The letter came in the mail about a week ago. Postmarked July 30, San Francisco, California. The return address is from San Mateo, actually. Window envelope, a label with my name, our address over the window. A letter. An actual letter. There is nothing like a letter in the mail.
It goes like this.
Enjoyed your 7/19 Cup of Coffee on the Lyrical Ballad. I was sorting through some old things and came across the enclosed August 8, 1978 Saratoga program (you can keep this). Affirmed caught Sensitive Prince at the wire to win the Jim Dandy that day. In the race before, which included the 3-year-old John Henry, Darby Creek Road set a 7-furlong track record of 1:20 2/5, which still stands today.
Some other program observations:
- • Price was still 35 cents, but sales tax portion was now 3 cents (up from 2 in 1976).
- • George Cassidy was the starter, his son Marshall later succeeded Chic Anderson in the announcer’s booth.
- • William Gallo, Jr., assistant racing secretary, was the son of the long-time cartoonist of the Daily News.
- • Opposite the eighth race page is an ad for the “Saratoga Express.” $20 round-trip each day from NYC; a joke went around that a guy took this every day from Long Island, left the house at 7 and got home around 11. When asked why he did not stay over, he replied, “What? And be away from my family?”
- • I think this may have been the last year they raced Monday through Saturday with no Sunday racing; the reserved and box tickets for each Saturday either said, “Whitney, Alabama, Travers or Hopeful.”
My family moved from Tennessee to Scotia, NY in June 1965. My first visit to Saratoga was on closing day that year. Buckpasser, with Baeza up, won the Hopeful. I moved to California in 1973 but have been back occasionally since then.
Thank you, Rich. Thank you for sending the program. Thank you for writing the letter. And thank you for cherishing Saratoga.
You know how to get to me, send a letter and an old program. Down the rabbit hole I go, taking the rest of the day off. I’ll see you tomorrow.
Tuesday, August 8, 1978. The eighth day of the meet.
It was the year Carmen Barrera joined NYRA. Her uncle, Laz, won the Jim Dandy with Affirmed. Imagine that celebration.
The program cover features a photo, could be a painting, of Horse Haven. Pony-tail waving woman, in chaps and quartered-helmet cover, rides a gray pony, loping, the racehorse pulls the shank taut. The hoofprints are as deep as the Sahara. It’s exactly as I remember.
The Jim Dandy ran on a Tuesday.
Harry M. Stevens took an ad on the inside front cover, perhaps, part of the catering contract. Remember those cups with the sports figures on them? Three sizes, small was blue, definitely blue. Medium was red. Large was green. We think, it’s been a while. Stevens’ slogan read, “On a cold spring day in 1901, Harry M. Stevens’s ice cream wasn’t selling. So he invented the hot dog.” America was never the same.
Exacta betting on third, fifth and seventh races. Triple on the ninth race only. Designated tellers, ranging from $2 to $100.
The card included four open claimers, a maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies, an a-other-than going 9 furlongs for a $14,000 purse, a four-other-than going 7 furlongs (Darby Creek Road and John Henry), the Jim Dandy and the Yaddo Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares going 7 furlongs. The weights in the Yaddo ranged from Vandy Sue’s 123 pounds to Mecca’s Daughter at a feathery 105. Two of the races, including Darby Creek Road’s record breaker, were originally carded for the turf, it’s noted at the bottom of the field, just above the scratches.
Mike Venezia was named on five. His name still causes me pause. But for the grace of God…
Wednesday’s feature film at the National Museum of Racing was “Ruffian.”
Woody Stephens led the trainers’ standings with four wins, one ahead of Allen Jerkens and Walter A. Kelley. There was a 12-way tie for third, Steve DiMauro, Mike Hernandez, P. G. Johnson, Leroy Jolley, Pat Kelly, Frank LaBoccetta, Roger Laurin, Jonathan Sheppard, John Veitch, Tom Voss, Sidney Watters and Nick Zito. Oh, to interview those guys, imagine, the stories.
Cordero, of course, led the jockeys. Cauthen was struggling, 2-for-43.
The entries for Wednesday were published between the sixth and seventh races.
Tom Gullo trained $12,500 claimer Night Bomber for Barry Schwartz. Tom Rondinello trained for Darby Dan Farm. Steve DiMauro sent out Padroug, a son of Sir Ivor, for Robert Sangster. And of course, MacKenzie Miller trained for Rokeby Stable.
Gentlemen will be required to wear coats and ladies to wear dresses or pants suits on the Turf Terrace and in the box area.
Future champion steeplechaser Martie’s Anger finished fifth to C. V. Whitney’s Silver Throne in an allowance race. Each would run three times at the meet.
And that is another walk down memory lane. Perhaps, we do it too often at The Special. Or, perhaps, not enough.