Saratoga Diary: Cool Nights at the Spa

One thing the cool nights have brought is the coffee table book haze that hangs over the track during morning workouts.

For sentimentalists, this is the one image of Saratoga that lingers beyond the season. Dawn, when the horses are brought from their barns to exercise, is a time of day when hope rises highest and Kodachrome flourishes.

There are several places to enjoy a one-of-a-kind breakfast at the track, including the Clubhouse Porch, where in recent years a help-yourself buffet for $13.95 has replaced the sit-down service that used to make the repast elegant.

This change in menu has caused people to move up into the boxes, where they sit for free on the bentwood seats of the rich and famous - with McDonald's and Starbuck's, and maybe the "Pink Sheet" - listening to the banter of Mary Ryan.

Ryan tries to identify the horses by their riders and saddlecloths. Each trainer has his own set of graphics and colors, and Ryan knows the code – listen closely and you'll get it. Abandon her area, and be forewarned - you must wing it on your own.

Watercolorist Bob Ewell and his wife, Barbara, have a different routine. Their house on Fifth Avenue abuts the north edge of Oklahoma, the training track. There is a path that winds behind the racing surface on which the horses travel, just paces away from their garden.

"Those belong to Patrick Biancone," Ewell observed, noting the French trainer sends his horses out in a string the way that they do in Europe. "That's Showing Up," Ewell noted when Barclay Tagg, aboard his pony, passes by, four more horses on parade.

With all these horses, then, why was there only a handful to run in the $200,000 Saratoga Special Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II)? Only six 2-year-olds took the track for the feature Thursday.

Once a stakes won by Regret (1914), Whirlaway (1940), and Native Dancer (1952), this edition of the Saratoga Special, run for the 101st time, didn't quite seem the contest from which any special horse would emerge.

Chace City, a winner at Woodbine last out, seized an early advantage when Teuflesberg stumbled at the start and gamely prevailed by a length over King of the Roxy.

The Carson City colt will be seen again in the seven-furlong Futurity Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 23 at Belmont, but when the distances lengthen, you'll need Ryan's code for saddlecloths to find him.