Donning whites, linens, and seersuckers—decked out with a hat for him, a scarf and Ray-Bans for her—our duo traveled north by way of the Taconic State Parkway’s graceful curves. North through Dutchess County’s undulating hills and farms, soon the Catskills began to appear off to west, purplish and distant, but majestic. The bright greens of high summer had already begun to give way to autumnal browns and the occasional sumac bush that was prematurely ablaze. (It should be noted here that in keeping with the spirit of the moment speed limits were casually observed—more as loose, general guidelines, less as actual posted limitations.)
Passing the capital region the air began to change, and as our travelers entered Saratoga County any stresses and cares of the day drifted away silently and swiftly like the puffy clouds in the late summer sky. This would be the day they finally added historic Saratoga Race Course to their list of us places—shared destinations where their mutual (and pari-mutuel) love of history, tradition, architecture, and atmosphere combined to create a magical day.
She was the more experienced, Saratoga-wise at least, of our pair. Showing off a place she dearly loved to one she dearly loved was an undeniable pleasure. She realized immediately that seeing it all through his eyes—from the incredible painted white ironwork to the witches-hat peaks on the grandstand—reminded her of her own maiden voyage to The Spa only a year before. To a pair with artist’s eyes, if not their talents, the feel of the place was old world in the best of all possible ways. Winslow Homer would likely recognize the view (costume aside) as not so different from the one he immortalized in August of 1865 for Harper’s Weekly in his print, Our Watering Places—Horse Racing at Saratoga. She’d been certain her companion would love the place, but the level of his appreciation, how fully he got it, outdistanced even her lofty expectations.
They visited The Big Red Spring, the closest either cared to come to “taking the waters” on this particular day, and lunched next to the saddling paddock admiring the rippling, muscular visions of equine athleticism who were prancing and pawing in front of them. Observing the usual customs, his wagers were based on an unusual recipe of pedigree, hunch, looks, jockey and gate placement. Success is hard to quantify in cases like this (or not, perhaps) but the sheer pleasure of watching the competition and taking part in the day’s activities was more than enough of a payout. Fully immersed in everything that is Saratoga and horse racing, they reveled in each moment, smell, gaze and vista.
But as so often happens on days that you just don’t want to end, no matter how valiantly and stubbornly you may resist, they fly by like calendar pages in an old movie. Thus was to be the speed at which this day passed. Post times seemed to get closer and closer together as the day progressed and the long, late afternoon shadows reminded them that this was late summer as well.
Our happy pair of travelers lingered awhile after the 11th race, savoring the beauty of the end of summer light that left the entire grandstand shadowed and in silhouette. Slowly, as the crowds began to thin, they made their way under the grandstand laughing a little at the piles of torn up tickets that littered the floor like fallen autumn leaves. The gentleman feigned anger and shook his fist in solidarity with all the other losing punters. She consoled him, albeit in a slightly mocking fashion, reminding him that he was doing his bit to assist the ailing racing industry.
After a lingering, backward glance at the ironwork that had so appealed to them both, they strolled back in the general direction of the car, passing the empty silks room where only a week before the entire rainbow had been represented, row by row. On this evening, the penultimate night of the 142nd summer meeting at Saratoga, the hooks were barren and wooden crates with bits of color spilling out were packed and ready to be shipped down to Belmont for the fall meeting. Even the cool breezes that blew through the tall pines seemed to be sighing a kind of farewell. One last drive around, she suggested, and then we’ll hit the road. They drove past the barns and Oklahoma training track, admired the incredible high-Victorian architecture of Union Avenue, saw the blue lights of Siro’s emanating from behind the trees and did their level best to firmly commit it all to memory.
Wistfulness was the prevailing emotion of the journey home; both of our travelers left to marvel privately at what a wonderful day they’d shared. So wonderful that it would compare favorably with other classics in their Pantheon of Amazing Days—an evening celebrating the Canadiens in Montreal, a day amidst the Breughels in Vienna, and numerous walks across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset. It was one of their best days.
Homeward bound, the night sky was worthy of van Gogh with one of the dipper constellations spilling out stars in front of them. The car was filled with crisp and newly autumnal air that carried with it Bing Crosby’s melancholy rendition of I’ll Be Seeing You. Summer was over and they’d been privileged to end it with a bang and in a place that any of their forebears would have both relished and envied.
Had it been real?
|The easily recognized witches-hat peaks of the Saratoga grandstand|
|Underneath the grandstand at day's end, the ground littered with losing tickets|
|The nearly empty jockey's silks room at Saratoga|
|Packed and ready to ship to Belmont for the fall race meeting|