Saratoga Diary: Free Parking and Air Conditioning

By Vic Zast
Is that a convention of Wal-Mart greeters at the harness track? Well, at least it looks like it.

This summer marks the first time that Saratoga Gaming and Racing is taking bets on the flat track, and Saratoga Thoroughbred fans of advanced age, with bum legs or an aversion to getting wet when it rains or hot when it's humid, are the ones that are going there.

"These people aren't going to fight the crowds when they have free parking and air conditioning here," said Bob Miller, director of mutuels at the racino. "We're not taking young people away from the big track," he remarked, although he was pleased that the little track had the signal.

Miller might have been right that young people were in slim supply, but people with money were not.

On the first day of taking wagers on Saratoga, the racino handled $52,608. On the second day, it took in $54,501, and today, with thunderstorms ruining the grass races and clearing out the picnic grounds, the off-track Saratoga Thoroughbred handle at the harness track reached $61,516.

"I had clubhouse reserved seats for 23 years, and gave them up," said Steve Pappas, a racino regular. Pappas and his buddies, Tom Bertino and Ed Martenis, sat at a table in the front row with a wide-screen TV in their trifocals. "This is better."

Meanwhile back where the live product played out, trainer Todd Pletcher was a star again. His horses ran first and second in the Lake George Stakes (gr. III), the lone race that was left to be run on the turf after the deluge. It was Pletcher's third graded stakes score in three days.

In the gray of the late afternoon, in light that a cinematographer prefers, the white and Kelly green silks worn by Garrett Gomez aboard L and D Farms' Magnificent Song made the prettiest of moving pictures. Regardless, the simulcasting product in horse-crazy Saratoga is almost as vivid as the real thing.

With talk about jockeys and trainers on every corner, and the air bathed in gossip about racing, the experience of watching a race on TV in a Saratoga betting parlor is almost the same as seeing the race on TV under a tree – only drier.

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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