More Saratoga photo blog time! I spent August 15, 16, and 17 at Saratoga Race Course recently with camera in hand as a planned birthday gift to myself. Each day will get its own blog using photos I took for each one.
The great thing about Saratoga is that no matter what, something good always happens there.
A pearl of wisdom shed by my own brain cells, it was a sentence that would live on throughout the weekend’s peaks and valleys at one of America’s most treasured racetracks. And to me, the happiest place on Earth—a little shred of paradise called Saratoga Race Course.
On track to get that $30 season pass to pay for itself (it is $5 general admission this year at Toga), Fabulous Fillies Day on August 15 would mark my 5th visit to the track this meet with the following two days marking days 6 and 7 as the ideal birthday gift to myself. With two Grade 1 events lined up for the 3-day weekend, the ultimate part about going to Saratoga is finding that what you expected to be great was not nearly as great as the things that you weren’t expecting.
I awoke in a sluggish food coma that morning, dragging myself out of bed somewhat sickly to make that dark drive to catch the golden light of dawn at the Oklahoma training track. Never again will I attempt a Double Whopper with Cheese plus a Red Robin bacon cheeseburger plus birthday cake in a 5-hour span.
Obviously everyone got the memo about wearing pink.
But Friday was not so much about catching the light as I thought it would be; whatever fragments of light showed up in the early morning hours quickly made like Houdini behind a blanket of clouds for the rest of the day. It was so unusually cold, it had me thinking it was September as I pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, which would stay on for the rest of the day. Familiar face and fellow railbird/pony paparazzi fourfurlongs aka “Homeslice” arrived just before me. “You just missed Mr. Speaker!”
It was no great surprise, or not much of a loss really. I had already caught the Travers hopeful on camera, and on a much prettier summer morning on the Oklahoma training track. Wet dew coated the grass and dampened our shoes as we got in some morning hour shots with whatever available light we could. One of my favorite things about hanging out with the Slice is her carefree attitude and nonchalant approach to everything. We talked about our hopes for the future, recent stories from our everyday in-between-Saratoga lives, horses, and photography. If you’ve seen her work around here and elsewhere, Slice has a very distinct style and knack for the extreme close-up. I remarked trying to replicate it or get into it, but it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Half-jokingly, I tried the “unusual angle” stylings of Slice, which produced one of my favorite frames of the Saratoga meet thus far:
It began to rain here and there, forcing us onto the roofed corner patio— dare I nickname it the “mini Whitney viewing stand”— and made us wary of catching any turf workouts that day. But, the turf ponies came out soon enough inside the grassy oval, making it look like they were playing rather than galloping or breezing.
Trainer Tom Morley and Maggie Wolfendale (the future Maggie Morley) galloped in the rain.
Friday was the one and only day I chose to not buy a program, seeking to just enjoy the day and whatever it had to offer. With pink being the color of the day, the hat hawkers were out in force more than usual, trying to sell passing ladies— and yes, even gentlemen— an expensive, poofy hat. "I actually don’t own any pink… I checked before I got dressed this morning."
Homeslice: “Me neither.”
We came not for the hats or the Escada boutique on the grounds, but for the ponies dammit! With just one stake on the card— the John Morrissey for New York-breds— I was content to snap pictures all day while intermittently judging people, which I love almost as much as paddock judging, which I was forced to do without a program on hand to sniff out past performances.
Lady Bling and Irad Ortiz Jr on their way out of the paddock. Lady would act unladylike at the gate before going on to win her race.
My first winner of the day came immediately in race #1 to kick off what I will remember as the most regretful weekend at Saratoga I’ve ever had when it comes to the betting department. Lady Bling made a beeline to the front coming off the hocks of favored Bebop Raindrop to score at 3-1 odds on the grass while breaking her maiden. Other successful maidens of the day included Flat Out lookalike and daughter of Flatter, Upstart, who just ran away from the field in open company and Trecastle, a handsome son of Medaglia d’Oro wearing the Darley colors.
Jose Ortiz keeps the Ortiz fever going with maiden winner Upstart.
Trecastle— wow! What a looker!
The highlight of the undercard came in the 9-furlong allowance for older mares, which was attended by just 6 horses, but really put the “filly” in Fabulous Fillies Day. Several entries exited unsuccessful bids in the Coaching Club American Oaks (I) last out, and I believe all but one entry all lost to Stopchargingmaria at one point or another. There were different pluses and minuses to say for each, and with a skewed analysis by Maggie Wolfendale, I went with a gut reaction pick after seeing one filly act cool and collected while looking pretty lean cuisine. “I actually like Penwith.” I’m not normally a picker of Bernardinis, especially struggling off-form ones, but she looked ready and had the pedigree to go 9 furlongs. And run she did, storming home by 5 lengths at 8-1 odds in front of Sheer Drama. Irad Ortiz Jr was on figurative fire, giving Darley one of its two wins of the day.
Penwith took off in the stretch easily enough under Irad Ortiz Jr.
To add to the pig pile of “nice win, wish I bet on it” moments, Maximova, a filly trained by Christophe Clement, also won her next race. I liked her enough to bet on her on opening day. She was throttled back in the field until late in the stretch, and just bounced away from that field, again with Irad Ortiz Jr in the irons. Yet another good New York-bred to watch for on the grass!
Everything built up to the feature race of the Friday, the John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds going 9 furlongs on the dirt main. It was a pretty open race with a lot of different ways it could ultimately go, but the big favorite was Empire Classic Stakes winner and top New York-bred Saratoga Snacks, who would be breaking from the rail post.
Joel Rosario heard some little kids cheering on “number 1,” while jogging past on Brigand. They quickly changed their chant from “Go number 1… and go number 2, hustle!” #sometimeskidsarecute
The tempo was fast, with Weekend Hideaway taking advantage of a few missteps by Saratoga Snacks to grab ahold of the lead right out of the gate. Moonlight Song also broke well from the #5 post and went into a stalking position behind Weekend Hideaway, who set up sizzling fractions of :22 flat and :44 3/5 fractional times. Would a closer grab it?
Nope! Weekend Hideaway did it wire-to-wire by 2! Big Business was up for second with longshot West Hills Giant closing in for 3rd!
Sam the Bugler was always down to do a request, especially for the kids.
For a day mired in drizzle, overcast clouds, and pink (ugh) fashionistas, it turned out to be a memorable, lovable sort of day nonetheless. I think it was the first day I ever planned on definitely going to Saratoga where there wasn’t a big horse running or a big graded stake going down. I was there just to be there, and by the end of the day, I was way glad I was because it was going to be my last day with Homeslice, who I believe is in Maryland for goodness knows how long. After finding each other’s Tumblr accounts roughly a year ago, we met in-person at Belmont’s Super Saturday and since then, we have met up for the Cigar Mile, the Wood Memorial, the Belmont Stakes, and Saratoga’s opening weekend. It was depressing in the most uplifting of ways saying goodbye to my friend, who no doubt will go on to do great things as a professional in racing.
"Slice" and Barbara Livingston, who is also just finding out she’s LEAVING US!
To quote Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, “It’s not goodbye, it’s goodnight.”