Secretariat

Succumbing to the Lure of Saratoga Once Again

Call this part potpourri of Saratoga, part invitation, part travelogue, and part history. Whether you have been there many times, just a few times, or never, it is hoped this will get you in the mood. Remember, come July and August all roads lead to the Spa.~ Steve Haskin

Succumbing to the Lure of Saratoga Once Again

By Steve Haskin

 

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. As I prepare for my initial 2022 sojourn to Saratoga I get those same feelings of anticipation mixed with the usual flood of memories that have been accumulated and stored away since my initial visit 54 years ago. That is when this wide-eyed racing novice took his first close-up photo of the immortal Dr. Fager walking along the rail prior to a workout, stood by the rail and watched C.V. Whitney’s Chompion upset Calumet Farm’s Forward Pass in the Travers, saw Dr. Fager’s kid sister Ta Wee break her maiden, and spent my post training hours at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame every morning looking at the same paintings and trophies, while engulfed in  history, then collecting the free color postcards of Damascus, Dr. Fager, and Buckpasser at the admission desk on my way out.

In many ways it is still 1968, just as it might have seemed like 1928 to a veteran Spa visitor back in ‘68. Although the once quiet little town in the Adirondacks has grown enormously, now inundated with restaurants and condominiums, it has never lost its sense of history, the love of the Thoroughbred, and its ability to enthrall. It is still a place to escape, forget one’s problems, and become totally immersed in a time long forgotten. In short, Saratoga has always been and always will be hallowed ground.

Over the past half a century I have proposed to my wife in Saratoga, celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, seen her and my grandson sit on their first horse as pre-toddlers, and become enshrined in the same Hall of Fame I visited so many times in the presence of family and friends.

After years of staying at the old Grossman’s Victoria Hotel on Broadway, rented houses, motels, and finally the Ramada Inn in nearby Glens Falls I now consider the Saratoga residence of our dear friends Avi and Rhoda Freedberg as our second home, located right on the Oklahoma training track. Paradise to me now is awakening to the sounds of horses’ hooves right outside our window, walking out the back gate to the rail and exchanging greetings with Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, and other trainers and riders as they walk by while we sit on the back porch having breakfast.

As I prepare to embark on yet another journey to the Spa I look forward to meeting racing fans, old and new, first at the Spa Fine Art gallery on Broadway Friday night from 7 – 9, where the extraordinary artist Lisa Palombo will be exhibiting her beautiful color-splashed paintings of Secretariat. I will also have a few of my Secretariat photographs on display.

Then on Saturday, Whitney day, I will be at the Secretariat merchandising stand adjacent to the jockeys’ room selling and signing my collection of Secretariat photos, along with several photos of Riva Ridge and my never before seen conformation photo of Ruffian taken at her barn at Belmont Park. Even if you don’t purchase anything or just want to browse at all the Big Red apparel, and memorabilia stop by to say hello.

If I don‘t see you there or if you plan on going to Saratoga at a later date, let me call on my decades of experience at the Spa and give you a little travel guide of some of my favorite things to see and do, and places to eat.

You have to begin the day at Breakfast at Saratoga watching the horses train from the grandstand apron while enjoying a breakfast buffet, then taking a 45-minute tram-ride tour of the backstretch. You can also go across Union Avenue to the Oklahoma training track and get a great view of the training from atop the Mary Lou Whitney stand erected several years ago. If you wish to save breakfast until later you can go to the Horseshoe restaurant across from the Nelson Avenue stable entrance where you can see horses walking by going to and from their barns. And you’re going to get a good breakfast with great atmosphere.

If you’re spending the morning strolling down Broadway, there is Compton’s for breakfast or give in to the aroma emanating from Uncommon Grounds, where you’ll probably have to wait in line for coffee and bagel or pastry. If you want to indulge in a sweeter, richer fare, there is Mrs. London’s Bake Shop, which moved years ago from its original location on Phila Street.

While you are downtown and want to bring a piece of Saratoga racing back home with you, you can find everything racing at Impressions and Crafter’s Gallery, with plenty of gifts to choose from for those from eight months to 80 years old. Then to get a real sense of racing history or any kind of literary history stop at the Lyrical Ballad bookstore with its catacomb-like winding corridors. In their racing section you will find new, old, very old, and ancient books on racing. This is a haven for historians. You can even find books by a certain old Brooklyn-born balding author who stops in often to check out what’s new there and perhaps autograph a few books.

While on Broadway stop in and hang out for a while in the lobby of the Adelphi Hotel, the smallest and last remaining of the old hotels that once dominated Broadway, mainly the Grand Union and United States Hotels that sprawled over city blocks and catered to the opulent tastes of America’s financial giants, politicians, and colorful figures like Diamond Jim Brady. The Adelphi has gone through a number of facial changes, but still retains its look and feel of a bygone era. In was at the Adelphi that the colorful John Morrissey, the founder and builder of Saratoga Racecourse, the famous mineral water spas, and the historic Canfield Casino took his last breath. Canfield Casino, once known for its decadence, is still there located in Congress Park and is now a museum showing the history of Saratoga, as well as an event hall.

And for the lovers of the arts, if you’re in Saratoga in late July there is Shakespeare in the Park free of charge in Congress Park. And in Spa State Park you can always find a concert going on at SPAC (Saratoga Performing Arts Center), often with big names performing. And just down the road on South Broadway there is the National Museum of Dance.

If you’re not going to the races or have time in the morning head down Union Avenue and right before the entrance to I-87 hang a right into Yaddo, the historic artists’ retreat, and walk around the fountains, statues, and gardens. This is an idyllic spot that my wife and I, and our daughter, have frequented on many occasions. It remains a very special place.

And of course for all water lovers you have nearby Saratoga Lake and a 30-minute drive up the Northway brings you to the touristy Lake George.

Whitney day this year will feature a number of top-class horses competing in the Grade 1 Test Stakes and the Saratoga Derby, with the Whitney showcasing Horse of the Year contenders Life is Good and Olympiad and last year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award winner Hot Rod Charlie. If you wish to discuss the race and see who I like stop by and I will be happy to provide bad or useless information.

The Saratoga backyard area is dominated now by picnic tables, but you better get there early on weekends because often the most exciting race of the day is the mad dash to secure one. A unique attraction of the backyard is the horse path where you can get a close-up look at the horses as they head to the paddock from the stable area. While you’re there you have to try the famous mineral water from the Big Red spring, named after racing’s two Big Reds Secretariat and Man o’ War, who ironically suffered two of the biggest upsets in the history of Saratoga. You might not like the taste, but this is the water that drew so many people to the Spa starting back in the 1800s

In addition, there is live music throughout the day and don’t forget to check out the number of tents that are set up just past the main entrance, where you can see the works of some of the top equine artists and desigers and purchase prints. hats, jewelry or whatever suits your fancy. It is among these tents, just past the horse path, you will find yours truly on Saturday and be able to get your Secretariat fix by taking home a piece of Big Red in whatever form you desire,

As much as you might enjoy standing outside the paddock watching the horses walk around their designated tree, with some saddling there, just remember that the horses used to walk around their trees right out amongst the public. Back then you could pick a horse and watch him or her circle around their tree just a couple of feet away or walk from one tree to another to get a close-up look at all the horses. I remember in 1969 Arts and Letters had become so popular they had to rope off the public who were lined seven and eight deep around his tree.

After your day at the races, there are so many great restaurants in Saratoga now to choose from. But some of the more popular places like Osteria Danny and Solevo are almost impossible to get into without making reservations weeks or months in advance. Our favorite place for years has been Nove, formerly called Sergio’s, which is about 15 minutes north of Saratoga just before you get to the iconic Wishing Well, which used to be THE place to go and see horse people, along with Siro’s, located just outside the clubhouse entrance to the track. The Wishing Well is where my wife and I announced our engagement to her family in 1979 and where the Migliore family reserved a private room and celebrated our daughter’s first birthday in 1985. This was where you could usually find the legendary turf writer Joe Hirsch dining out with friends and co-workers.

So, there is a little taste of Saratoga today and yesterday. I hope to see some of you there; if not next weekend perhaps in the future. One thing about Saratoga, it remains timeless.


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70 Responses to “Succumbing to the Lure of Saratoga Once Again”

  1. Bill Dawson says:

    Tyler’s Tribe, the gelded son of Sharp Azteca, out of a Mission Implazible mare, is undefeated in 3 career starts at Prairie Meadows. Granted the competition at PM is well below that of the major tracks around the country, but the way he wired the field in all 3 starts is something to behold. On June 20th, he broke his maiden in a 4 1/2 furlongs MSW, winning in 52.12, drawing off by 16 3/4 lengths. In his second start, the 5 1/2 furlong Prairie Meadows Juvenile S. (Black type), he drew off by 8 1/2 lengths in 1:03.64. In his latest start, the Prairie Meadows Futurity, at 5 1/2 furlongs, once again he wired the field, drawing off by 12 1/2 lengths, in 1:04.18.
    Hopefully, the connections will point this impressive gelding to a stakes race, against open company, at a major track.
    He could be one of the top colts from this year’s 2yr. old crop. Certainly one to keep an eye on moving forward.

  2. Matthew W says:

    Re-watchimg Justique’s debut run…from last to first, Victor sitting still as they went by….thats one of those performances where you don’t worry about figures, her next race will be in September, the Del Mar Debutante…..