Our first trip to Saratoga was 1973. One week. On a shoestring. We stayed in a motel next to Storyland. Two adjoining log cabins. Breakfast for all from a cooler was orange juice, maybe some fruit, cereal from the individual boxes and milk. Lunch for four kids was purchased at the track for $2.00. Total. Back in the day you could buy a quarter of fried or roasted chicken and an ear of corn on a paper plate for $1. I bought two, broke the ear of corn in half divided the chicken and fed four kids. Dad and I ate fresh Long Island clams. After the races we went back to the motel, fed you kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk, got a baby sitter, took a shower and went out to dinner and/or the sales. We went out to see Uncle Jack at his daughter, Mary’s (near Troy) and had dinner there once.
That was my mother’s response to a question in one of my earlier columns, when I asked if 1973 was indeed my first summer in Saratoga. The family driving to Saratoga in a long blue station wagon, my mother feeding four children for two dollars, living in a log cabin, pouring milk into miniature cardboard boxes of Sugar Corn Pops…actually I was the youngest, I was stuck with Raisin Bran, always the last box of cereal in the Kellogg’s Variety Pack.
Now that it’s 41 years later, we look back on those crazy days with fondness, like an adventure, Polaroid snap shots in sepia tones. It was the last summer when my family was complete, my oldest sister Michele dying the following February. I am wistful.
I know my parents were stressed – worrying about horses, dogs and help at home, hoping a fragile jumper would survive another 2 miles at Saratoga, trying to stretch an ear of corn, a variety pack of cereal and peanut butter and jelly. My parents, in their late 30s, testing themselves, stretching themselves at Saratoga.
I’ve written it over and over, during each of these crazy summers at the Spa…these are the good old days. Did my parents know? No chance. Too worried, stressed, harried.
Do we know now? Do we know these are the good old days? Life will only get more complicated, we will only lose our friends our family, once you accomplish something it only feeds the thirst to accomplish more, there is no rest area.
As far as racing goes, we have seen the glory days but hasn’t every generation seen them and said that? Won’t these be the glory days to some other generation?
Every day, up here, you hear about the good old days. Mornings when Greentree, Fitzsimmons and Arcaro ruled and hot water bubbled from red metal barrels fueled by open-flamed propane burners.
Afternoons of saddling horses under the trees, the wooden jockey board in the infield and watching races from the fire escape at the far end of the clubhouse.
Nights of softball games when a jockey would go down every week. Late nights at the Spuyten Duyvil.
If those were the good old days, then someday, these days will be those days. Read that again, I think I got it right.
These and those, just a letter apart in spelling and a mile apart in meaning.
For the last 14 years of The Special, I’ve drifted into nostalgic ramblings from the old days. This place, more than anywhere else, elicits those thoughts, those moments of wandering back in time when life seemed easy and free. The horses were sounder, the races were more competitive, the owners and trainers were more sporting…maybe they were, maybe it’s just perspective.
Why does it matter if the good days happened then or now? They happened. Would I appreciate them more now? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. Will I appreciate this summer at Saratoga more later?
When we stayed up all night writing this crazy newspaper. When Wise Dan roamed. When Velazquez battled Castellano and Ortiz. When Solis, Jones, Ashado and Curlin were inducted into the Hall of Fame. When Miles was 5 and dancing around the rental house, singing songs from Frozen. When Ryan was 21, his first real job getting in the way of his summer fun. When Jack was 18, about to go to college, hustling jobs from The Special, HRTV and Fasig-Tipton. When Nolan was innocent and sweet, catching fish in a pond – his mother sending photos to his dad.
Maybe someday, Miles will want to know about his first summer at Saratoga. I’ll send him an email or probably some other kind of communication, laser-thought, quicker and easier.
Your first trip to Saratoga was when we were writing The Saratoga Special, we rented a house from Mrs. Payson. I used to pick you up in the golf cart, you loved the golf cart. We ate a lot of meals at Spring Street Deli. One year you met Orb, another you met Wise Dan. The meet was only 40 days back then. The cards were stellar, a stakes race every day. Everybody was fighting about medication, but not as much as they do now. The horses ran a lot more. Fields were huge. It only cost $8 to get in the clubhouse. Your nephews were in town, you spent a lot of time with Uncle Joey and Aunt Sam. Those were the days, son.