Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pharoahtoga: The Christmas Place To Be

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Travers Eve, 2015—Since 1977, my first full racing season in Saratoga, I have seen many strange things, but this was different—in a good way.

Put another way, I live virtually across the street from the race course and it took me about 25 minutes to get inside the gate this morning.

Welcome to Pharoahtoga.

NYRA racing analyst Richard Migliore said a month ago that if Monmouth Park could draw 6,000 fans to see American Pharoah gallop that, because this is Saratoga, you could get 20,000.

I’m thinking The Mig might have ridden 4,450 winners but what does he know about this?

I’ll be damned but his guess was a lot better than mine. The crowd seemed more like a weekday at the races or, as Jerry Bossert put it, “there were more people here this morning than will be at Aqueduct all winter.”

My spies--colleagues Bob Ehalt and Ed McNamara--have been around the oval more than a few times. Ehalt, observing from the winners’ circle, guesstimated the front-side crowd at about 15,000.

McNamara, who watched the gallop from the backside, thought there were about 3,000 fans back there. The NYRA guesstimated the crowd at 15,000. Nobody questioned it.

I watched the gallop on cable TV in my living room. That’s right. In Saratoga, you can stay home and when American Pharoah shows up, you can watch Tuesday’s post draw and this morning’s gallop on Time-Warner Cable News, Ch. 1.

I probably had the best seat to observe the gallop and nothing I saw indicated that he will not be at his best at 5:46 p.m. tomorrow.

His stride was fluid, his energy level was high, and he didn’t want to be pulled up, always wanting his head.

“He liked the track,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He galloped around there like he usually does, whenever he has his ears up. I feel very happy about the way he went today.”

In a Man on the Street feature in a local paper, fans were asked to complete this sentence: “American Pharoah coming to Saratoga is as big as…?”

“Derek Jeter getting his 3000t hit,” said one. “The President coming; it’s a piece of history,” said another. “Secretariat,” said a racing fan. And my personal favorite: “The Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well Tour.”

And when the 146th Travers field curls into headstretch, 50,000 fans will hope to see history as American Pharoah keeps right on truckin’, like the do-dah man.

The View From the Porch

It started early. By 7 a.m. the red light on Nelson Ave. was backed up on Union Avenue 10 Victorians deep. Every parking spot, normally filled by noon on a racing day, was taken.

Occasionally, a savvy driver would make a U turn and take the back route. Too bad; Nelson and East Avenues didn't look any better.

Some came by foot carrying the furniture and groceries they'd need for the day. A beautiful morning for a walk; a beautiful day for the races at Saratoga Race Course.

American Pharoah is galloping this morning and thousands are coming to see him. These early pilgrims are fans for whom the Triple Crown winner IS the Super Bowl. And Thoroughbred Racing is the winner, today anyway. Hopefully tomorrow, too.

They are smiling as they walk by with the anticipation of a child hoping to see Santa on Christmas morning.

That's when I saw him: Glorious as ever, slowly rolling east on Union. Recognizable in denim or in his iconic red suit, Saratoga's resident Santa Claus can be spotted anywhere as he goes about his daily life.

And today, Santa came to see Pharoah. Only in Saratoga.

--Words and File Photo by Toni Pricci

Saratoga's Santa in Residence, Fred Clark

Written by John Pricci

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