New York Showcase Day, 2011

It rained on Belmont Day. It was cloudy on Travers Day. It rained on Jockey Club Gold Cup day.  But this Saturday is New York Showcase day, and it looks like we’re going to get perfect autumn weather on the day that to me embodies fall racing in New York.

If we’re lucky, the trees up the backstretch and in the backyard will be wearing their colors, having shed just enough of them to create a satisfying crunch underfoot. It will be time for boots and sweaters. A flask of bourbon to ward off the Belmont chill will be practically de rigeur.

In the clubhouse, grandstand, and backyard, we’ll celebrate New York.  The New York winery Glenora will offer a tasting in the clubhouse lobby, and nearly two dozen New York crafters and food purveyors will set up in the grandstand, featuring local products including cheese, jams and fruit spreads for sampling and purchase, as well as hand-crafted items for sale.

Out in the back, an Autumn Carnival will feature a scarecrow hunt, a hayride and pumpkin patch, face painting, a pumpkin carver, and pony rides. All activities are free for children 12 and under.

And on the track, we’ll celebrate New York breeding and racing, with seven stakes races for New York-breds, headlined by the Empire Classic.

Some aptly named horses have won races on these days over the years, beginning in 1980, when Adirondack Holme took the Empire Stakes for two-year-olds. In 1994, the Empire Stakes became the Empire Classic.

Adirondack Holme was bred and raced by Assunta Louis Farm in Friends Lake in the Adirondacks. A star on the New York circuit, he was named champion New York-bred two-year-old in 1980 and champion New York-bred three-year-old the following year.

In 1988, Caroline Street won the Mohawk for two-year-old fillies. While her racing career was undistinguished, her name is not:  the street in Saratoga that it recalls is a mainstay of Spa City revelers.

In 1992, Argyle Lake won the Hudson, and a little research reveals more than echoes of racing history in his name. In 1882, August Belmont – yes, the same August Belmont for whom the stakes is named – built the Argyle Hotel in Babylon, New York, on Long Island; Argyle Lake was on its grounds.  A magnificent edifice, the hotel was apparently a misguided exercise in opulence, as it was demolished in 1904.

I’d like to think that Itaka is somehow related to Ithaca, but I can’t find any evidence to support that theory. Nonetheless, Itaka is among the most consistent performers in New York-bred stakes races. In 1993 he won the Joseph A. Gimma as a two-year-old and returned the next year to win the Empire Classic. He was second in the Classic in 1995.

This year we’ve got three New York hunch-betting opportunities: Spa City Princess in the Iroquois; Adirondack Summer in the Mohawk, and Icabad Crane in the Classic.

In November of 2008, Icabad Crane was second in the Itaka (come on…anyone? Anyone with an Itaka/Ithaca connection for me? It really would pull all this together beautifully). Last year, he was second to Friend or Foe in the Empire Classic.

The six-year-old gelding is the third choice, behind favorite Haynesfield (winner of this race in 2009) and Inherit the Gold, but on this weekend before Halloween, how could anyone resist a token wager on him?

John Quidor’s 1858 painting of the headless horseman pursuing Ichabod Crane hangs in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Visit its site for more on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” including a feature that weds the painting with excerpts from the story, written by New Yorker Washington Irving and set in Sleepy Hollow, New York (formerly North Tarrytown).

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