#HORSERACING: MY FIRST TIME AT SARATOGA
Visiting Saratoga Race Course has been a dream of mine for quite some time now. The picturesque racetrack in Saratoga Springs, New York, just about a six-hour drive from Toronto, boasts tons of history dating back to 1863. Every Summer, New York’s Horse Racing fans see the thrills migrate from a spring meet at Belmont Park in Elmont, to a 40-day meet at Saratoga. Here some of the sport’s finest athletes, equine and human, convene for some lucrative purses and prestige with cards jam-packed with stakes action.
While Saratoga Springs and its treasured race course possess time-honoured traditions and charms, there is an undeniable energy that keeps it feeling young and alive. The downtown strip along Broadway is filled with cute shops, restaurants, cafés, museums and theatres which while old school, very much cater to trends and tastes of today. The City’s two colleges, Skidmore and Empire State keep its spirit young. Horse Racing-inspired art and memorabilia can be seen front and center on-display at several galleries and shops, while more than a few on-trend restaurants advertise Wagyu beef in their burgers. Local artists can be heard singing and playing, a different act as you pass along a litany of watering holes, one advertising an upcoming appearance by The Hills’ Audrina Patridge. Audiences cheer and sing along, while the races from Del Mar are broadcast on installed TVs. This is a place that nurtures Artists and their craft. Couples can be heard discussing the day’s races in-line getting Ice Cream and I wonder if this all is a dream! Horse Racing certainly is in the blood and veins of Saratogians, native and honourary even if there for just a quick visit.
Super-cute and kitschy finds and Double Peanut Butter Pie Ice Cream at Kilwins in Saratoga
My buddy Julie and I had talked about visiting Saratoga for quite some time. With my beloved dog Billy being ill for the past couple years, venturing away on long weekends became a daunting task and only after he passed away this winter, I realized that this finally might be the Summer I could make it out. It was the right time to visit.
Saratoga‘s Socialite Queen Marylou Whitney sadly had just passed away late July and much was being done to celebrate her including a Saturday that was pink-themed (her favourite colour) the re-branding of an entrance at the racetrack in her memory and also a scheduled induction to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, which she never got to enjoy while here. Above that, the Grade I Whitney Handicap was to be run this past weekend as part of the Fasig-Tipton Racing Festival, culminating in The Saratoga Sale, a high-end yearling auction Monday and Tuesday. Morale was down a bit and Saratoga Race Course had the remedy to lift it.
The newly-minted Marylou Whitney Entrance
Saratoga‘s famed Congress Park Carousel Sea Hero statue dressed in pink
Upon arriving downtown, I’m told by Julie how incredible the breakfast is at UNCOMMON GROUNDS and we spot right away going in, Horse Racing’s favourite couple, Julien & Shea Leparoux. The Café already had run-out of her favourite Blueberry Scones, but we chat with Mrs. Leparoux about the time they came to Toronto for Tepin‘s smashing win in the Woodbine Mile and all the amazing memories she has of our City where she trained once as a Disney performer. We also chat about their performing a Karaoke rendition of Shallow from A Star is Born earlier in the week at a fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. I could tell already this visit was going to be amazing and the Avocado Bagel and Green Smoothie sealed the deal.
The Leparouxs and Breakfast at Uncommon Grounds
Another sign of good things to come was Julie and I walking-up Broadway where we spotted a dog who looked exactly like her Westie, Wyatt. A few steps behind, I see a carbon copy of my Billy and we both wondered if this was a sign of some sort. I couldn’t process how much a doppelganger the Shih Tzu was, it was as if Billy had been reborn. I asked the owner if I could hold him, Milo, whom I learned was a year old, which messes-up the reincarnation theory I had in my head. Holding him filled my heart with happiness, yet also an incredible sense of longing as I miss Billy so much. I WhatsApped my mom and she couldn’t believe her eyes. See for yourself!
Milo & Me
If anything, all of this made me realize again that I do want another dog sooner than later!
We check-in to our amazing Airbnb, which literally is five minutes from Saratoga Race Course and the downtown strip on Broadway. It had a rain shower head. It was heaven. Sorry for all the Saratoga Springs water I wasted, loitering in the shower.
Finally arriving at the track late morning, I am in awe of what I see. Row upon row of picnic tables and lawn chairs for couples, families and friends to set-up shop for an afternoon under the sun. We hear that grandstand seats and securing a table to sit at the Track is quite pricey and done by reservation – although many did pay for the luxury. As a result of this, many just camp-out, which also is great if you can find a spot in the shade. TVs displaying the races and betting stations are abundant, hence regardless, you can be part of the festivities even if you’re not trackside.
Camping is the way to go at Saratoga
Then finally we witness the magic with our own eyes. The track is even more beautiful than imagined…
Above this, the options for food and drink are the best I’ve ever seen at the races. Shake Shack (with a limited edition Sloppy Track milkshake available at Saratoga only), Hattie’s Fried Chicken (incredible!), Fourstardave (a bar named after the race course hero – order The Sunrise!), Dunkin’ Donuts, Lobster Rolls, Tacos, Lemonade stands, Fried Dough and so many more temptations!
You also must try the Trackside Breakfast where you can enjoy a buffet up till 9:30 AM for about $20, while watching the horses jog across the Main Track.
And off they went!
We were thrilled to see veteran Macagone (pronounced Mah-kay-gen), an eight-year-old grinder whom under Jose Lezcano, set a new course record for Trainer Jason Servis, upping his bankroll to $636k from 41 starts… and winning me $100!
Bill Mott trainee Casa Creed (by Jimmy Creed) would then go on to win the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes, under Junior Alvarado, his kids cheering him on.
We were thrilled to see our friend Melanie Giddings (she worked many years for Mark Casse at Woodbine) in the Winner’s Circle as Tom’s d’Etat took the Alydar Stakes with Joel Rosario aboard, for Trainer Albert Stall Jr. Love the passion she shows for her horses!
There was never a doubt that Concrete Rose would take the $750k Saratoga Oaks and she made it look so effortless going wire to wire with Julien Leparoux in the saddle! The George Arnold II trainee has been unstoppable this year and we caught one of her proud owners, Bo Bromagen discreetly snapping pics of her in the walking ring.
We were up and at ’em early the next day, vowing to visit our friends on the backstretch and also beautiful Oklahoma Training Track.
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset refined his craft under the guidance of Bill Mott and he is a force to be reckoned with. We got to meet some of his well-bred stable stars.
The Black Album (FR) who just won the Toronto Cup at Woodbine. His Groom Lesley Howes also is from Canada.
Violencia won at first asking earlier this year in Florida with a huge speed figure. Assistant Trainer Austin Motley is to her left.
New Day Dawning is a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and Ready to Act. You might remember Ready to Act competing in the Natalma Stakes at Woodbine in 2013, leading all the way only to veer-in and unseat her rider Rajiv Maragh right before the finish.
We’ve always been a fan of Norm Casse and are thrilled his own stable is taking-off, winning his first stake this Summer. Assistant Trainer Sarah Campion is a gem and has been with him since their time under Norm‘s father, Mark and she was so nice to introduce us to some very special two-year-olds, who happen to be owned by the late Marylou Whitney including Pow Wow Prince (by Cairo Prince), Bird Map (by Liam’s Map) and Tuff Bird (by Congrats).
We have so much respect for our friend Cherie Devaux whom also is seeing the returns of her hard work since branching on her own as a Conditioner. We first met her when she was an Assistant to the world’s number one-ranked Trainer Chad Brown. She’s been in-the-money 14 out of 36 races this year with her own trainees, which is impressive. We spotted her out at the Oklahoma Training Centre with husband David Ingordo, a respected Bloodstock Agent, both fully-focused. Below that is her with one of her winners, filly Heartstrings who won first try at 39-1 odds.
Top Trainer Chad Brown’s operation is a well-oiled machine. We’re so delighted to have an opportunity to hang-out for a quick minute at his barn, which houses megastars like Bricks and Mortar, Guarana, Rushing Fall, Wow Cat (CHI), Sistercharlie (IRE), Woodbine‘s Summer Stakes winner Fog of War, and several more. Office Manager Asia Savasta kindly showed us around and it is almost impossible not to be starstruck by the caliber of talent.
The undefeated Guarana, Savasta and I
Pegasus Turf winner Bricks and Mortar
Breeders’ Cup champion Sistercharlie (IRE)
Breeders’ Cup champion Rushing Fall
Wow Cat (CHI)
Fog of War
Team Chad Brown
We love seeing our friends at the barn of Mark Casse as always and we’re so proud of Assistant Trainer Jamie Begg, who used to work at Woodbine under Roger Attfield. His parents Jeff & Annabel of Windways Farm, also happen to have co-owned Breeders’ Cup victress and Canadian Horse of the Year, Catch a Glimpse.
Team Casse notched two stakes scores this past weekend at Saratoga including the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes with Got Stormy and also the Grade II Adirondack Stakes with two-year-old filly Perfect Alibi (by Sky Mesa). Got Stormy faces Chad Brown‘s Uni and male opposition in this weekend’s Fourstardave.
How about this adorable photo of Got Stormy and Preakness Stakes winner War of Will showing each other some love?
George Arnold II had a great weekend winning the Troy Stakes above the Saratoga Oaks, with Leinster. Tyler Gaffalione was aboard the win.
We are in love with Christophe Clement stablemates Disco Partner and Pure Sensation and couldn’t resist Selfies, which they happen to be really good at!
Godolphin‘s Lucullan prevailed in the Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes under Luis Saez, for Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Super-cool seeing local outfit Sam-Son Farm represented too this past weekend with Say the Word and Zadracarta Stakes winner Desert Isle. Trainer Graham Motion and his beautiful family also graced us with their presence!
I’ll admit, one of the reasons I came to Saratoga was to see striking filly Covfefe run in the Grade I Test Stakes. Owned by LNJ Foxwoods, the super-fast daughter of Into Mischief, fought gamely to win the race over Kentucky Oaks champion Serengeti Empress. Named after a cryptic and non-sensical Tweet by Donald Trump, the Brad Cox-trainee is the gift that keeps on giving. Loved meeting her overjoyed and teary-eyed Co-Owner, the magnetic Jaime Roth en route to the Winner’s Circle! Only in Saratoga would you run into Cox having Fish & Chips at a pub the night after!
The big winner of the day was Bob Baffert charge McKinzie, taking the $1.2 million Whitney Handicap under legendary Mike Smith in a hand ride over Bill Mott-trained Yoshida (JPN). Going-off as the choice, the four-year-old son of Street Sense defied Saratoga‘s reputation as being the Graveyard of Favourites.
While a little bit drained from the heat and being on our feet all weekend, we had just enough left for our last day in Saratoga, the Sunday. We couldn’t leave without seeing the scenic Clare Court Jogging Track.
And also we couldn’t help but admire the track’s new building extension and its gorgeous copper roof!
In addition to it being Legends Day, where several iconic jockeys came out to sign autographs in support of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance also came out to present the first race, won by Daphne Moon (by Cairo Prince), trained by Jeremiah Englehart.
Some legends we spotted this weekend:
D. Wayne Lukas
NYRA Announcer Larry Collmus
Angel Cordero Jr… it took literally three asks before he did it, over two days!!
Our own Sandy Hawley and his partner Kaoru Tsuchiya-Hawley, also came out for an appearance Legends Day!
Some future legends:
Jamaica‘s Georgina Stergeon
Fools Gold took the Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes on the turf for Team Chad Brown, under Javier Castellano. She is by Medaglia d’Oro out of Woodbine-based mare Moment of Majesty.
Woodbine-based filly Get Explicit, trained by Barb Minshall, ran a huge race to get second under Ricardo Santana Jr. Minshall‘s Assistant Chad Elder and Sovereign Award-winning Groom Dexter Brathwaite were present. We hear she’s being pointed for the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes this October at Woodbine.
The inaugural Saratoga Derby was taken by longshot A Thread of Blue, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Luis Saez.
And lastly, this trip wouldn’t have been amazing without the amazing people! So lucky to have an awesome travel buddy in Julie who knew all the spots to hit-up and how to navigate Saratoga. And it was a blessing I went at a time so many of friends were around. Loved seeing so many smiling faces, familiar and new, who made this feel like home away from home! Thank you also to the NYRA for the warm welcome!
Ren Hakim Carothers
Jude Feld, Mike & Michelle Penna
Julie, Keith McCalmont (formerly of Woodbine), Bailey Gallison and I
Kim, Sherrie Courtney, Acacia Courtney and I
Alysse Jacobs & Carmen Barrera, whom we are saddened to hear had passed away yesterday – our condolences to all who were touched by her bright spirit
Jenna Bray, Lakin and Braelyn
Sarah Volpe & Juan Bernardini Calderon – please remember to support our GoFundMe for Conquest Daddyo right here.
Julie, Sheri Riddoch, Sienna and I
Sean Patrick Nolan
Wesley Lawrence, Liz Kruska, Dan Tordjman
I don’t believe our friend Penelope Miller of America’s Best Racing, convinced us to do this. And no it didn’t so great. Nope. I should’ve seen the warning signs when others told me to drink this mineral-rich Saratoga Springs water, yet I didn’t see them drinking it!
We did a little something for America’s Best Racing. We can’t say what, but look out for it!
Complete Facebook Album can be found here.
See you at The Spa!
(Photo credit: Mr. Will Wong/Julie Wright)