Bidding Farewell

It’s over.  It’s OVER. And while there are plenty of folks out there happy to see the Spa meet come to an end, I will respectfully submit that they are out of their minds, because there is, simply, no better place to be.

Though sentimental temptation infused my ride back to Saratoga last Friday, it’s hard to be nostalgic when there’s still so much to look forward to, so the melancholy episodes were, fortunately, few and far between on a closing weekend that offered so much to anticipate. If you like storylines, you had to love Saturday’s three Grade 1 races; Sunday brought the Spinaway and a tornado watch; and on Monday, the Genaro clan held its annual backyard picnic while we waited for our friend, Saratoga native Terri Pompay, to saddle her first Grade 1 candidate at Saratoga.

Earlier this summer, six-year-old Ask the Moon ran in, and won, the first Grade 1 race of her career in the Ruffian, in her first official start for trainer Marty Wolfson.  On Saturday, she ran in, and won, the second Grade 1 race of her career  – at significantly lower odds – in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign.  Neither trainer nor owner Farnsworth Stables was present for the win, but the old mare learning new tricks sure garnered some fans at the Spa this year.

Ask the Moon

A race later, the Spa-beleaguered Nick Zito got his own Grade 1 win when Jackson Bend won the Forego.  Zito had been largely invisible during this meeting, his favorite, and was by his own admission relieved to have ended Saratoga in such fine fashion.  He’s a fan favorite and the win was a sentimental victory as well as a literal one.

Jackson Bend

And then there was the Woodward.  This renewal lacked the buzz of the 2009 edition featuring superstar Rachel Alexandra, but in the crowd and at the windows, filly Havre de Grace was the favorite, and she didn’t disappoint. Perhaps it’s good that the race wasn’t a phenomenon; maybe it means that a filly or mare racing against males doesn’t have to be particularly noteworthy. We can only hope.

Havre de Grace and her happy connections

As great as it was to see her win, I suspect that I am not alone in regretting that the Blind Luck-Havre de Grace rivalry didn’t play out at Saratoga. THAT would have been buzz-worthy.

Also on Saturday, Kitten’s Kid won and paid $57.50. And that just ROCKED.

Whatever happened on the track on Sunday was completely overshadowed by what started happening at about 5:30 pm, shortly after Grace Hall won the Spinaway.

It got dark – really dark. It started raining – really hard. The wind started blowing – really strongly. Birdstone’s Travers was evoked – really frequently.

The 11th race was run in almost total darkness, and then a tornado watch – not a warning, a WATCH – was announced, and those of us in the press box began checking resources for the safest place to be. On the roof of a really old building in a glass-enclosed room was not on the list.

So we watched the rain blow sideways, and we felt the room shake a little, and shortly after the horses crossed the finish line in the 11th, we heard Tom Durkin say, “The 12th race will be….taken off the turf.”

Incredulity mixed with mirth reigned. Or maybe rained.

He announced a few scratches, and a few minutes later, the cancellation of the 12th, shortly after the cancellation of the tornado warning. We had an earthquake and a tropical storm; avoiding a tornado was one trifecta we didn’t mind missing.

Labor Day is backyard family day in the Backstretch households, and based on glum weather predictions, we feared that our end-of-meet gathering would be either wet or non-existent…but the forecasts were wrong, and while the day was indeed gray, the rain held off until late afternoon, and we got in our last day at the races.

The star of the show was Backstretch nephew Christopher, who pulled off a repeat performance of last summer’s handicapping extravaganza.  His penchant for longshots is undiminished, and he’d watch the board to make sure that his money was going on the horse who, according to bettors, was least likely to win.

His enthusiasm undampened by an early string of losers, his strategy paid off in the 8th, when 31-1 Goldzar got up in the final strides to win by a neck. He’d requested a $4 win bet; his father bet $2 win and place, costing his son about $40.

All would likely have been forgiven had the Hopeful turned out just a little different. Sticking with his strategy, Christopher plunked down $4 on 68-1 Trinniberg, who led for pretty much every step except the one that counted most. Watching from the winner’s circle, I confessed myself torn: envisioning the frenzy at our picnic table, should I be rooting for the nephew’s big score? Or should I be rooting for my friend Terri Pompay’s first Grade 1 win?

As the horses crossed the wire, I hoped that my brother had been as prudent in placing this bet as he had the prior one…but alas, no place money sat on Trinniberg’s back as he finished second.

Still, given that that Christopher’s bankroll has been infused with a generous contribution from me to start the day, the youngest racing fan in the family had an ROI that would make Andy Serling salivate.

As Christopher regretted, the Pompay family celebrated. I went to high school with Terri’s younger sister and I’ve known the family for more than 30 years; watching them celebrate in the winner’s circle helped push away the thought of my 9-year-old nephew cashing a $276 ticket. Well, not entirely.

My Saratoga season ended in one of my favorite restaurants, Pennell’s, not far from the track, sharing a celebratory drink with old friends on the biggest racing occasion of their lives. For me, much of the pleasure of Saratoga is the connection to friends and family, to going home, so while I am never happy to see Saratoga come to an end, I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion than spending closing day with my family in our customary backyard spot, and watching one of Saratoga’s own win the biggest race of her career.

Currency Swap

Terri Pompay, her family, and Currency Swap's connections

I’ve written a couple of meet wrap-up posts, one for the Saratogian and one at Grade One Racing, about my favorite parts of the meeting. I hope that you’ll add yours.

13 thoughts on “Bidding Farewell

  1. Well that just stinks that no one was there for Ask The Moon’s big win! She has a huge fan base on another site, heck maybe we all should’ve shown up for the winner’s circle 🙂

    And another season ends without a visit to the Spa….sigh.

  2. Thanks, Jim Davis,

    I clicked on your link and watched our old friend show them how it’s done. Great show!

    Perhaps as impressive was the commentator’s call of her race. Couldn’t find his name, but he was spot on throughout and controlled his delivery perfectly. They both deserve all the applause!

  3. Teresa,

    Too bad Backstretch nephew Christopher wasn’t on-hand for Kitten’s Kid. With your attachment to kittens everywhere as his guide, I bet he’d have put $8 on the nose!

  4. Great news about Julie, and thanks for the link, Jim.

    Linda, I felt very sad about Ask the Moon. Wolfson has a notorious fear of flying, I believe, so he doesn’t travel much, and his Monmouth assistant was there…but two Grade 1s and she didn’t have much of a crowd.

    Marshall, there is not a shred of doubt that Christopher would have cashed big on that horse. Much bigger than I did!

  5. I always feel bad for the horse when he/she is alone in the winner’s circle except for the groom and maybe an assistant trainer. We’ve been following Moon since last year when she ran with Rachel and are thrilled she’s found her groove this year! Maybe she will be BC bound!!

  6. We had a blast in the backyard at 5:30 on Sunday. Soaked and thrilled about it like we were 5 years old again. However, we knew nothing of a tornado warning. Perhaps that was best!

  7. My favorite and totally biased 🙂 Saratoga moment was Turbulent Descent’s win in the Test Stakes! Our first visit to Saratoga was a dream come true. My second favorite Saratoga moment was getting meet up with you in your hometown and enjoying fabulous meal at The Wishing Well. Thank you again for the hospitality.

  8. Rich, so sorry I missed you guys on Sunday – was cramming to meet a couple of deadlines. But it was great to see you and Kathy Saturday. Hope to make it up to Suffolk at some point soon.

    Leigh, what fun it was to hang out with you and Bob, and to watch your terrific filly win. Here’s to more of the same!

  9. One of my best memories of this meet comes from the new and better infield TV screen. For every replay of every close finish, the crowd “oh’ed” and “ah’ed” in unison as the slow motion replay showed two heads bobbing up and down toward the finish – it’s so great to be among a crowd of racing fans, even if you backed the second place horse. And my other favored Saratoga memory is the spontaneous applause that follows a champion as he or she leaves the winner’s circle. No saddle cloth, no numbered vest on the groom, but the crowd knows who it is anyway. And the crowd at the rail, and those in the seats, stand and applaud as the horse walks by. The way the applause moves from the finish line toward the grandstand brings tears to my eyes every time. OK, that’s not a unique memory of this year, but it’s one reason why I love this meet – to be in a town full of fans who appreciate the sport and its history.

  10. Maybe if you were a real journalist and actually had to cover the meet and handicap daily you’d understand. Stay with your phony fake job of being a blogger. I wouldn’t even allow you in the press box. Bloggers are frauds

  11. Lynne, those are among my favorite things about Saratoga, too. I love Belmont, but boy, was the atmosphere there different this weekend.

    Nick, understand what? I don’t understand what you mean. And you’re right: I make no pretense about handicapping, though it’s an element of racing that I find fascinating. Fortunately, there seems to be a market–both at this site and for the publications for which I write–for writing about racing that goes beyond selecting winners and losers.

    And as silly as you think my writing is, at least I’m willing to be identified with it.

  12. Nick,

    What an odd response you have to reading this writer’s thoughts and opinions. They are, by definition, both journalistic and interested in covering race meets in New York and elsewhere… from a unique perspective. By these two criteria you are mistaken to suggest Teresa is not “real.”

    As to “handicapping,” that is a discipline reserved to the racetracks’ racing secretary and handicapper, an administrative official whose job it is to manage the track’s stabled horses, to write Conditions Books describing a variety of attractive races for horsemen to run their horses in, and to assign specific weights to horses in handicap races. That last responsibility becomes the practical source for the terms, handicapping and handicapper.

    I believe you have confused the public selection of recommended race-winning horse names, such as that of a tout, with friendly reference to a challenging pastime.

    As to phony and fake, is not Brooklyn Backstretch a real web site devoted to Reports and Reflections on (mostly) New York racing? And, do you not read reports and reflections on (mostly) New York racing?

    If this is news to you, I’m not sure what you are able to understand.

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