Thursday, August 30, 2012
Saratoga 2012: Dark Days for The Spinner
Saratoga Springs, NY, August 29, 2012--Time to face facts. This meeting has had its ups and downs; good and sometimes great racing; bettable cards but yet many unbettable races, and racing days that never seemed to end.
Too much of a good thing? You bet. In fact, according to the calculations of my former Newsday colleague, Paul Moran, there will be an extra week of racing this year after you add up all those 10, 11, and 12 race-cards.
The association gets a pass for August 25, though; on Midsummer Derby Day, anything goes. Will the handle reflect that extra week? Do bears really use Charmin?
But there’s one local group that will be especially sad to see it end, even if it was the darkest period in their history. However, the assemblage has a final chance to leave the track smiling. It happens this Sunday, the final premium giveaway of Saratoga 2012.
We are, of course, referring to that special breed of individual who comes to Saratoga only on those premium-giveaway days. He is androgynous, neither male nor female, neither horseplayer nor tourist. In the vernacular, he is called The Spinner.
Hopefully this Sunday, the Spinner will not reprise his final act of 2008, when he voted with his feet, essentially telling the association that it could take its stadium seat and, well, shove it.
Indeed, gone are the halcyon days of the much coveted portable folding lawn chair, fondly remembered as the acronym P.F.L.C.
At first blush, it’s hard to know a Spinner from a horseplayer. But unlike that solitary individual, the Spinner often travels in packs, sometimes cleverly disguised as a family, a social unit that uses children as beards to collect its free-gotten gains.
The Spinner knows what he wants and recognizes value when he sees it, like on that afternoon five years ago when he came in droves, 72,745 strong, his eyes squarely on the prize: the PFLC.
And if you believe he doesn’t take prizes seriously, think again. The Spinner is no fool. When only a seat cushion was offered, 26,905 fewer Spinners flipped the turnstiles and reported to the multiple-admissions area.
Because many professional Spinners don't usually stay for the racing, don't infer that they’re anti-social. He is the antithesis of the Squatter--one who queues up at admission gates before dawn, pays his admission, then hurdles fellow Squatters to snatch the choice picnic tables closest to the horses, or a shade tree, or a self-service betting terminal, a machine they call SAM.
But the Spinner can't afford to expend his energy like the Squatter. If he is to make a score, he needs patience, conditioning, and needs to time his move perfectly. If not, he’ll stand in line for hours, sometimes five or six deep.
Then he must queue up all over again and, at long last, he finds the redemption area: Spinner Ground Zero.
If he were a race horse, the Spinner would need what horsemen call scope. The good Spinner is never built downhill, though he does need tactical speed. The Spinner’s game is neither for the short of wind nor faint of heart.
When the Spinner came in record numbers in 2007, he had to stand in three lines for the PFLC. The first line got him into the building, the second to a coupon booth, then, at long last, redemption. Praise the Lord.
I’ll never forget the Sunday afternoon several years ago in this historic place when I first encountered the Ultimate Spinner. He was resting alongside a herd of Squatters on the grassy knoll hard by the fence lining Union Avenue.
He sat contentedly on his PFLC, using the seat cushion for ballast: Waste not, want not, is the Spinner’s creed.
On the northwest corner of a red Saratoga stadium blanket, he was resplendent in his classic Saratoga Tee, circa 2003, and a red 2007 Saratoga baseball cap, upgraded this year to a Grade 2 offering.
Then, almost on cue, he clandestinely lifted a cold one from portable Saratoga ice cooler, stealthily concealed inside a tattered Saratoga sports bag, surreptitiously sipping his brew from the versatile Jerry Bailey beer stein, which doubles as a world class pencil holder.
Shading him from the harmful ultraviolet rays was a red-and-white striped Saratoga umbrella. The moment is as indelibly etched as Jaipur and Ridan, Affirmed and Alydar
That was the year fortunes were made on E-Bay, the PLFC going for $19.95 per. Shipping was included, I recall, if you were among the first 50 to order. Those were heady times in Saratoga Springs for the Spinner.
But like so many in the country this election year, the Spinner has fallen on hard times. Oh, the beer glass was nice enough and so, too, the G2 baseball cap, emblazoned with Saratoga front and back, so you could be seen coming and going.
But at what cost the decision not to offer the Spinner’s staple, the trusty Saratoga Tee, handsome enough for wearing outside of a pair of red cargo pants but with the utility of a buffer to help insulate the wearer from the harsh Saratoga winters.
And, of course, it is essential sleepwear for all seasons.
Sadly, the karma is not likely to improve this Sunday when the Spinner comes to gather his fleece blanket, his shield against the crisp autumn breeze just around the corner.
The NYRA marketers tempted fate this year and paid dearly for not offering the premium Tee. An umbrella might have saved the day but, alas, not even a slicker to provide shelter from the storm. No money will be made on E-Bay this year.
Several years ago, HRI suggested a way to not only bring back a popular discontinued notion but also as a means for the association to show its appreciation for the unique contribution made by all Spinners to the fabric of this meet.
A likeness of the typical Spinner, something for the mantle place that says I’m proud to be a Spinner and I support my local racetrack.
How fitting would it be to have the loyal Saratoga fan spin for his likeness in all its bobble-headed glory? Nothing says thank you for coming quite like your own immortal image. The Spinner deserved better than he got this year.
But then that’s the kind of season it’s been, the highs and the lows of the Thoroughbred world. No one ever promised that the Spinner would be sheltered from 2012’s cold reality.
And so, when the Spinner exits the turnstile never to return this year, his head will bob only in disappointment. All he can do is mark the days until the 2013 premium-giveaway items are announced.
For now, all the Spinner can do now is look back and remember what it was like in the best of times, knowing that tomorrow’s premium giveaway is guaranteed no one.