It was one of the more satisfying days of my life. No, really, my beautiful summer day at Saratoga Race Course will go down as one of those special days that I will always remember.
Did I meet Mother Theresa? Was I healed of some strange malady by a laying of the hands? None of those -- I won at the race track. I’m as deep as a puddle, I know. But it was more than all of that because I predicted history.
The cloudless sky guided us during the hour and a half drive to the city once known for its mineral water and the baths that the rich of the 1800s would frequent. Heck, if I knew I could take a bath, I would have grabbed my bottle of Prell on the way out. Here is a detailed log of our trip to the ‘Toga.’
8:45 a.m.: I can’t get into the bathroom because my son, Dave, who is feeling the effects of a stomach flu, has the bathroom occupied. All I need is to brush my tooth and I can head out, but I’m forced to wait.
9 a.m.: I announce to anyone who will listen that Will Take Charge will win the Travers Stakes. I’ve been saying it all week, but everyone laughed at me because Will Take Charge isn’t one of the so-called ‘Big Three’ of Verrazano, Orb and Palace Malice. And due to the fact that Saratoga is the Graveyard of the Champions, better horses like Man of War, Gallant Fox and Secretariat have fallen here. I’m betting on the long-shot. It’s the story of my life.
9:30 a.m.: We are on the road, rushing to make the first race, which has an 11:35 post time. With Dawn driving, I have a fear that my day at Saratoga will come to a quick end due to her excessive speed. I’m not saying she was breaking the law, but like in the song "Hot Rod Lincoln," the telephone poles looked like a picket fence.
Finally at the track, I was hounded by a guy trying to sell me seats on the way in. He was following me as if I had the secret of life. Having plans with family, I decided to do what any real man would do: I looked him in the eye and told him, "my wife won’t let me get them." That line was like bug repellent to my pushy salesman, because he scattered away understanding what’s it like to be really married.
Once inside, we walked determinedly to a spot in the shade. And on the way, in the bustle of the back yard, the National Anthem is played, which stops the crowd in their tracks.
It was the most amazing and American thing I ever saw. Hard-core gamblers, hot women in hats as wide as their boyfriend’s wallet, guys with bad knees and a very understanding woman in tow, all paused with hats over hearts. The track was silent until the song ended and then it exploded with action again. It thrilled the jaded.
Saratoga’s smells fill the air. Cigars, hot dogs and expensive, cheap beer are all pasted before my nose. Locally, it’s the only big league sport within a short drive and it comes around every summer. Saratoga has seen more Hall of Famers then Fenway and Yankee stadium combined. In fact, it’s the oldest sports venue in the country. And I’m starting to get into a betting grove.
After the first was race lost, I hit the next six races -- three of them for over 30 bucks and I’m as hot as a kiln.
The buzz was all about the Travers. We would talk to the guys in the betting line and all of them scoffed at me for exclaiming that Will Take Charge will win the race.
Now, time for the Travers. I knew that a long shot would win but would it be mine? I bet yes with a $15 wager. When the horses passed by me, the five was fifth and I was heartbroken. But at the 16th pole, he found another gear and won by a whisker. Yes! I’m a winner! And I predicted history. Nice job, Saratoga.
Johnnie Carrier is a freelance writer who was king for an afternoon and it was well deserved.