First visit proves Saratoga is all it's cracked up to be--and more


August 18, 1991|By MARTY McGEE

The racetracks I have visited outnumber the years I have lived (one is more thirtysomething than the other). So when I revealed to friends that, yes, I was making my first visit to Saratoga Race Course, the reaction was invariably a wide-eyed, gaping double-take.

Not that they couldn't believe I hadn't been. It was more a fear that The Saratoga Experience might prove dangerously


It is something.

In the mornings, the multitude of barns and tracks and acreage, all of it part of Saratoga, is hard to fathom. Small groups congregate everywhere: jockeys, owners, trainers, agents, officials, press, fans. They often speak in hushed tones, almost in reverence of the Saratoga mystique and tradition.

Right outside one of the many gates is the house Angel Cordero Jr. rents during the meeting. No big deal. Inside, someone is talking about schooling horses over the turf course. Another is discussing how he manages to break for Saratoga during his busy schedule. Another is berating his horse-playing buddy, who has announced plans to parlay two favorites later that day. "No value in two $4 horses," scolds the friend. "Let's go get some breakfast." Something about the air and water.

Even before noon, the facility comes under a heavy tax of humanity. The old cement floors, uneven and cracked, are a fair complement to the aging wooden stands. Gaudy red-and-white canopies dominate. No one notices. The day is too pretty, the joint too hopping, the drinks too cold, the racing too classy. You never hear anyone call this place the Del Mar of the East.

At night, fans indulge in restaurants once frequented by "Diamond" Jim Brady and Lillian Russell, oblivious to the $25 entree that costs $15 during the other 47 weeks of the year. They sleep in houses on streets named for the Vanderbilts and Whitneys and their like. In Siro's restaurant, just outside the track gate, black-and-white action photos from 1955 sport crudely typed accounts of how the horses finished -- for the record, we assume. Meanwhile, horses lay down and sleep, mesmerized by the Saratoga atmosphere. Something about the air and water.

Through it all, people display an intensity not otherwise detected. They have been looking very forward to Saratoga, and damn anything that gets in the way of savoring every minute.

For most of them, it's like this: At least if they're going to lose their money, they're going to do it the right way. Count me in.


Virtually all of this year's best 3-year-olds were accounted for in yesterday's Travers Stakes.

One of the best, Best Pal, sat out the race after beating older horses eight days ago in California. And does anyone still remember Dinard or Cahill Road?

And what about the best filly?

Lite Light, the dominant female, will soon get a chance to show how she rates against top male runners. She's being pointed to the $1 million Super Derby, a 1 1/4 -mile race at Louisiana Downs

on Sept. 22.


Jockey Gregg McCarron is one of six 1991 nominees for the annual George Woolf Memorial Award, presented by the

Jockeys' Guild.

McCarron, 42, has been riding regularly in Maryland for the past five years after a productive career in New York and New England.

Jockeys throughout the nation vote on the award, given to a rider who exemplifies the spirit of George Woolf, who was killed in a riding accident at Santa Anita in 1946.

Other nominees are Jerry Bailey, Dave Gall, Jack Keene, Dean Kutz and Ray Sibille.

I= McCarron's younger brother, Chris, won the award in 1980.


In 1989, the Bank of Montreal offered a $1 million bonus for a sweep of Canada's Triple Crown for the first time.

Unless heavily favored Dance Smartly loses the Breeders' Stakes, third leg of the series today at Woodbine Race Course near Toronto, the Bank will be paying for the third straight year. With Approval won in 1989 and Izvestia won last year.

Since the Canadian Triple Crown became a recognized series in 1959, only two horses had previously swept the Queen's Plate, Prince of Wales Stakes and Breeders' Stakes.

Dance Smartly, ridden by Pat Day, would be the first filly to win the Crown.

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