Saturday morning was the coldest so far of this early fall; I’d remembered to bring a winter coat and scarf to Saratoga, but neglected gloves, and leaving the house at 7:45 am, I regretted the oversight.
The morning was gorgeous: crisp and incredibly blue, throwing the colors in the trees into brighter relief. I couldn’t wait to get to the Oklahoma.
The big entrance by the starting gate on East Avenue was locked up tight, and I entered on Union Avenue. Oh, it was quiet; there were a few folks standing by the clockers’ stand and there were horses on the track, but I could walk around without fear of being run over by a horse, a car, or a speeding golf cart. It was intensely quiet; music and voices occasionally drifted past, and the horses’ hooves on the track punctuated the stillness.
It was clear that the folks working there were used to having the place to themselves; a woman in a fleece walking around caught more than a little attention…more curiosity than suspicions… “Who’s coming around at this time of year?”
The chill of the morning had gotten to the horses; I overheard one groom say, exasperated, to the charge to whom she was giving a bath, “I’m not going to chase you around just so I can wash your legs!” Exiting the track, an exercise rider chastised her keen mount: “No, no, no! It’s not a race! We’re just going back to the barn!”
I stopped by the barn of Dominic Galluscio, to see if some of the summer horses of a friend were still around; most had shipped back to Belmont, but Midnight Slammer was still there, and he posed coquettishly for the camera…
The attitude was business; the summer socializing left with the trainers and the horses in early September, and those left in Saratoga do their job knowing that they’ll seldom be interrupted by reporters, by owners, by visitors.
The main gate to the track was open, and I wandered in…such desolation! Maintenance and security were about, and despite the emptiness, one got the sense that plenty of work was still going on. The benches were neatly stacked, blocking the betting windows, patiently waiting for next summer; the paddock stalls, stripped of their awnings, mirrored the denuded trees nearby.
In another month or so, the Oklahoma, too, will shut down, and the workers there will take off for points south, whether that’s Florida, or New York, or Kentucky, or Louisiana. Snow will cover the backyard, and the summer place to be will be tightly under wraps until spring brings back the horses and the grooms and the verdancy.
As I drove down East Avenue, I saw that people—jogging, walking their dogs—paused at the gates of the Oklahoma to watch as the horses exercised, to take pictures. The tourists and the races are long gone, but the Spa continues to compel, and even those who pass it every day stop to enjoy it, for one more morning, until it’s all gone, until next spring…
(Is it too early to start counting the days?)