On Wednesday I will be leaving Syracuse and packing my files and clothes for my annual pilgrimage to Saratoga. It is hard to believe that this will be the 35th consecutive year I have been spending time at the Spa. I look forward to this week every year like a child looks forward to Christmas because each year Saratoga offers something new and unexpected for me.
As a child, we were renting a new house and I looking for neighborhood kids I could hang out with. As a teenager and into my college life, it was where was I going to be placed to work the concessions during the track. As an adult, when we started our 20 years at the same rental, it is reconnecting with old friends, making new friends and developing and building the equine law contacts that make this part of my practice so enjoyable.
This affair with the Spa started in 1977 when as a 10-year-old child I was brought from Syracuse to Saratoga…a place I had neither heard of (well, we did study the Battle of Saratoga in social studies) nor cared about, That changed quickly as we settled into our summer home in Geyser Crest, which would be our base for the next 5 years. This neighborhood of young families where I could take my bike and ride for as long as I cared to truly made for the idyllic summer, albeit without the ocean.
My Dad’s law school roommate and his wife would share the rental with us then. We would all go to the track for the races with seats initially in the grandstand moving ever closer to the box seats as years passed. I would go to the track with them, which was somewhat different than it is now. I remember clearly that the saddling was done under the trees in what is now the backyard. It was the closest any fan could get to the jockeys, owners, trainers and horses. All the fans would crowd around the trees to watch the horse get saddled, which often times made it tricky to have them parade to the post. Which is why I guess in the early 80’s NYRA moved to enclose the paddock.
Early on, our food was all about Harry M. Stevens; they would have a clam bar at the base of the grandstand with clams on the ½ shell. My mother and I would each have a dozen. She would go to the track every day and be there for every race; this continued as we had box seats. She taught me the love of the track, the sights, the smells and the people. We would pile into the car after the 7th race and head toward the backstretch. We would park the car next to the top of the stretch, right where the jockeys were battling for position and watch the 8th race. Listening the jockeys bark at each other while traveling 40mph always gives me a thrill.
I remember various experiments; the years when the infield was opened up so people could watch the races travel around them….yeah that’s what they did….. – that lasted only a year or two. Renting the farmhouse near the Elms (departed in the 90’s). The rats overran us; it was a one-year experiment. This was where I grew up and spent my youth.
As my teenage years grew into college years, I learned more about the active nightlife Saratoga has. Early on it was the nights along Kaydeross Creek at the Rafters, still one of my most missed places, or the bar/dance club on Broadway, I think it was called the Bijou, or the Metro…we always had a good time. Working at the track not only tied me with the NYRA people who were in Saratoga but also with other college age kids from Saratoga who showed me the town from their view.
As an adult, I have developed my law practice so that I represent people in and around Saratoga as well as the racing industry. I wake early to be on the backstretch early in the morning to meet with clients and watch the horses work out. There is nothing as beautiful as watching the horses work as the sun comes up over the Oklahoma racetrack.
My afternoons are spent working and enjoying the best racing in America. I am glad to have met some amazing people in the industry and can call them friends. I am proud to be able to work for charities in Saratoga County and for the benefit of thoroughbred racing.
For the 35th year we’re off, not for the race just yet, but off to my second office and second home.