A Day At The Spa: Sept. 1, Suffolk Shippers

Spend an afternoon with the boys from Boston, a group of not-quite degenerate 30-something horseplayers who bet the races with varying degrees of success each time Saratoga is in session.

There are several boys (the number changes depending on who makes it up on any given weekend), but spending time with the steady quintet of Tim Welsh, Ken Semcken, Pat Conlon, and Mike Cummings has become somewhat of a seasonal staple for this intrepid journalist.

Tim and Mike were native Saratogians, have been coming to the track since they were “like five,” according to Mike. Pat’s first summer was 1999, “or whenever the heck Lemon Drop Kid won the Travers.” Ken starting coming up in 2003, after going to business school with Mike.

The boys have Saratoga living down pat. Wake up late morning, stroll downtown to buy the form, get to the races around the second or third, grab a drink at the Jim Dandy bar before the sixth, watch the feature, head to Siro’s, do it all over again the next day.

They also know all about accommodations at the Spa.

“The first three years we stayed in this hole-in-the-wall dive that’s torn down now,” says Pat. “We got like five or eight guys in the room at one time. Then we were like, ‘Hey, we really like this; why don’t we rent a house?’ We’re the Suffolk Shippers.”

The first year, they rented a home on Union Avenue.

“Would you expect anything less from us?” Pat asks.

Apparently so, since they’re staying behind the McDonald’s on Union Street this year.

“It’s definitely the ‘hood,” says Ken.

“I tell people we’re staying on Lincoln,” Mike says. “It’s close enough.”

The boys also stayed on Spring, Warren, and Regent streets.

“Yeah, Spring street was the best,” says Pat. “We conned the landlady that year; it was her first time and she had no idea what to charge. We got it for a song, and then the next year she wanted to raise the rent by about $5,000.”

As stated before, the boys handicap with varying degrees of success. Rumor has it that Tim’s Travers weekend has him so far behind that he refuses to return this season.

“He had a horrible day and we haven’t seen him since,” says Mike. “It’s horrible.”

Of course, Tim’s pending marriage to Erin Boles may have something to do with that – can’t spend the wedding budget on the ponies, even if a horse named Pure Bliss does seem like a lock.

Mike may be the diehard of the group, if his testimony is correct.

“I spent 26 nights up here last year and somehow managed not to lose my job,” he says. “This year I’ve been here every weekend, they’ve been three- or four-day weekends with lots of Monday or Tuesday morning trips back to Boston. A few weeks ago Ken and I drove back at 2:30 in the morning. It was a quick shower, shave, and turnaround back to work.”

An addiction? Absolutely not.

“No, no, no,” Mike says. “It’s an admiration, an attraction to the tradition and the atmosphere of Saratoga. What happens in this place over six weeks is pretty magical.”

And they’re still trying to beat the odds.

“Ah, we figure if you throw four guys at NYRA, at least one of us has to come away a winner,” says Mike. “This year, I was up in my wagering early. Now it’s gonna be down to the wire if  I break even. We’ll see.”

Three more days left to go.

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