Saratoga Diary: Day of the Dead

Whenever several hundred people who can't dance assemble on a dance floor, you know that you're going to have a good time. The artichoke soup and veal entrée were delicious at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame party on Friday evening, but the people watching was spectacular.

There was a woman in turquoise with helmet hair dancing with a stud muffin in monogrammed slippers. And over here, see a round mound of middle-aged energy twirling his partner to the point of whiplash.

Galas like this don't exist in many parts of the country, but - in Saratoga - they make a Saturday betting horses a battle with fatigue. 'Hung over in Saratoga' is redundant.

Thankfully, there was enough heart-pounding action at the racetrack to keep wits about. Ironically, there was as much TV viewing as seat-clinging, although shame on NYRA for keeping the sound off during the telecast of the Beverly D (gr. I) from Arlington Park.

Five jockeys who partake regularly in the races at Saratoga traveled west to Chicago to ride in the Arlington Million (gr. I), and they got mounts in the Beverly D., too.

TV watchers knew anyhow that the favorite Gorella, with Julien Leparoux aboard, triumphed over Honey Rider, J.R. Velazquez atop, and seeing that one race earlier at Saratoga, the favorite War Front beat five high class sprinters in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), it began to look like the NTRA National Pick 4 would be paying off the same as a paltry Grand Slam.

Then, Relaxed Gesture, a 3-5 shot in the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. I), killed the hopes of form players. Obviously "singled" by many bettors as the odds-on, Relaxed Gesture got a stranglehold from Kent Desormeaux that left him weary for the stretch run. Go Deputy, with Eibar Coa, won.

Besides the Vanderbilt, there were other races named after dead men. Say Revain won the Bob Lennon Memorial purse, which ran as the fifth. Forget the Judge won the Brian P. Ford Memorial Classic, or the sixth.

Neither Lennon nor Ford was as well known as Vanderbilt, perhaps. But to the people who honored them with races on Saturday, no less influential

Each year, Harvey Pack, who hosts the Daily Racing Form's morning handicapping session at Siro's, extols Vanderbilt for loving the sport, then follows up his compliments with a question. "Why did they name a sprint after someone who is known for breeding classic horses?" Pack asks.

Maybe Vanderbilt, who went to Museum Balls too, wanted things to go quickly the following day, and the people at NYRA knew it.

Vic Zast has been going to the races in Saratoga for 45 straight years. He is a horse owner, breeder and former racetrack executive, as well as a regular contributor to The Blood-Horse publications and others.

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