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This man has seen the danger, the famous faces, the real history of the Saratoga Race Course, first-hand.
“I’m always watching and listening all the time,” said Melvin “Bow” White. Fifty-three years ago, White moved with his family to Saratoga from Brooklyn. While his aunt ran one of the track’s kitchens, as a teenager, White took his first job there cleaning out the horse stalls for 25 cents each.
Leaving for a time (3 years, 3 months, and 6 days, to be exact) to serve in the army, White worked as a maps draftsman for operations intelligence. The experience left him with a substance addiction that he battled for many years. It was an experience that his friend Roswell Whitcomb, who served during the Korean War and worked as an Air Force Air Traffic Control Specialist, and who also fought his own battle with alcoholism, could relate to when the two met 15 years ago.
“It’s the only battle you can win by giving it up,” said Whitcomb, who said today, he and White are like Frick and Frack.
White finds healing by playing the bongos.
“That’s my therapy. As soon as it gets warm, we’ll be playing,” said the fit 74-year-old, who earned his nickname “Bow” because he would often play with his elbows.
Working as a painter and finisher in neighborhood homes when he’s not at the track, White once ran his own shop downtown, Bow’s Zodiacal String Art, and still demonstrates the traits of intelligence and focus common to his birth sign; Virgo.
What’s not so common is White’s almost magical connection to animals.
There was the time he walked into a burning building at 60 Woodlawn Ave. to search for survivors. Finding a woman still inside because she didn’t want to leave her cat, he was able to usher both the cat and its owner outside to safety.
There was the neighbor’s cat “Snowball” (who White called “Snacks”) who greeted him whenever White approached. Another animal companion, a duck named “Dukie” followed White around for nearly 30 years on the grounds of the Saratoga Race Course.
White’s seen a variety of animals at the track, including jockey Angel Cordero’s miniature Shetland pony (who used to ride around in the front seat of his car), to jockey Robyn Smith’s piglet (who was kidnapped and barbecued by mean-spirited rivals) before she retired and married star Fred Astaire, he said.
Now, while White posts the day’s changes on an antiquated scratchboard he called “the guillotine” even before the day it came down and nearly took his head off, he watches as the barn swallows peck at a hawk atop his perch on the towering pole’s golden balls. In the mornings, he’s still standing guard at the gap on the Oklahoma training track.
“You have to be alert at all times. Horses come running out of that gap at 90 mph and they can turn on a dime.”
Never a dull moment for a man named Bow.