over bushels of carrots and peppermints ... I could never have imagined anything like this happening. And now, winning five in a row with her would be something really special."

It continues:

"I know it sounds crazy, but I do feel a connection to my wife through the horse," said Snyder. "Lisa's Booby Trap could never be a replacement. But I know what I feel, and it's real to me."

She'll have that chance on Thursday in the second division of the $70,000 Riskaverse Stakes, a one mile trek on the grass.  She will be facing nine rivals on the tight turned inner turf - her debut on the lawn - and will be pressed with a few challenges for sure.

0016post-Lisas_Booby_Trap2.jpgIt is carded as the day's ninth race, she'll break from the two-hole and is listed as an early morning line favorite at 5/2 odds.

With a bit of luck on her side she'll get a clean trip...and no one will try to slip $2 Win tickets in her girth as she struts to the racetrack...'cuz that's just wrong, man.

With a bit more luck, Snyder's story will continue to flourish and this 56-year-old guy who doesn't have much will continue to live life as if it were a storybook.

I am such a sucker for a good racing story and I hope Snyder's good fortune continues, with or without Hollywood.  

In short, God I hope she wins.  I'd love to see Snyder in the winner's circle on Thursday.

As much as I love this game and love Saratoga and love to play the horses, I'll take a great racing story over it all any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Snyder and Lisa's Booby Trap is a great story about the little guy and his horse that do good.  To cap it all, they're doin' good on the grandest stage of them all - Saratoga Race Course.

But I do ask one thing.  If the ghosts that are responsible for Saratoga being the Graveyard of Favorites or the Graveyard of Champions (call it what you will) are listening - and if Lisa's Booby Trap goes off as the post time favorite - please have the decency to turn and look away.

This is one upset story that doesn't need to be written.

This is one story for the good guys that needs to continue.

Give 'em hell, Lisa.

Photograph:
Lisa's Booby Trap photo by Adam Coglianese, official NYRA track photographer

Lisa's Booby Trap and owner/trainer Tim Snyder by Shawn Dowd, Staff Photographer, Democrat and Chronicle


Richard Canfield was "the greatest gambling asset the United States had ever known." i   And unlike his casino's original proprietor John Morrissey, he had the respect and admiration of the well-bred.

009postRichardAlbertCanfield.jpgHe was born in 1855 in New Bedford, MA, and wasn't well educated, but had a bit more schooling than Morrissey.  He graduated from grammar school.  But he knew his success would come from the money of the rich, not the everyday gambling schlep.  In order to gain their approval he believed he needed to be able to mirror the sophistication of their lifestyles.

So he took to reading.  Frequently.

Married at 27 he got pinched for running a successful faro house and was sentenced to six months.  He used that time wisely, learning about fine art, literature, philosophy and religion.  He loved it.  All of it.  The more he read, the more interested he became.

In 1888 he teamed with gambler David Duff and opened a house close to popular restaurants. The play got so busy his partner couldn't handle it.  Duff would "turn up drunk and make a nuisance of himself, and Canfield bought him out." ii

He had his eyes set on Morrissey's old haunt, The Club House in Saratoga Springs, NY.  At the time it belonged to Albert Spencer and Charles Reed, a couple of gamblers from NYC.

Reed, eerily similar to Morrissey, was socially unacceptable and Spencer bought him out.

Spencer was more akin to the likes of Canfield.  He bought and sold fine art and the pair got along well.  A quarter of a million dollars later, Canfield bought the Club House in 1893.  He made significant changes, beginning with the name.  The Club House became The Casino.

"To be seen at the Casino would be a feather in the cap, a mark of distinction only the wealthy could afford." iii

He spent a small fortune on food and drink but many thought his efforts were "little more than constructing a veil to hide the evil inside." iv

They were wrong.  When he opened the doors in 1894, the Casino was a smashing success.

009postCanfieldCasinoParlorInterior1871.jpg Guests were expected to dress well, in their evening clothes and Canfield hired private detectives to ensure the safety of their jewels.

Always thinking ahead, he realized evening clothes may lead to a slight problem.  For example, if a gentleman were to be dressed in a tuxedo and tails large amounts of money held in their pockets could ruin the tailoring.

Well, we can't have that now can we?  Of course not!

His solution? Extend credit.

There were 10 other gambling houses in town and none of them would take such a risk. Hell, they thought Canfield was nuts.  Not to mention, he also kept a million bucks in his safe ... just in case.

Canfield believed paying guests in cash and extending credit made for happy customers.

Right again!

009postCanfieldCasinoHighStakesPokerRoom.jpgWhen he closed his first season he earned $250,000 in gambling profits - his initial investment in the Casino.

He was off to a flying start and 1894 was a good year for Saratoga.  Excitement for future seasons generated with enthusiasm.

But Canfield, in spite of this success, met with one struggle after another in the ensuing years.

In 1895 Reformists had every gaming house in the area closed, thus making his second season a bust.

The following year they opened, part in parcel to "many local residents [who] complained about the resulting economic loss, as they too sustained their livelihood either directly or indirectly from the gaming business." v

Canfield counted over $600,000 in profits that season and was the richest and most well known gambler in America.

He had arrived.

The affluent and social set welcomed him into the fold.  A desire Morrissey, almost literally, died trying to accomplish.

But Canfield's headaches continued.

Years later when the new District Attorney of New York, William Travers Jerome (nephew to racing's Leonard Jerome), had a bee in his bonnet and singled out Canfield as the one to swat.

Jerome found gambling paraphernalia in the wall of a defunct New York City casino belonging to Canfield and arrested him. However, he had little to get him on so they battled back and forth for two years.  The result after $100,000 in legal fees was a $1,000 fine and admission to a "common gambler" charge - a moniker that made Canfield shudder.

In 1903, he promised a lush and beautiful Italian Garden next to his Casino that would further enhance the splendor of Saratoga.  He did just that and it was lovely.  But, local officials feared that more attention from Reformists would make things difficult for the Casino.

009postCanfieldCasinoModernBallroom1902.jpgSo what did they do?  They ordered all houses in Saratoga to operate behind closed doors.

Canfield was fit to be tied.

"They gambled in the Garden of Eden and they will again if there's another one," he said. v

The restrictions held his gambling profits to about $400,000 that season.  Additional restrictions pressed Canfield to close his Casino in 1904.

1906 presented a problem when the Casino opened with more closed-door restrictions. Come August and the race meet, they shut down after friendly warnings from local sheriffs.

Enough is enough, thought Canfield.  He accomplished what he set out to do.

Fed up, he didn't open the Casino again and put it up for sale in 1907.  In 1911, the village of Saratoga Springs offered $150,000 and the deal was done.

009postRichardCanfieldKilledBy-a-Fall.JPGNow, fast forward seven years from his decision, the setting is a cold, icy, December day in Brooklyn.

Canfield slips and tumbles down a flight of stairs in a subway station.  He fractures his skull in the accident.  The following day, the once wealthiest and revered gambler of his time, dies.

Between the years of 1870 and 1907 The Club House and The Casino was seen as THE host to the wealthiest people ever to set foot on American soil.  In that day and age casino proprietors struggled to earn acceptance among the wealthy and well bred.

Canfield, through his love of the arts and as a collector, his passion for literature and his envied library along with his knowledge of religion and philosophy, appealed to the sort.

Morrissey, whose status as a championship prizefighter, bouncer and street thug followed him everywhere, didn't.  He died, a relatively young man at 47, knowing the one battle he fought all his life left him laying on the mat, counted out.

009postCanfieldCasino2009.jpgToday their building is called The Canfield Casino.

And wouldn't you know it, John Morrissey - the guy who built the damned thing - gets snubbed from the billing.

Sigh.

Poor Old Smoke.  He just couldn't get a break, could he?

The Canfield Casino serves a rich and fulfilling purpose to anyone with an affinity for Saratoga history.  She is the home to the Historical Society of Saratoga Springs.  And when you walk through her hallways - and I suggest you do - the rooms are adorned with scenes from lifetimes ago.

It takes little imagination to saunter through the rooms, at your own pace, and hear the noise of these blessed characters spinning a wheel or rolling the dice.  You can imagine the smell of rich cigars permeating the air, people laughing and maybe a few grunting with dismay.

Quite simply, with a single walk-thru you are taken back a hundred years in time.

And that is part of the beauty of Saratoga Springs.  A great part of her beauty.

Red Smith once wrote to get to Saratoga from New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, tun left onto Union Avenue and go back 100 years.

Drive another mile to Congress Park and tour the Canfield Casino to see for yourself.

I trust you'll find, like I do, that she is one of the more romantic and often thought of characters of the grand history that is Saratoga Springs.

# # #


Footnotes:
i. They're Off ... At Saratoga, Edward Hotaling, p. 150
ii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 226
iii. Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, George Waller, p. 227
iv. Saratoga Lost: Images of Victorian America, Robert Joki, p. 146
v. Saratoga Lost: Images of Victorian America, Robert Joki, p. 147

Bibliographical Sources Used for Research:
 - Bartles, John, Saratoga Stories, Gangsters, Gamblers and Racing Legends, Eclipse Press, Blood Horse Publications, Lexington, KY 2007
 - Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop, Ganesvoort, NY 1966
 - Hoatling, Edward Clinton They're Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY 1995
 - Joki, Robert Saratoga Lost, Images of Victorian America, Black Dome Press Corp., Hensonville, NY 1998

Photographs:
 - Richard Albert Canfield, - Waller, George, Saratoga, A Saga of an Impious Era, FTB: Friar Tuck Bookshop, Ganesvoort, NY 1966 p.225
 - Canfield Casino parlor interior (1871) - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
 - The High Stakes Poker Room - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
 - The Modern ballroom (1902) - The Saratoga Springs History Museum website
 - Richard Canfield Killed y a Fall - New York Times, December 12, 1914
 - The Canfield Casino, Patrick J. Kerrison Saratoga Collection










Saratoga Race Course has seen the mighty fall, champions thwarted and punters sick to their stomachs.

It's what she does, folks.  It's who she is.

Take her or leave her.

It is often you will see longtime and novice racing fans go to the track on big days just to see the greats compete.  To see for ourselves just how fast, strong and powerful a creature they are.

They give us a hero for a day, maybe a year, maybe longer.  They can, and have, made us fans for life.

But a part of us recognizes it's just as much of a thrill to see the 1/9 favorite get beat by some high priced horse that we thought had no business being there in the first place.  To watch someone shake off the chalk at a hundred to one.

The big races at the Spa always give us a piece of racing history and a story to tell long after the race has been run.

And ain't it just the coolest thing?

Upset beats Man O War in The Sanford.  Onion tops Secretariat in The Whitney.  It's In The Air beats Davona Dale in the Alabama.  Classy Mirage beats Inside Information in The Ballerina.

These stories could fill a book, and have.  Bill Heller's Graveyard of Champions is a joy to read and cannot be put down.

Then there was my heartbreak.  The 1982 Travers .  The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners met.  There was a lot of buildup for this race because we were finally going to see who the best of the lot was.  Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo was the unmitigated favorite at 2/5 and had my childhood hero, Eddie Maple, aboard.   I couldn't wait for Eddie to win his third straight Travers.

Runaway Groom.jpgAs luck would have it, or the ghosts of Saratoga would direct it, none of 'em won.  They all got beat by a gray Canadian import named Runaway Groom.  

Sigh.

She did it again.

I was 13 at the time and perhaps the first (and only) time I cursed Saratoga and her tradition of burying favorites.  

My open frustration resulted in a one-day suspension from racing.  Not by NYRA, of course, but an entity more powerful.

My Mom.

But few upsets have impacted the tradition and mystique of Saratoga Racetrack like the 1930 Travers Stakes.

gallantfoxsunnyjim.jpgThe hype surrounded Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox (seen left with trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons)  and the prior year's racing standout Whichone.  They met twice before in 1929, each earning a victory over the other.  The Fox went to post as the Travers 1-to-2 favorite.

FDR was there.  So was his bride, Eleanor.  It was a big day and it had the makings of a great duel.  But on this day, neither would claim bragging rights.

The track was messy and the Fox had never raced in the off going before.

Gallant Fox and Whichone went at it from the start.  They raced heads apart as they passed the stands, into the clubhouse turn and up the backside.

At the far turn Whichone carried the Fox wide, opening a huge hole on the rail.

A virtual no-name, Jim Dandy, shot through the opening and raced like a runaway freight train down the lane.  He opened up his lead by two, then three lengths.  Past the sixteenth pole he was in front by six and his lead was widening.

At the wire this horse from California, who went off at 100-1, defeated the winner of the 1930 Triple Crown by eight lengths.

1930_Travers_Headlines0003.JPGThe phrase Graveyard of Champions was cemented in Saratoga tradition and a legion of racing fans were left with their mouths gaping.

They likely all asked the same question:  Who in blazes is Jim Dandy?

He wasn't anything to get excited about during his career.  He broke his maiden at two, racing at Churchill Downs in May 1929.  He didn't win another race until The Saratoga Cup at 50-1 in August on an off going.  He hadn't won another all year.

His Travers upset was the lone victory of his 20 starts in 1930 before fading into a relative obscurity, racing in Mexico at the old Agua Caliente Racetrack.   He competed for eight more seasons, compiling a total of 141 starts, winning seven.

In 1964, the NYRA named a race after him and it has served as a key prep race for the Travers Stakes ever since.  They'll run its 47th edition tomorrow afternoon.

Since then, eight horses have used it as a catapult to victory in the Mid-Summer Derby, nine if you include Affirmed who was disqualified from first to second in 1978.

They were:
1969    Arts and Letters
1978    Affirmed (placed second in Travers thru DQ)
1981    Willow Hour
1984    Carr de Naskra
1992    Thunder Rumble
2002    Medaglia d'Oro
2005    Flower Alley
2006    Bernardini
2007    Street Sense
The day they ran the 1930 Travers people may have wondered who Jim Dandy was.

Today, he and his 100-1 odds are the ideal example of why we run the races.

It's because there are no sure things.  

It's because on any given race day, a champion can fold.  An unknown can shine.  And you and I can make a buck or two in the process.

That is Saratoga.

It's what she does, folks.  It's who she is.  Take her or leave her.

I'll take her.

I'll always take her.


PHOTOGRAPHS:
Runaway Groom, 1982 Travers Stakes - Champions Gallery
Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons - Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA;
Headline - The Saratogian, August 18, 1930




I was the jockey in the family.

I rode.

I rode 'em all.

Cheap claimers and allowance horses. Stakes race, black type and graded.  Sprints or routes, turf or dirt. Necks and noses or the length of the stretch.  None of it mattered.  I won. 

I always won.

Year after year I was Saratoga's leading rider. I even won a title or two at Belmont. I didn't ride Aqueduct. Too cold.   Florida? Not an option.  I lived in Jersey.  Besides, I was concentrating on my studies.

After a race I'd come back to the room with rail dust on my boots.  I learned that from Manny Ycaza.

He was the toughest there ever was.

I'd skim the bushes of the inner turf and dared others to knock me over.

Some called me aggressive.  Some said I have no business riding.

But to be a race rider - a real race rider - you need guts.

I had 'em.

I always broke clean and my clock kept perfect time.  Chest to saddle, I rode with perfect form.  I was smoother than silk when changing sticks.

All I really needed were my hands. I learned that from The Shoe.  Such talent that man had.

I'd thread through horses with the belief if there's room for the head, there's room for the rest of 'em.  My horses didn't take bad steps.  They, nor I, ever fell.

Victory and I met often and she was always glad to see me.  So were my horses.  They won for me, no one else.

There is no metaphor for what I did.

Race riders and Thoroughbred racing are used as metaphors for other sports. Nothing can compare to its true experience.

I never had a problem with weight or height.  I ate candy, drank soda and had PB&J for lunch, daily.  I never flipped.

These were my glory days.

When I was invincible.  When I feared nothing.  That was what I worked for.  To ride.  To ride well.

To win races.

To be the single most talented jock in the room.

"Patrick!" I heard the voice call from the other room.
"What?!" I hollered in return.
"Cut that out and get to the table. Dinner's ready" Mom said.
I should have known. The kitchen's smoke alarm routinely beat her call to dinner by three minutes.
*        *        *
Two belts strapped together formed my stirrups.  A throw pillow between them for a saddle.  A gift-shop whip and goggles thrown by the pros at meet's end for souvenirs.  A sturdy couch.  A rope wrapped around the far leg and pulled over the back of the couch for reins.

A mother, who was at her most patient when I was out of ear-shot.

A father, researching or writing tomorrow's column, locked away in his den.

This was my home, my living room and my racetrack.

But in my mind's eye I saw only the magnificent grandstand of Saratoga.
 005postSaratogaGrandstand.JPG*        *        *
Sometimes my big brother would want to ride. When he did I would call the races off an old program.

He hated when I called the races.

Owners would have loved me.  First, twelfth or anywhere in between, your horse got a call at every pole.

My brother is four and a half years older than me and did the things most big brothers do to little brothers.  He made my life hell.

He picked on me, tormented me, beat me up, teased the devil out of me, blamed me at every turn for the trouble he'd get himself into and poke fun at me at every opportunity.

And he hated it when I called the races.

He'd get tired after each one.  He'd yell at me because it took too long.

But that's not why he hated me calling the races.

He would have beads of sweat pouring from under his makeshift helmet.  His palms would get sweaty and he'd lose his stick.

That wasn't why either.

Sometimes, at the head of the stretch, I'd make a call where his horse charged from far back, passing foes like they were standing still. He'd pick them off one by one.   This always made him smile.

He loved this too.  He loved to "ride" and win.  He grew confident in the stretch.  He felt proud. 

Then, perhaps callously, I would scream in desperation how his horse took a bad step, stumbled and went to the ground, taking its jockey with it.

That wasn't why he hated me calling the races.

Oddly enough, the crazy bugger liked jumping or falling off the couch and onto the ground when I did that.

What he seemed to forget was this:  it's his little brother that is the jockey in the family.

Not him.

Me!

He did love to ride the closers, though.   "A quarter mile to the finish" or a Dave Johnson-esque "...and down the stretch they come" was when he'd put it in Cordero-mode.

He worshiped Cordero.

In my calls he'd weave and cajole his way through horses.  That, he liked.

Oh, I made him ride.  I made him ride those horses hard.  I made work, whip and drive to the wire in every race.  He and his rival would drive to the finish like Affirmed and Alydar.

When they hit the sixteenth pole I'd look up from my program, and without fail I could see him fighting back the smile.

There was that confidence again.

That pride.

005postfamilybreakfastatsaratoga.jpgPoised to tuck the whip and ready for the win photo across the wire.

God, he loved that.

Me?

Sure.  I loved it too.

I loved it because for every time he'd pick on me, torment, tease, hit, blame or poke fun at me I would happily see to it that that son-of-a-you-know-what would get clipped by a neck, a head or a nose at the wire in every race he rode.

It was a 10-year-old's sweetest revenge.

Because I was the Jockey.

#     #     #
When my girlfriend, Stacy, asked me to name the one thing I loved most about Saratoga I took her question seriously, even though I seriously doubted I could come up with an answer.

I was right.  I couldn't.

It wasn't because there are hundreds of things to love about the town, although that does present a challenge.

001postdawnbreaks.JPGIt's because a lifetime of memories and the idyllic dreams I had as a child keep me from defining it.  

Why?  Because once I do it would feel like THAT ONE THING has to be it.

I could never do that to myself.

The history of Saratoga is so greatly well storied and so markedly magnificent that it parallels nothing.  

What makes her even grander is that she continues to write new chapters year after year.

Founded by Gideon Putnam and marked as the nation's first resort town, Saratoga Springs has been the home to a turning point in the Revolutionary War.  It is the village thousands gathered to in order to take advantage of its waters and their mysterious ways of healing.  Lest we forget, the home to the greatest gambling and racing stories ever assembled in one place.

To get here you follow writer Red Smith's directions of "From New York City you drive north for about 175 miles, turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years."

She is unlike any place on earth.

She brings you back to a time when men wore ties and hats to the races, ladies dressed in the most gloriously beautiful dresses, accentuated with diamonds whose sparkle rivaled that of the August sun.

I am hoping to do the same on these pages, or at least, provide you with stories and images that allow yourself to imagine a time long ago.

Over the coming weeks I will post stories of the players, the characters, the people and horses, the waters, homes and hotels of Saratoga that has made this place the paradise on earth I believe her to be.

I invite you to come back with me.  See what Saratoga was like in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and why she is, in the 21st century, just as impressive today.

I may not be able to answer Stacy's question directly but I can share that one of my favorite things about Saratoga is she allows me - and welcomes me - to visit a time long ago on this very day.

You are welcome to email me at saratogascribbler@gmail.com with your stories and memories.  I would love to hear them all.

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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.