Steve Haskin's Saratoga Memories: The Doc and the Storm
My first visit was in 1968 when I took an Adirondack Trailways bus from
Walking to the track each morning up
After training and breakfast, it was off to the National Museum of Racing across the street to watch the crackly, black and white replays of the previous days races and a small feature preceding it. This was held downstairs (or was it upstairs?) in a small room with folding chairs, an old-fashioned pull-up screen, and a 16mm projector (or was it 8 mm?).
A few days after arriving in
My first morning at the track with my new camera, I shot just about everything I saw -- the grandstand, adorned with flowers, Rokeby Stable trainer Elliott Burch watching the works with his sons, my hotel, and even the McDonalds across the street.
On Travers morning, I managed to get shots of trainer Eddie Neloy having breakfast and Johnson interviewing trainer Henry Forrest, who would be saddling the Travers favorite, Forward Pass.
As training hours drew to a close, the skies, which had been bright and sunny all morning, were now dark and foreboding, and it was obvious that one of those wild
It was the Saturday before the Washington Park Handicap at
Just as he made his way on to the track, the skies opened up, as the railbirds quickly retreated for cover under the grandstand. I, however, was not going to blow an opportunity to take a picture of the mighty Dr. Fager, especially with my brand new Kodak Brownie Instamatic.
Everyone headed in one direction and I headed in the opposite direction toward the rail. I got there just as Dr. Fager was walking by accompanied by his pony, an Appaloosa named Chalkeye. The exercise rider, Jose Marrero, and the pony rider simultaneously turned and looked at me, as if wondering what kind of idiot would come running out into the pouring rain to take a picture of a horse. But this was no ordinary horse.
Like some majestic shrouded figure, Dr. Fager seemed larger than life to a novice, wide-eyed 21-year-old. As he walked past me me, oblivious to the elements, he had his game face on, focusing straight ahead and arching his neck ever so slightly. He had worked up a mouthful of saliva and his flared nostrils already were bright red.
I managed to take one shot of him before high-tailing it back under cover. The first person I saw was the Doc’s trainer, John Nerud, who was well-prepared for the weather, decked out in a yellow poncho. I went over and said, “John,” and when he looked up and gave me a friendly smile, I took his picture as well.
Through the murk and rain, the good doctor breezed five furlongs in :59 flat under no pressure whatsoever from
For years, I carried that photo in my wallet. It was not a very good photo, but in many ways it was the best I’ve ever taken, with the Doc’s rich blood-bay coat bursting with color even on such a gloomy morning. I still look at that picture and think back to when everything was new – my camera, my first trip away from home by myself, and my newly found obsession with horse racing.
The following year, I left Wall Street, where I had worked as an over-the-counter stock trader, and took a job as a copy boy at the old Morning Telegraph. My world and the world of
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