The lead has been changed to protect the author. Times were lean that year, but not so this season when events are going rather well.
But we’re only half way home, however, and we’d rather not look any gift-horse in the mouth, so to speak.
Saratoga Springs, NY, August 14, 2011--Merchants around town won’t admit this but the casual Saratoga fan can take or leave the actual racing.
But even at times when they're not beating a path to the admission gates, they will come to the track, early and often, on the four special days on the NYRA calendar.
There are souvenirs to be collected, Christmas gifts to be given, eBay accounts that need to be filled with the latest trinket from Saratoga.
Today was perhaps the most popular bauble of all, the short-sleeve tee shirt--even if my suspicion is the upcoming sports bag will give the ever popular chalk a run for its money.
The chosen people to whom we refer is that special breed of individual who comes to Saratoga only on premium giveaway days.
He is androgynous, neither female nor male, not a horseplayer and not a tourist. The individual we refer to is, of course, The Spinner.
The Spinner is enterprising and, although harmless, is not to be trifled with. One never, ever, takes The Spinner for granted.
One day in 2007, The Spinner came in droves, 72,745 strong, his eyes squarely on the prize: the portable folding lawn chair.
But The Spinner is no fool. When only the seat was offered the following year, only 26,905 flipped those turnstiles or reported to the multiple-admissions area.
Counter-intuitively, many of 2007's Spinners stayed to play the races. They used their new furniture to park themselves comfortably on the track's apron, contributing a portion of the 1.1 million more dollars wagered the previous year.
Because The True Spinner doesn’t usually for the races, don’t infer that he's anti-social. He is unlike his evil twin, The Squatter.
The Squatter queues up long before dawn, pays his admission, then hurdles over fellow Squatters to score the choice picnic areas, those closest to the horses, a shade tree, or a self-service betting terminal.
The Spinner can’t afford this luxury, of course. If he is to make his bones, he needs patience. And stamina.
The Spinner must be prepared to stand in line for hours, in orderly fashion, sometimes five and six deep. Then he must be prepared to queue up again at redemption areas.
If he were a race horse, The Spinner would need scope. His game is not for the short of wind, the feint of heart.
If the Spinner were a jockey he would need to be blessed with patience. And timing. In 2007, when he came in record numbers, he had to stand in three lines for the portable folding lawn chair.
The first line got him into the building; the second to the coupon booth and then, finally, thankgodalmighty, redemption at last. This particular ordeal added to the Spinner's legend here in the storied land of the premium giveaway.
Late on that record Sunday afternoon, the Ultimate Spinner was spotted parked alongside a herd of Squatters on the grassy knoll inside the fence lining Union Avenue.
He sat contentedly on 2008’s P.F.L.C., the Personal Folding Lawn Chair, using Sunday’s seat cushion for ballast. Planted on the northwest corner of a red Saratoga stadium blanket, he was resplendent in a classic Saratoga Tee, circa 2003, and a red 2007 baseball cap, of that I am certain.
As if on cue, the Ultimate Squatter clandestinely lifted a cold one out of his portable Saratoga ice cooler, stealthily concealed inside a tattered Spa sports bag.
Then, surreptitiously, he is seen sipping a brew from his versatile Jerry Bailey beer stein--one that easily doubles as a world class pencil holder--shaded from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays by a red and white striped Saratoga umbrella.
The Ultimate Squatter would never stoop to using this bumbershoot for something so pedestrian as keeping his dry; the lowest of the low.
Running to their past performances, the majority of that year’s Spinners left immediately. The ambitious ones who remained had lugged laptops with wireless cards for logging on to eBay.
The previous year fortunes were made at $19.55 per P.L.F.C., shipping included if you were among the first 50 to order. The following year‘s premium wasn’t nearly as marketable.
And so the Ultimate Spinner left the grounds quickly that day, his head bobbing spring-like in disappointment, marking the days until the next time the ritual, unique to Saratoga Race Course, begins anew.
The time has come for the NYRA shows its appreciation for the unique contributions made by The Spinner to the fabric of any Saratoga race meet by creating a bobble-head likeness of The Spinner.
How appropriate would it be to have The Spinner click those turnstiles for a chance to collect his own likeness in all its bobble-headed glory?
The Spinner deserves recognition for his loyal contributions to the fabric of the Saratoga race meet. And nothing says thank you for coming quite like your own image immortalized in plastic.