Guest Column: 1,400 miles to Saratoga

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In my short life I have been fortunate enough to travel all across the country. I’ve gazed upon the alluring and untamed wilderness of the Northwest. Walked the arid desert sands of the Southwest. Left my imprint on warm beaches in the Southeast and had theirs left on me. Submerged myself in the dark salty grasp of both oceans and call the seemingly infinite miles of prairie in the central plains home. Yet, none of my travels or experiences prepared me for the sublime experience of the Northeast. 

We all have a place that prior to arriving the only significance it held was being just another stop on a map.

A place that now you long for, and the time spent there will never quite be enough.

The very memories of this place bring childlike excitement for future arrivals, and the thoughts of departing bring adolescent sorrows.

The rollercoaster feelings prove it is now sown into the very fabric of you, and without it you feel as if you are a shirt with no sleeves.

Hard to believe that a place can have this effect on a person, but like the old adage goes, “you don’t know what you had till it’s gone,” and a pandemic will help teach you how important a place can be in your life. 

Minutes from the Adirondacks, nestled among the endless groves of pine, maple and oak trees is where the sleeves to my shirt lay.

Some call it Saratoga, some the “Spa,” many “the summer place to be,” but for me a week or two every summer it has become synonymous with home.

To know me and where I come from, you could surmise that we are an unconventional pair. With Saratoga holding so much class, culture and history, and I just a country kid from the Midwest. A longshot of shorts, but lucky for me Saratoga is notoriously favorable to the longshot. Even from my longshot position I quickly realized how many like me there are, and how welcoming this place is to all.  

The history and culture of this place engulfs you in a most absolute way. Down every street you walk in the shadow of historic homes.

Towering 200-year-old structures styled in Colonial, Gothic or Queen Anne. Some once sheltering some of the most powerful and influential people in history. Saratoga summers reveal SPAC to be the destination to experience world-class orchestras, operas or even the occasional country music concert. Fine dining is in full effect from the Reading Room buffet, Friday night country club dinners or prime rib and tomatoes at the Wishing Well. Personally, a Spring Street Deli sandwich makes it feel a little more like home. 

For me though, nothing is more iconic than the racetrack.

A place where champions lose their crown to underdogs and underdogs can become champions.

It is surreal to sit in a box under the grandstand and gaze upon the same track that saw the fall of the mighty Gallant Fox, Man o’ War, Secretariat and American Pharoah and dream of the day I can stand in the winner’s circle having my own upset glory or commiserating a loss at the rail as the favorite.

It’s the only place I know of that a loss feels seemingly less painful, because frankly a loss in Saratoga is a win everywhere else.

From the same seat under the grandstand or at the Oklahoma, mornings give light to what makes racing at Saratoga so special.

Horses come barreling through the fog of their final half-mile move on the way to graded glory.

Trainers stand at the rail, stopwatch firmly in grasp. Grooms feeding, washing and walking champions and claimers alike.

Horse gossips and owners stand at the rail talking shop and making predictions for the days’ races.

Golf carts zip across the grounds filled with journalists, trainers, agents and jockeys quickly trying to make the next good story, set, negotiation or mount.

It is a unique and living organism unto its self.

No one piece more important than another, and all needed for the system to be healthy.

I feel honored to play my small part every year in the crazy symphony of movement that is the track. 

The people are truly what sets this place apart and makes one feel at home. Everyone runs in their own circles, but in this place everyone has a certain level of class that makes all feel welcome. This is on full display by the fact that as the race winners jog back to the winner’s circle all stand and clap in roaring congratulating applause.

The people make the place, without that I see no reason to wake up early for workouts, make the first post on race day, attend the sales or rush home to clean up for a dinner. This place has built lifelong friendships and unforgettable memories. 

From my front door 1,4000 miles away lies a spot on the map with few worries, where the outside world drifts away and all you’re left with is the moment. A place that has for me morphed more into a feeling than a place. For those who have been, this feeling is unmistakable, you can spot it by the smile on a face, the hope in a voice and even a bounce in a step.

It is the freedom that comes with feeling “Saratoga.” 

Spencer Crowther grew up on a farm in Roxbury, Kansas, and currently lives in Lindsborg, Kansas. He’s the owner and operator of Double C Ranch, a seedstock operation specializing in purebred Charolais cattle and sells bulls and females across the country to purebred and commercial producers. A contributor to the publications Washington County News and Grass & Grain, Spencer is a Thoroughbred enthusiast who has owned horses and spent the last eight summers in Saratoga.