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.
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.
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.
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.