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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Peter Applebee,

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 20, 2021 — The first four days of Saratoga are in the books. The meet has had a great start with big handle figures.

Opening Day was hot and humid – it is always hot and humid on Opening day. I’m a local so I should know. I think it must be a local ordinance.

Walking in to the race course was exciting for obvious reasons.

Everything looked as it had before.  Like a play that was being revived after two years but with the same cast… everyone hit their marks and knew their lines.

Sadly, inside there was serious shortage of tellers and the options to buy a voucher were limited and not well marked. There was also work still being done on some areas of the facility.

Sources indicated to us that they have had difficulty completing all of the hiring that they typically require.

The backyard area was jammed and looked like a weekend-sized crowd.  The grandstand and the track apron looked more like a typical Thursday, rather than Opening Day. So there was a bit of a dichotomy in the feel around the facility. 

There was a claim of a record attendance on Opening Day, but attendance levels are a bit dubious as season pass holders have been included in the count even if they weren’t on track, as has also been the case in previous years. 

I have been to many Opening Days; this was not the largest crowd I have seen on an Opening Day. But that is not the point in the big picture.

There were some masks, but very few overall. My 10-year-old accompanied me and she was one of the few patrons that had a mask on in the Grandstand – she’s not old enough to be vaccinated yet. 

There are no guarantees in life, but it felt safe. 

The racing card was punctuated by two stakes races, the Quick Call and the Schuylerville. 

2020 Juvenile Turf Sprint Breeders’ Cup winner Golden Pal romped in the Quick Call in what was essentially a paid workout.  

That was topped by a very popular win in the Schuylerville Stakes by the Norm Casse trained Pretty Birdie. Pretty Birdie is owned by the Estate of Marylou Whitney.

Perfect. That was absolutely perfect.

Thank you racing gods!

On the day that fans return to Saratoga, and almost two years to the day after Marylou Whitney’s death was announced over the Saratoga sound system, a Whitney homebred won the feature on Opening Day.


Going into the day I thought it might feel more like a rock concert than a day at the races.  I was wrong. It was a typical race day in every way. Everyone was just doing what they have always done.  

The more I thought about it – it dawned on me.  That’s what we all want – normal. We want things to be normal. To do things we love, to see the people we love, to enjoy our lives.

Things are normal at Saratoga and that’s the best possible news I can report.

Normalcy – we never knew it could be such a precious commodity.

Peter Applebee is a Saratoga-based regular contributor to HorseRaceInsider

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5 Responses

  1. Peter described the day perfectly. It was great to be back at the spa. On track handle was healthy and overall handle was fantastic. Everyone just wants to see and bet on the best racing in the country.

  2. PA–
    Perfectly and simply stated–Opening Day was a return to normalcy. And most importantly, it was not the “new” normal, but the old normal!

    I would note that Opening Day also had its share of normal glitches–like a slew of bettors finding out that their NYRA One cards had expired, resulting in a long line before the first race of people seeking updated cards. And of course the announcer’s mic went dead just before one of the races, resulting in a silent race call. But even glitches were comforting, not annoying, as part of a “normal” Saratoga Opening Day.

    1. Yes, there were definitely mic issues – there was almost nothing announced between races including when they were loading into the gate – so the start of the race was catching the crowd by surprise a lot of times. On the positive side – they did have Maggie Wolfendale’s paddock reports over the loud speaker.

    2. Chuck, opening day glitches are a Saratoga opening day tradition. If the rest rooms are OK, anything else is tolerable…

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