Saturday quick picks: more on Saratoga saddling; Belair and the Woodwards; hockey

A quick check-in before heading upstate to see the family, catch the last of the fall foliage along the Taconic, and squeeze in one more visit to the Oklahoma before training there comes to an end next month.

Bennett Liebman has provided some further information and stories on the Saratoga saddling area, this one from the Knickerbocker News in a 1986 article:

LENNY HALE, NYRA senior vice president, racing secretary and handicapper: Hale, who has to answer to everyone for just about everything, has some of the answers to some of the complaints.

*The paddock area where horses are saddled was finally fenced off from the public this year out of a long-time concern for the safety of both fans and horses. “People aren’t aware how they should act around horses. We’ve had people walk up behind a horse and pat it on the rear end. That’s near suicide. Also, this gave us back a large area for the public, which fills up each day sooner than any other area.”

From Matt Graves in the Times-Union in July 1986:

“With these changes, we’ve made everything a lot safer and we’ve maintained the tradition of saddling under the trees at the same time,” said Hale.

“It’s a marvelous idea,” said trainer P.G. Johnson. “It will be especially good for the young horses up there. There’s a lot of stress on them and they’re not used to being surrounded by people.”

Check out the full articles for further thoughts on the Saratoga meet from those at Saratoga that summer, including Woody Stephens, Jorge Velasquez, and groom Andy Roland. This one may be my favorite:

Jean Tann, racing fan, typist: “I don’t think it’s any place for real tiny infants. If I get run over by one more baby carriage, I’m going to scream.”

The new saddling area was not all that was new about the 1986 meeting; Matt Graves notes the “institution of Pick Six wagering” for the first time at the Spa.

Thanks again to Bennett Liebman for his time and research, and for the invaluable information he provided.

In other racing history news, check out Kevin Martin’s story at Colin’s Ghost on our visit last weekend to the Belair Stable Museum in Maryland. Great photos and information on Belair and the Woodwards.

It’s been a while since I’ve missed a Saturday at the races, and as pleased as I am to be heading to Saratoga, missing any opportunity to go to Belmont Park makes me regretful. Only three more Saturday left in this year’s fall meet, and even on dreary days, even on empty days, I never regret spending a day out at the immense Belmont oval.

I was thinking about this last night and this morning, during and after my trip to Madison Square Garden for the Rangers’ home opener.  I used to love going to the Garden: I’d walk in and see that iconic ceiling, that gleaming sheet of ice, and feel as if I’d entered a cathedral. Frequency has diminished that sense of sacredness, as has, perhaps, the addition of a decade, the retirement of the players of my generation, the sad sinking of the team into mediocrity.

When I got to the Garden last night, I found huge parts of it boarded up for the major renovation it’s undergoing; big areas of natural light were obscured, views of the city gone, walkways and halls overcrowded because passages were restricted by the construction. Walking to my section felt like trying to get up the Deegan on a Friday afternoon.

I sought respite in a Molson Canadian, now a cool and even $10, up from last season. Add that to my $37 ticket (the cheapest in the house), and a night at the Garden is awfully expensive.  Forget the hot dogs.

Maybe I’ve just gotten old, but the vulgarities spewed at players and each other from my fellow blue seat denizens sounded cruder than I remember. Racist, sexist, homophobic comments flew over my head and behind my back…my own command of profanity is pretty impressive, but even I was daunted by the invectives hurled from puck drop to final horn.

During the pre-game introductions, the fans booed a player, before he’d so much as taken a shift on his home ice this season; cold comfort, perhaps, that he scored the first home goal of the season a little later.

The Rangers went ahead 1-0, fell behind 3-1 by the end of an abysmal second period, and mounted a rally to send the game to overtime, in which they lost. Last year’s NHL punching bag, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now 4-0.

As a Twitter friend reminded me after the game, “41 more games to go!”

And only two more Saturdays at Belmont.

Matt Graves, “It’s Opening Day at Saratoga…” Times-Union, July 30, 1986.

Matt Graves, “Saratoga Renovation Creates Elbow Room,” Times-Union, July 23, 1986.

Carolyn Garrison Oliver, “’’Bettor’ or Worse Fans, Bigwigs, Riders, See Pros And Cons.”  The Knickerbocker News, August 21, 1986.

Tim Wilkin, “20,648 Attend Saratoga’s Open House,” Times-Union, July 28, 1986.

4 thoughts on “Saturday quick picks: more on Saratoga saddling; Belair and the Woodwards; hockey

  1. I spent much of my youth at the Garden watching the Knicks and Rangers in the late 70’s and 80’s and the vulgarities were just as ugly-if not worse than now. Also, attending a metal or rock concert was downright dangerous back than, now the security is at least responsive to fights-back than you were own your own to defend yourself. I find the security much better now-back than any potential victim just kept quiet, afraid to challenge the ugly masses.

  2. I’ve had season tickets to the Rangers for a decade–all in the blue seats–and I’ve been going to the Garden since I was four years old; I don’t recall hearing fans yell with impunity what they yell now. Security may well jump in when fans are fighting, but apparently, one can scream vulgar and homophobic vulgarities, at the players and at other spectators with impunity.

  3. I agree with much of what’s been written above. Been going to Ranger games for 40 years, mostly blue seats, and while it’s definitely safer, it’s also a lot less fun (for me, anyway). I used to get so psyched for a game when I would climb out of the subway and smell the hot pretzels and chestnuts in the chilly air. Seems to be gone, as are the airhorns, The Chief (the late Bob Comas-Sheepshead Bay resident), the bugle guy, the live organist, The GAG line, Eddie, The Smurfs, The Captain, and countless long-time fans who might’ve been a little more passionate about the team and just a bit more creative with their insults and profanity. (BTW, I can’t recall ever seeing a fan reprimanded or ejected for foul language.) I even miss the smoke! I think the ease with which season ticket holders can dump their unwanted tickets to whomever has changed the makeup of the crowd. Much less involved, and like everywhere else you go, too busy staring into some hand held device and texting every single inane thought they have back and forth to some other zombie. I realize time marches on, and things have to change. I admit many things have changed for the better (HDTV?). And MSG can still rock when the Rangers are good and making noise in the playoffs. But 3-4 games a season is more than enough for me at this point. In conclusion……LET”S GO RANGERS!!!!!!! AND SHOOT THE GODDAMN PUCK, IT’S A POWER PLAY FOR CHRIST SAKE!!!!!!

    • It was really foul last Friday. Not at all psyched to be back there this weekend.

      But hey, if you’re looking for tickets, talk to me! Blue seats, face value!

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