When you're a kid, it's Disneyland or equivalent. Mine was George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. It was so much fun, I didn't want to leave and I couldn't wait for the next trip.
For my friends these days, it might be their place in Vermont or Florida or Israel or the Hamptons or wherever their fantasies take them. As you know, our place is Saratoga Springs, NY.
First of all, it's the excitement and thrill of thoroughbred horses competing and, of course, winning. From our first day trip to Saratoga in over 30 years in 2007 with Don and Barbara to our current home base abutting the Oklahoma training track, it's been a history of winning.
Ahvee's Destiny won her race on that first trip and won again before the 2007 meet ended. In 2008, there was her first Stakes victory in the Mechanicville Stakes. In 2009, another Stakes victory in the Finney Stakes. In 2010, Hear the Footsteps got into the act with a victory that filled the Winner's Circle with family and friends.
In 2011, Ahvee's Destiny scored in the Smart & Fancy Stakes for her 11th and final victory. Last year, Jess Not Jesse won twice. Then he was hurt in a race in Philadelphia. The Vet said it was time to retire him.
I felt the least we could do for him was to ease his pain by getting rid of bone chips in his ankle and giving him lots of time to recover. Then we'd decide what to do with him.
When it seemed like he could safely race, almost 10 months had passed. What happened? This year Jess won early by a nose over former stablemate Awakino Cat (who won his next outing by 5 3/4 lengths). Then, Jess lost by his next race by a nose. Yesterday, was the 3rd time he raced at the meet.
He ran out of the number 1 post position. This meant he had to get a good start to avoid getting trapped on the inside. It's not a good post position statistically.
When the Starter's bell rang, Cornelio got Jess out there quickly. He was head and head with the two leaders until Cornelio eased him back (Tom Durkin, the race caller, said he couldn't keep up with the leaders). Then, Cornelio steered him to the outside.
They came around the Stretch turn still in 3rd, but that didn't take long to change. "A resurgent Jess" (according to Durkin), lengthened his stride and passed the leaders readily to gallop to a 2 length victory. Yay Jess!
What a way to end the meet. Everything's Cricket Racing had 2 wins, 3 Places and 1 Show out of 7 outings. As our friend Ken pointed out, we were on the Leading Owner board. Our 86% in the money percentage was tops for any owner with over 3 starts. Pretty heady stuff.
Yes, we know how lucky we've been. We weren't supposed to own Jess. In this case, good deeds were not punished, they were rewarded. And, who gets their first horse and gets 11 victories including 4 Stakes? And who has a horse that has not won in 2 1/2 years, then reels off 3 straight victories and a strong 2nd place in a Stakes race. Yes, we have been very lucky... but what a ride it's been!
Of course, that's only the "excitement" part of Saratoga Springs. The other side of the coin (only appropriate phrase for a coin seller) is the tranquility. I've written to you about this many times before. Until you try sitting on our patio in the early morning hours when the horses are training, you will only understand the experience, rather than feel it.
Skip Dickstein, a great photographer, has often captured the tranquility of these moments in his memorable photos of both the Oklahoma training track and Saratoga's Main track, as well... dew turning to mist, darkness slowly turning into light, silhouetted images become defined... transformation is complete... but tranquility and beauty continues as the horses walk, run and sometimes even jump. It's amazing to behold these magnificent beings!
Yes, Saratoga Springs is a college town (Skidmore and Empire State). Yes, Saratoga Springs has a naval base (pretty novel, since there's no water!). Yes, it's full of history (Battle of Saratoga was the crucial victory in the Revolutionary War). Yes, it's the doorway to the Adirondacks and all the resort and adventure activities you can think of. Yes, it's got spring water to drink and spas to bathe in. and, yes, no matter what time of year you come to town, there's always something going on.
Anyway, it's our fantasy island. Many have accepted our invitation to step inside our fantasy. By and large, I think everyone who has visited has a new appreciation for what the words above attempt to convey. Perhaps, you'll try. I hope so.
We're here until the 8th. More adventures to come in our fantasy land!
Shana tova for Jewish New Year celebrants. To all, a lovely Labor Day weekend!
Avram FreedbergEverything's Cricket Racing