Listening to the sound of raindrops pound outside my window, I am, for the first time in nine years, anticipating the start of Saratoga’s biggest race day not from the backyard, but from the cozy confines of my rental, a few blocks from the track.
In 2000, I joined my brother and his friends in their annual tradition of arriving at the track at 4 a.m. to line up in preparation for the mad dash for a backyard picnic table. An hour or so after we arrived, a friend would show up with coffee and breakfast, and when we were safely ensconced at our table—in roughly the same spot every year—we’d break out the Bloody Marys and begin the countdown to post time.
Real life intrudes this year: Brother Backstretch has to leave for a business trip at dawn tomorrow, and for the first time in decades, he’ll miss the Travers. I think that he’s been present for every one since 1978, our first year in Saratoga. The day won’t be the same without him.
Even with his absence, though, and with the presence of far too much rain and mud, it’s Travers Day, and in the Backstretch household, that’s a major holiday. One of the races that I’ve been anticipating is the Grade III Victory Ride, today’s seventh race, in which Sara Louise makes her return to the track since last fall.
I met Sara Louise at Saratoga last summer, before she’d made her first start; Robby Albarado sang her praises, and I watched her progress through the fall, cheering her maiden win at Belmont and following from afar when she went back to Kentucky. I learned over the winter that she’d been sold to Godolphin and shipped overseas, and I wondered when we might see her back on these shores.
She’s got the distinction of being the last horse to beat Rachel Alexandra, and she’s spotted ambitiously in her first race in nine months, to the day.
I’ve always been fondest of horses that I’ve seen first at Saratoga, and two others that I’ve followed since last summer are back today racing at the Spa today: Capt. Candyman Can in the King’s Bishop and Kensei in the Travers.
The historical piece that I hoped to post here ended up in the Saratogian instead—check it out for a look at the first Travers winner, Kentucky, who had a knack for winning big stakes races on opening day at a new racetrack.
I spent Travers Day 2002 drenched and cold in the backyard; it poured persistently all day; I wore boots (when packing for Saratoga, one must remember that fall begins to arrive during the third week of August); and I stood in mud up to my ankles as I watched Medaglia D’Oro win. In 2004, I, like many other track patrons, thought that Dorothy’s tornado would arrive at Travers post time, and dashed through a nearly apocalyptic thunderstorm when the last race of the day was cancelled following Birdstone’s victory.
Here’s hoping that a little moisture doesn’t stop race fans from coming out to enjoy and wager on a terrific day of racing. Today’s forecast offers little optimism for respite from unrelenting rain, but a sodden Travers Day is still cause for celebration. They’ve raced here since 1863 and run this race since 1864, so here’s to the 140th running of the Travers—good luck and safe trips to all…