A Christmas Blast from Racing’s Past

As I wrote in my bio on the TBA homepage, my first memory of being at Saratoga Racecourse is of General Assembly’s Travers, in 1979. I was fourteen, and my family had moved to Saratoga the previous summer; my father owned a business near the racetracks, and having rented our house to “summer people,” we were living within walking distance of the flat track, as we called it.

On Travers Day that year, my younger brother and I went to the track alone; our parents were working, and we wanted to go to the races. My brother knows more about racing than I can ever hope to; he’s been a fan and student of the sport for more than thirty years, and it is largely due to him that my interest in racing was rekindled. It’s he to whom I go when I have racing questions, his opinions that I seek about racing issues. And yes, he’s the guy I check in with when I’m not sure who to bet. More often that not, he steers me in the right direction (Ghostzapper in the Vosburgh (corrected following anon’s reminder in comments); Better Talk Now in the Sword Dancer).

In 1979, the infield at Saratoga was open, and our teenage selves were so excited to be walking across the track, “in the horses’ hoofprints,” as my brother recently put it, to watch the big race. I placed my first bet, $2 show on Secretariat’s son, who I believed paid $2.10. And I was mighty excited to cash my ticket.

On Christmas morning, 2007, my brother presented me with what you see on the top right. He’d found it on eBay (where else?), and as he, too, is a fan of racing history, I thought at first it was just a cool artifact, an old Blood-Horse he’d dug up.

And then I read the caption, and saw the date (August 25th, 1979, in case you can’t make it out), and realized that I had in my hands perhaps the coolest Christmas present I’ve ever received.

8 thoughts on “A Christmas Blast from Racing’s Past

  1. What a wonderful and thoughtful gift! I wish I had a brother like that!I remember my first trip to the track. Having always loved horses, my parents thought it would be fun on our family vacation to St. Louis to cross the river and attend the horse races in Illinois one night. It was either 1969 or 1970 so I was either 9 or 10 at the time and I don’t remember the name of the track except I remember reading that it burned down several years later. I was transported into a magical world! Since I wasn’t the knowledgable horseperson I am now (snicker snicker), my mother would place my bets based upon the names and whichever horse was the most beautiful, which was really difficult since I thought they were all beautiful! But in this instance it was who pranced the most, who looked like The Black Stallion or Black Beauty or who had the shiniest coat with the lights reflecting off of them that July night. I don’t remember if I won or not, probably didn’t based on those handicapping methods – lol. But, boy did I had fun for a horse crazy kid! (Maybe I should have used that method the first meet at Keeneland when they ran over poly. Maybe I might have done better. lol.)

  2. Anon: thanks for the correction; it was the Vosburgh on Gold Cup today in 2003. Either way, I had the win. =)Changed the post to reflect your correction.Trip: I have frequently found that betting names is far more profitable than actual handicapping. =)

  3. Will your brother adopt me? What a COOL gift!Hmm…my first trip to the track was the Meadowlands when I was in high school, probably around 1978 or 1979. I don’t remember who I bet on or who won any of the races. But I’m sure I also bet based on the names of the horses. Still do most of the time LOL.

  4. Good tab in the Vosburgh, then. I didn’t know if you meant another horse in the Gold Cup or Ghostzapper but in a different race.

  5. Shockingly, Linda, given where I live, I made my first trip to the Meadowlands in March of this year–and still haven’t made it there for live Thoroughbred racing. Hey, there’s an ’08 resolution…

  6. Well, given where I now live, my first trip to Colonial Downs was THIS year! LOL I read yesterday they’ve extended their season by FIVE days for 2008!! Woo hoo!! Let’s plan to go on your next trip south.

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