July 29, 2010

Dear Diary,

Friday is the first official party Friday of the meet, it being the first of two twilight programs. It begins at 2:30 pm and ends, sadly, shortly after Happy Hour.

But these days I can’t wait for Mondays. It’s not that I don’t party anymore. It’s just that when I do, it’s more about food and fine wine than it’s about getting yellow-cab drunk, making a fool of myself or, perhaps, 1 and 1A.

Back in the day when our crew was a lot younger, an equal blend of know-everything and know-nothing, my colleagues, family members and assorted friends participated in an event known as “Saratoga Safari Weekend.”

It was given its name by Glen Mathes, now retired Director of Communications for the New York Racing Association, whose primary function was to watch the media make fools of themselves.

This dossier came in handy when, in the course of doing its job, the media uncovered something potentially embarrassing to the racetrack. As Safari Weekend ringmaster, Mathes was a great equalizer.

So, Safari Weekend, replete with Tee-Shirts and athletic events such as the drunken miniature golf tournament and there was face-painting on Broadway at 2 am, too.

There might have been a race caller or two involved in the latter, though the memory is a bit fuzzy on that score. Some people will do anything for such a prestigious title, no matter how jerky.

In any event, it was Mathes who invented the term and its tagline: “Saratoga Safari Weekend: When You Become the Animal.”

Not only was everyone a lot younger but it was a 24-day meet back then. No one would dream of such folly now, not even our children.

The final leg of the obstacle course began at Lillian’s on Broadway. The challenge was to consume at least one drink at every bar, starting at Lillian’s then proceeding north on Broadway to Caroline Street, continuing east on Caroline to the end of that block.

Do you have any idea how many bars there are in that block and a half radius? Neither do I, but there are many, very many. The challenge was to have one drink in every stop and reach the mythical finish line first, standing.

My team never won, but we had a hell of a time trying. At the least, we were good sports.

Newcomers to the beat vied for the title “Saratoga Rookie of the Year.” Try as we might, all any of us can remember were two winners: Ernie Munick, in his first year on the job for the New York Daily News, and Keith Marder, then of the Albany Times Union, now with Fox News.

Munick is a talented musician and, if memory serves, it was that skill that elevated him over his main rival, Paul Moran, in that year’s rookie competition. If it’s hard to envision Paul finishing second to Ernie, it’s harder still imagining him as a rookie.

Marder, meanwhile, was a stone party animal and would have been an out-bet if only I had known. He won wire to wire, going away, using a unique method to earn the title.

At the beginning of the night he announced what color he was drinking; some nights yellow, some nights green, clear, whatever it took. And he would shift gears, too. “Give me something blue,” he would tell the bartender.

Marder had an edge; he was a local. Transplanted downstaters simply couldn’t deal with the crisp, clean air.

I lived a few blocks from the Long Island Expressway then. What chance did I have in the Adirondacks? I needed to suck on a few exhaust pipes to regain my equilibrium; the fresh air was killing me.

Time, of course, is the master of us all. Partying is now done on Monday afternoons, a quasi day off from the six-day grind, and food has replaced beverage as the wretched excess of choice.

Unless, of course, you’re talking vanilla shakes at the Shake Shack; they’re killer! I’m a chocolate lover by birth and sweet tooth, but I was touted by Jerry Bossert of the News, who might or might not have been a Rookie of the Year himself. He can’t remember; neither can I.

Know that the vanilla shake from the new Shake Shack stand at the Race Course retails for $6.50, which made me feel a little like Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.” “I’ll have a vanilla shake. I’ve got to know what a six-fifty shake tastes like.”

I’m pretty sure it was the best vanilla shake I’ve ever had. The burger, at about the same price, was very good, although not as good as the local “Juicy Burger” at its best, probably closer to the Five Guys chain at Exit 15, which sells for a buck less.

The Shake Shack fries were excellent, crispy, greaseless. The fries at Five Guys were just as good, but different. But if you go to the racetrack and don’t win, you must take something from the experience for the next time.

Actually, it was a win-win. Won a few dollars and learned the hard way that I’m also too old for a burger, half-order of fries, and half a vanilla shake for breakfast.

As for Hattie’s fried chicken--still the best on the planet, that’s another matter. Crispy, greaseless, and as light as fried chicken is allowed to be. Know, too, that chef Jasper kicked Flay’s butt in a cook-off at the track here a few years ago.

If you agree, come back this winter for Jasper’s mac and cheese. Fuhgedaboudit!

DAY 6:

Not walkin’ around lucky today. Went for the longer uncoupled Voss in the Kiser Novice hurdles, the first jump-up event of the season. Shudda’ taken the longer Sheppard; Sermon Of Love, a winner at 11-1...

After Pletcher saddled Sky Hosoya for an open lengths maiden scamper in the second, local hero Chad Brown came right back to tie Pletcher for the training lead with High Stakes Player, beneath Castellano, who remains hot…

Worstcasescenario stumbled out of the gate in the co-featured Lucy Scribner, settling for third behind Devil By Design, Billy Mott winning at least one race on his birthday for the 12th time in the last two decades. As the favorite, Mott’s filly didn’t pay enough to buy a vanilla shake.