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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.
This 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.
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.
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.
Runaway 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.
- We 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.
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.
* * *
"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
It 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.
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
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.
I'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.Runaway Jim (gray-outside) is several lengths behind the leaders, but gaining with each strideMoments 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
Runaway Jim ran fourth in a field of eight yesterday, earning Seabrook Stable his third check (i.e. his keep for the month) in four starts and we open the condition book to see what's next.
Sigh. And that folks, is horse racing.
When we got to the paddock my nausea subsided the instant I saw him in the ring.
He looked great. Just great. His ears were up, he was walking happy and he knew that today he gets to play with his friends.
Can I just tell you what a great feeling it is to see that?
To see him on his toes. To see him happy.
Years ago, an old friend of mine named Brian Mayfield, once told me "Patrick, my horses are happy and happy horses win horse races."
No one could disagree with him and when I saw Jim yesterday, he sure as heck wasn't going to get an argument out of me.
He circled a couple of times then he was saddled. Number five on the program, Stacy saw it as a sign.
You see, she's as die hard an Eagles fan as they come. She loves McNabb.
See where I'm going here? Green saddle cloth. Number five. McNabb - an Eagle for years, he wore number five...
Her brother Ken - a Jets fan, me - a Giants fan, joked like the Eagles he'll go to the front, look unstoppable then, as they do, get caught in the end.
She wasn't laughin'.
Moments after she grimaced at our failed attempts at humor, all thoughts of football went out the window for all of us. 'Cause baby, this is horse racing at the Spa and there ain't no football game better than this.
Enter jockey Jose Lezcano.
He's had a tough meet at the Spa but he works hard, he rides hard and he's as talented a jockey in a tough New York colony as you'll ever find. He came to us confident.
"I think today's the day" he said, after seeing how good Jim looked in the paddock.
Whether jocks tell owners that or not in every race they have a shot, I don't know. But we were excited and so we were happy to believe him.
They break from the gate and he broke clean, initially. A few steps out he got bounced around like a pinball in a machine. But that's to be expected. That happens.
He sat chill off a decent pace, a bit slower than he's seen in races past, and was in a good spot.
When they turned for home Lezcano put Jim in gear and he started to move, chasing the leaders.
Then, as they bunched up in the straight, I saw Lezcano stand up.
"%&*#" I thought to myself; or as I came to realize I thought out loud. I'd like to apologize to those in the Clubhouse boxes who may have heard me.
I'd like to apologize to Tom Durkin on the roof, who probably heard me.
Something happened. Either he got cut off or bumped.
His momentum got crushed.
Once settled Lezcano bore down and went to the stick, driving him as best he could.
The winners combined for an exacta that paid better than $600.
Jim got beat for third by a neck.
These aren't excuses. This, friends, is horse racing.
You never know what's going to happen.
You never know what kind of trip they'll get.
You never know where they'll finish.
But you always hope for the best and you're grateful for the opportunity to run.
Especially at the Spa.
I have to make a note as to the Guest Services personnel at NYRA. In both events when Jim ran and Stacy and I travelled the 200+ miles to watch, we were treated with amazing kindness and professionalism.
To make it clear the only people who knew she was an owner was the Director of Horsemen Relations. It's not like there was any kind of special treatment here.
Not the guest services folks in the red vests or blazers. Not the tellers. Not the food and beer vendors.
Besides, it wouldn't matter if she or I or any of us owned horses. We were guests at Saratoga Race Course and they treated us wonderfully well.
There is nothing better when making a trip to the races and your tellers are smiling, happy to help you (not that I needed help with any racing terminology), your food and beverage vendors are thrilled to have the opportunity to wait on you and the guest services personnel are behaving in such a manner that we are doing THEM the favor of helping us when we have a question.
So, to all of you who work at NYRA taking care of us, my sincerest thanks to you all!
Back to Jim for a moment though.
Sure. We ran fourth. I admit I found a silver lining in not getting sick or passing out as a minor victory in the overall day. But I would be less than honest if I didn't also admit we were frustrated.
There is a huge difference in one's mindset when you are in the money versus hitting the board.
Third would have been better, of course.
A clean trip would have been ideal. Who knows the possibilities if he had one.
Stacy still managed to smile through it all. She keeps a perspective on these things that I envy.
Dwelling on what could have been, or what we thought should have been, is pure foolishness. A waste of time. There is nothing that can be done about that now.
We do, however, remain grateful that he came back out of the race feeling fit, sound and happy; anxious to go again. After all, that is what matters most.
...but the condition book was opened, I can promise you, before the horses hit the track for the fourth race.
We love you, Jim. You're our favorite! Heck, that's why we even made a Facebook page for you!
Go Jim, Go!Photographs:
Photo Finish picture courtesy NYRA
All others: Patrick J. Kerrison Saratoga Collection
It is with great pride that I live vicariously through the beautiful
brown eyes of my girlfriend Stacy. I ride her coattails with pleasure
and without shame.
doing so I get to realize the dreams of a childhood blessed with
decades of Saratoga experiences and it isn't even with my horse.
first happened on July 25th and I had the time of my life. I had
experienced something unlike anything I have ever known before.
I get to do it again on Sunday, and I still can't believe this life I get to live.
* * *
Runaway Jim will run between eight foes out of the five-hole when they spring the latch for Sunday's third at Saratoga.
Tim Hills charge will be making his fourth attempt at breaking his
maiden against NY-breds and for the fourth time.
Jose Lezcano remains aboard (pictured at Belmont).
has raced fourth, sixth and third in three starts. His first two on
grass, he didn't take to the footing. His third place finish came here,
on dirt, going five-and-a-half furlongs.
Sunday is a new day. He goes six panels and I'm just as nervous - and excited.
And he isn't even my horse. Did I mention that already? Sigh.
It is in times like these I do what any self respecting (read: desperate)
racing fan would do ... turn to prayer.
Please don't let me throw up in the paddock.
promise to be good. I promise to eat all my vegetables. I promise to
make it to the vigil mass on Saturday evening in lieu of my Sunday
commute to Saratoga.
And please don't let me pass out.
Please don't let me throw up or pass out. That's all I'm askin'.
clean break would be good. You know, if it's not too much trouble.
Maybe ... I don't know ... maybe he can finish really well and come back
Oh, and ... umm ... if you can see it somewhere in your
Sacred Heart to allow Jim to win by the length of the stretch Sunday
afternoon, hey ... it's all good. No worries there, mate.
to recap, please don't let me fall ill or drop unconscious while
entering or standing in the Saratoga Race Course paddock. Please let
Jim break clean, finish well, come back sound, and with a decisive
victory under his girth. For this I pray and all I'm askin'.
Note: Any winnings I may make on the race I publicly promise to tithe.
p.s. it's ok if I wrap the vegetables in bacon, right? Everything's better with bacon.
* * *
time Jim ran here it was all I could do to stand straight. To maintain
my composure. To keep my wits. And yes, to not prematurely rid myself
it not for the well timed hand in the crux of my elbow, and the soft
reassuring words of an amazing woman, I can't say I would have made it
If you read my post on him in late July you'd be aware of my declaration of "I am a wuss
" when it comes to racing at The Spa.
To stand in the paddock for Jim's race?
Well ... I was a mess. Just a mess.
Maybe I oughta make sure Stacy eats HER
vegetables ... just so the poor woman can hold me up.
* * *
There's an old racing adage:You know how to make a small fortune in horse racing?
You start with a large one!
However, the increasing popularity of horse partnerships proves it doesn't have to be that way anymore.
Point Thoroughbreds is a great example. Perhaps the most notable of
Thoroughbred Ownership Partners, they recently celebrated a Grade I
victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup with Awesome Gem.
I'd bet they
would be the first to tell you winning a race, at any level, can bring
an unparalleled joy to an owner. Especially if they're new to the
sport, and horse ownership.
Well, that is the heart of Seabrook Stable too. Great people who love the game and want the thrill of seeing their horse run.
a small group of family and friends who each have a percentage of the
horse. Some have 10%, some less, some more. But when Jim makes it to
the track, you'd think each of them have a 100% interest ... because in a
matter of speaking, they do.
A handful of Seabrook Stable owners at Belmont, settling their nerves after a visit at the concessions
For each of them, when the field heads to the gate, there is a
generously prescribed amount of anxiety and excitement. There's a dose
of fear that rushes through their veins, too.
"I just don't want him to get hurt," my Stacy says.
"I know, honey," I reply. "None of us do."
* * *
Jim was named by her brother Ken (pictured above, second from the right) after the song by Phish. As big a fan
this group has ever known, Ken has followed these guys on tour like the
ambulance follows horses during a race ... one is seemingly ever without
I suppose for the sake of the family it's a good thing
he isn't a diehard country fan. Jim might have been named "She Got the
Ring and I Got the Finger" or "I Still Miss You Baby, but my Aim is
I reckon The Jockey Club may not have let those pass.
Ken did well. Runaway Jim is a great name for a racehorse and to this
family Jim is
family. Stacy and Ken's mum and dad own the dam, an
unraced mare named Miniconjon.
While visiting them at their home,
she and I would ride our bikes to feed Minnie carrots every day. We
would regale her with stories of her son's progress.
We like to
think she listened and was proud of her boy. That she stopped chewing
her carrots for just a moment and reflected on what her baby has done,
and what he hopes to do.
Alas, that was not the case.
As it so happened, when we ran outta carrots, she ran outta interest.
Such is a day in the life of a muddah.
Like Mother Like Son
Miniconjon and Stacy, 201 Jim as a yearling
In the meantime, we all remain steadfast in our hope to one day amuse
her with stories of Jim's accomplishments, whatever they may be.
we hope for most of all is to tell her how healthy her son has been
throughout his racing career. That he's fit, strong and most
importantly, sound. That he eats every meal and cleans out his feed bucket.
After all, what matters more than his well being?
That said, how cool would it be for him to win?
Preferably without me screaming at my shoes in the paddock ... or passing out.
Go Jim, Go!
It all happened rather quickly.
When we got word that yesterday's fifth race was taken off the turf, I had to call NYRA back and speak to someone else, just to get the information confirmed. It was confirmed.
I bellowed to my girlfriend, Stacy.
"THEY'RE OFF THE TURF! GET SHOWERED! WE'RE GOING TO SARATOGA!"
And just like that Runaway Jim, who was entered for the main track only, gets his first start at Saratoga and we had a 200+ mile road trip ahead of us.
A three-year-old gray gelding by Freud out of Miniconjon, he is owned by Seabrook Stable. This was his third attempt at breaking his maiden.
The Seabrook Stable is the perfect example of the bread and butter that make horse racing viable.
They are a group of friends and family members, each with a financial and rooting interest, in a small number of racehorses. They are one of hundreds around the country that keep the business going. Ask any racing official, without the owners we'd all be selling hot dogs on street corners.
They make the game affordable and it is professionally run with solid communication amongst their owners. The possibilities for future endeavors with additional horses are realistic and the thrills that come with ownership are, in a word, indescribable.
Although nicknamed Marshmallow in his barn - not the most competitive or intimidating of nicknames, I grant you - Runaway Jim is no softie.
Upon his entrance into the paddock yesterday Jim came in fit, ripped and professional. We saw him twice at Belmont before this; once looking on his toes and interested in all around him, the second not as focused.
Sunday he was a new man of sorts. He knew what he was there for and he had his mind on his business.
If nothing else his appearance in the paddock was encouraging and fed an already growing enthusiasm that - speaking only for myself- was already hard to keep composed.
Do you have any idea - any idea at all - the feelings that flood a person when watching your horse in the paddock at Saratoga Race Course?Well, neither do I.
But as the boyfriend of an owner who watched it beside - and vicariously through the beautiful brown eyes of - my Stacy, I can assure you it was overwhelming.
Now I will make a public admission that some already know about me ... I am a wuss.
I am a grown man who stands six feet and one inch, two hundred and -don't-you-worry-about-how-much-more-than-that pounds, who is a big fat baby...when it comes to racing.
When it comes to racing, there's no sport I love more.
When it comes to racing at Saratoga, there is no place I would rather be.
As Stacy and I strolled the walkway into the paddock she put her arm inside mine, gently grasping the inside of my elbow. Her timing was perfect. Whether she knew it or not an emotion was running thru me I had never felt. It was all I could do to keep composed.
I had not walked into the paddock at Saratoga before and I think of it now as a coming of age experience. The kicker though is this: he isn't even my horse, for heaven's sake!
Jose Lezcano gets the leg up from the assistant trainer; they circle and head out onto the track.
When we watched Jim make his way to the track and we headed to our boxes in the Clubhouse, my knees got weak. My stomach ached. My arms felt heavy and I was repeatedly reminded to breathe.
They loaded the gate. Jim went in easily.
Those extra mornings at Gate School seemed to have helped.
Some other horse got fractious and had to be backed out.
Jim remained calm.
Very nice, Jim. Very nice. Well done.
Stacy and I, however ... well, we were a wreck.
They sprung the latch and Jim broke well from the nine-hole, inching his way closer to the rail along the backside.
My heart went in my throat. Stacy's pounded through her chest.
"Come on, Jim, win this thing," I'm thinking.
"Come on, Jim, win this thing ... oh God, don't get hurt," is on her mind.
What a pair we were.
At the three-sixteenths pole we saw him move. We noticed something different about him...he wasn't looking all over the place this time. Wearing half-cup blinkers, Jim had his mind on his business and was racing like the professional we saw in the paddock.
He was focused. He was driven. He ran his heart out.
You don't ever - and I mean ever
- ask for more of a horse than that.
He ran as well as we could have hoped for, but there was no catching the winner, Fiddler's Chaparito. He was just too good that day.
Marsh Haven finished well to earn the place spot, half a length ahead of Runaway Jim who was a good third.
Now, here's the thing. I reckon winning isn't everything. Sure, it's a sight better than losing, but to run a horse, get a good run out of him, hit the board and come out of the race healthy and feeling terrific, is a victory unto itself.
And it's one helluva thrill, too.
We knew had a 200+ mile drive back home last night and imagined it wouldn't be all that bad.
We talked of the day for nearly four hours.
We glowed with pride at how well Stacy's boy had run.
I stole more than a few glances at her when I drove us home. When I did I felt so proud and happy for her and, admittedly, a little envious. She sat there glowing.
She was so proud of how well her boy had run and happy as I have ever seen her.
There's something special about this game from a myriad of different avenues. Jocks, trainers, assistants, grooms, gamblers, all of 'em can tell you stories.
Today, the story is about an owner who gave her knucklehead boyfriend a new and better appreciation for the game and a new way to watch a race and understand the sport.
After watching races since I was a toddler I can say after 40 years I watched a race at Saratoga in a brand new light...
... and that is, arguably, one of the most thoughtful and sweetest gifts she has ever given me, and one in which I will be forever grateful for.
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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.