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Saturday’s Woodward Stakes marks the sixty-third rendition of this historically important Stakes Race. The event was established in 1954 - just one year after the death of Mr. William Woodward Sr.
He was the owner of Belair stud - a name revered for breeding and racing top-level thoroughbreds for four decades. Mr. Woodward and his famed white with red polka dot silks would rule the horseracing world in the 1930s.
He would win two triple crowns in that span with Gallant Fox in 1930 and then Omaha in 1935. Belair almost pulled a hat trick with the great Nashua in 1955. Second to the mighty Swaps in the Kentucky Derby, he would come back to win the last two jewels easily.
Mr. Woodward was as at ease in his office as sole owner of Hanover National Bank, as he was at his desk as Chairman Of The Jockey Club, positions that he used to greatly enhance the reputation of American horse racing in comparison to its European counterparts.
I believe Mr. Woodward would be ecstatic to know the relevance of his namesake stake. Nineteen times the winner of this perennially important event would go on to be named horse of the year, names such as Sword Dancer, Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Skip Away and Rachel Alexandra.
And let us not forget Holy Bull, a specimen so powerful that even Spain’s great matador “Manolete” would have been hard pressed to slow down this bull.
This is a roll call of those who have entered “The Pantheon of Champions” down through the ages.
Long after Belair closed its stalls and disbursed its remaining horse stock, The Woodwards would have one last hurrah. Bill’s daughter Edith would dust off the Belair silks one more time. This happened for one of the finest Thoroughbreds to ever grace the American Turf.
Damascus would thrill the racing world with battles of epic proportions pitted against his archrival Dr. Fager. It would be in the 1967 version of the Woodward Stakes where Damascus would prove his valor.
He would not only face Dr. Fager, but also the most regally bred champion in memory - Ogden Phipps’ Buckpasser, fittingly dubbed “The Race Of The Century.” Damascus put them both in his back pocket and along with it a well-deserved horse of the year trophy.
Years have passed, and The Woodward name is largely forgotten. The race is principally all that remains.
Then, in the spring of this year one more honor would be awarded to this great name in American racing. The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame named William Woodward Sr. as a “Pillar of the Turf.”
A distinction so well deserved, joining a select club including giants such as Alfred G Vanderbilt, John Hay Whitney, Paul Mellon, E P Taylor, August Belmont II and a few others who were the caretakers of horse racing in North America.
The advent of the Breeders Cup along with its huge purse structure and horse of the year ramifications have taken much of the luster off the Woodward and other historic races as well. Yet, it will always have the one distinction that separates it from all others… The Woodward name, a name that is synonymous with all that has made horse racing “The Sport Of Kings.”
Also, If you ever find yourself thirty miles southeast of Baltimore in Prince George’s County, just a few miles from the old Bowie Racetrack, you can still get a glimpse of Mr. Woodward’s masterpiece. Although most of the land has been sold off to developers and the tree-lined entranceways and perfectly manicured acreage may be long gone, the Belair Mansion and its renowned stables still survive.
Here you can walk your way into horse racing history as you tour these legendary grounds, a special place that for a few hours will take you back to the glory days of William Woodward and his beloved Belair Stud.
And, for any of the higher ups at NYRA that may read this, please consider the following:
- Make this race a Labor Day tradition.
- Race it at the classic distance of one and one-quarter miles (Saturday’s race is a mile and 1/8).
- Raise the purse to a richly deserved one million dollars.
It would be such a grand way to close out the future racing seasons here at the Spa. The late Mr. Woodward, who epitomized both class and the pursuit of excellence would expect, no make that demand - nothing less.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — “Well, inside I was freaking out. But it was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
So said Rodger Wyland, a fixture in this market’s sports world, reminiscing about his first broadcast, which happened to take place on Travers Day, 1986, as a then-new addition to the WNYT-13 sports team. “Here I am, Born and raised in Altoona, PA, so of course we have heard of Saratoga, but never did I imagine that my debut assignment would put me on the roof to anchor our station’s coverage,” Wyland said.
Well, if he was nervous, it apparently didn’t show. For on Friday, August 26, Rodger Wyland, along with co-host John Pricci, will be up on the roof again, anchoring WNYT’s Travers Preview program, from 7-7:30 p.m. – a mere 30 years later. His regular sports program, “Big Board Sports,” has blossomed into the region’s “Must See TV” sports broadcast, on the network (NBC) affiliate that invented that catch phrase, as well as the network that will bring the big race, and show off Saratoga itself to the world on Saturday, August 27. And after the Travers, look for the Wyland-Pricci alliance to be on air with post-game analysis at about 6:20 p.m.
“So there I was, scrambling to prepare for that first broadcast, and I’m looking around the press box for some experts to interview,” Wyland said. “John at the time was the race analyst for Long Island’s Newsday, in addition to being an extremely colorful individual. John didn’t hesitate: He said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’ “He really bailed me out on that first broadcast. And we’ve been friends ever since,” Wyland concluded.
In a number of ways, this 30th anniversary has brought Rodger Wyland full circle. In addition to the WYNT anniversary, he this month transitioned to a higher plane on another other broadcast branch of his sports ‘tree’: Radio, as he moved to 104.5 the Team, an FM affiliate of sports powerhouse ESPN Radio, after several years on AM980. His show airs Monday-Friday, from 10 a.m. to noon, with Friday’s broadcast originating live from Saratoga Race Course. “I really got an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Wyland said. “For one thing, I have the syndicated “Mike and Mike Show” (Greenberg and Golic) from 6 to 10 a.m. as a lead-in. The ratings are huge!” “More importantly,” he continued, “I’ve got a big-time producer/partner on the show in Brady Farkas. This is a big upgrade. Most hosts get a producer who screens calls, cues breaks. Brady is on the mic next to mine. I can’t say enough about the guy! He knows his stuff, and puts it out there effectively. Even our good-natured ribbing and repartee is mixed with a major dose of respect. I’m telling your readers – watch this one. He’s going to do some great things,” he concluded.
We met last Friday, August 19, after the conclusion of his live radio show at the Race Course. A quick jaunt to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts stand. Caffeine in tow, we looked for a place to sit and chat. Failing that, we settled in around a recycle barrel and chatted a lot about racing trends. Wearing shades – we weren’t bothered by any fans (his, not mine). And so, we dug into the 2016 Saratoga Race Meet trends.
“What a meet so far!” he said. “Just halfway through, and we’ve got a lot of star power. No Triple Crown Winner, like American Pharoah in 2015 – but this meet has depth in its roster of outstanding performers.” So with three of the six racing weeks in the books, I asked him who his MVP of the meet would be if current trends continue.
“I got to go with my man from Mechanicville – Trainer Chad Brown. I remember interviewing him after he won his very first stakes race here years ago,” Rodger said. “But this is not a case of ‘homerism,’ the guy delivers – particularly on grass. He’s loaded up for the Travers as well, with three entries.” That would be My Man Sam, Gift Box and Connect – all who landed in the field of 14 for Saturday’s Grade 1 Classic.
Switching to the Jockey colony, Rodger’s top picks for the win title: “Now this is tough. A very competitive, high-quality group. I’m picking the Ortiz brothers one and two, with a slight edge to Jose over Irad, but I say it will be neck-and-neck to the wire at this meet. Number three, kind of funny calling him a ‘dark horse,’ but John Velazquez has come back strong this meet,” he said.
Now, onto horses – and I take great pains to remind you that this conversation took place the day before the Alabama, won for fun by Songbird. “You can’t look past Songbird – what a star! You can see greatness radiate off her. Her Coaching Club American Oaks victory here earlier in the meet (Sunday, July 24 – when Songbird won by 5 ¼ lengths) was good enough to convince me. I expect that she will smash a similar field in the Alabama,” he said.
(Songbird took that one the next day by seven lengths at odds on).
“Number two. It’s Chad Brown’s Connected. Primed for the Travers (as of press time, second morning line choice to Exaggerator at 4-1). Coming into this beautifully. And number three… well, what’s wrong with Frosted? Not a thing! We tend to overlook him because he will only race once at Saratoga (a Grade I Whitney Handicap victory) and this meet is geared to the 2 and 3-year olds. I wish he would try the Woodward, but his next race will be the Jockey Club Gold Cup, then, hopefully on to the Breeders’ Cup.”
So how about one longshot Travers pick before we sign off? “I’ll take Laoban. A longshot (15-1 in that same morning line) - but maybe not really. He broke his maiden in the Jim Dandy (July 30), first win in six starts - at 27-1, however. So we’ll see. I’m partial to his trainer, Eric Guillot. I visited his barn a while back, and he had this whole voodoo set-up with an opposing trainer’s head on it. Hard to go against voodoo,” Rodger said laughing. “What a character.” “So let’s go with the Connected/Laoban exacta. Bet it big and call it a day!”
Looking forward, we promised to discuss High School football once it started rolling, and in September, he was looking forward to promoting a golf tournament at Orchard Creek Country Club to benefit the Thomas Patrick Morrison Foundation, named after a two-year old child who succumbed and passed on January 20, 2006, as a result of a mitochondrial disorder. Rodger also recently concluded a soccer camp that benefitted the foundation.
We’ll be happy to help promote the tournament when details are finalized. It’s a no-brainer to do right by a person’s most near-and-dear cause, particularly when that person has spent decades doing the right thing in our market.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Meeting Deanna Hensley for the first time is like meeting an old friend, a great quality in a homeless outreach coordinator. Her giant heart shows in her welcoming smile and gentle, fierce protection of Saratoga Springs’ homeless neighbors. On Friday, August 12, Hensley invited me, Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20), and congressional staffer Marilyn Smith to ride along with her during her outreach work for Shelters of Saratoga (SOS).
We began in Congress Park, meeting at the park’s north entrance in front of her white van. “I usually have the RV, but it’s in the shop,” said Hensley. “I park in the same spot so they know to look for me here. It’s not rare for me to make 25 contacts in a day.”
It was a beautiful morning, a summer breeze lifting spirits while cooling the temperature across the green, tree-dotted grassy expanse. Mothers were pushing strollers, a visiting family was tasting the spring waters at the pump, and joggers were getting their morning exercise. And here and there, among the typical Saratoga Season crowd, a few men slowly walked in, found a shade tree, and lay down to sleep. One here, one there, seemingly random but some had their favorite spots. We watched as Hensley walked over to each of them, checking to see if they needed medical assistance or water or even a pair of socks. “Sometimes they’ve been drinking and are sleeping it off,” said Hensley. “Sometimes they are angry, or sick, or just have headaches. They don’t pay attention to hydration. They appreciate someone out here noticing and saying ‘hey, drink water.’” Hensley is careful, and listens well to the homeless neighbors in her care so she can keep them and herself safe. “We do have people who take advantage and try to prey on the weaker ones,” she said. “You never know what you might find walking up to someone, just have to be ready for anything. I do my research, so I know whether or not I’m walking up on a sex offender or someone with a violent history. So far I have not had anyone threaten me, and I think it’s because you have to show you care. They know me out here, know I can stand this close, and they have nothing to fear from me. If they ask for a hug, I’ll give it. One guy told me he hadn’t had a hug in 8 years. Can you imagine?” She opened the back of the van (filled with water bottles, t-shirts, baby wipes, foot powder, ramen noodles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sometimes tarps and sleeping bags) as Shawn walked over, a former roofer suffering from alcoholism and other issues. “Hi, Shawn, how are you feeling today?” asked Hensley, as if she’d known him forever. “Want some raviolis?” Shawn stood a little hesitantly at first, unsure of us strangers around the van, but Tonko reached out to shake his hand and learn a little more about him. Shawn had once had a family, a home in Ballston Lake, and a job roofing and siding, but one mistake led to another, and like many in trouble who lack support, he tried to find solace in alcohol, and has been homeless 9 years and 7 months as a result. His daughter, Michaela Rose, is 10 now. “It makes me not think,” he said about the drinking. “I don’t want to think anymore.” He sat down on the pavement between the van and a parked car to empty his sneaker. Hensley put a bottle of water by him and some food in his backpack. His blue eyes would make Sinatra proud, and his ready smile belied the serious resignation in his eyes. “I’m going to die soon,” the 34-year-old told us with an unnervingly quiet calm that made me want to check his pockets for anything he might hurt himself with. “I gave up on myself. I’m in such rough shape. It is what it is.” And he smiled, as if he were trying to make us feel better. Hensley and Tonko stepped aside and spoke urgently with him, and later Hensley told me that she wished she could throw a burlap sack over his head and just take him to a doctor, but she can’t take him unless he wants to go. According to Hensley, 85 to 90 percent of the people she meets tell her they have a pain inside that they can’t kill, so they try to kill it with alcohol. “There are so many like Shawn,” she said. “Good people, locals. That guy over there was an engineer at GE, worked 31 years. His wife got sick, and he lost everything to debts. Now he’s on the street.” Tonko told me he felt it was important to see the situation with his own eyes. “There are too many faceless discussions about homeless solutions,” he said. “Anecdotal evidence is a powerful tool to get things done. If our neighbors are homeless and struggling, we need to find a way to address their needs with care and dignity.” Hensley has so many stories to tell the Congressman. She talked about Alex, a Saratoga native who turned 21 on Thursday, Aug 25. His mom moved him from home to home, until he finally ended up in foster care, “…where bad things happened,” said Hensley. “He was severely abused in foster care.” “Locally?” I asked. “Locally,” she answered seriously. After that, she said, Alex didn’t feel safe in any system, not even SOS. Another man walked up as well as a teenager and a woman. Shawn and the three additions all knew each other and they all knew Hensley. The scene could almost have been a family out for a picnic, but one was joking one minute and crying the next, and the youngest played it cool, showing me his prison tattoo. He had good news – he had just landed a job putting labels on bottles at a local brewery. They needed care, though, including showers and a safe place to sleep. One homeless man reached up to his head, politely excused himself, and bent down to swipe the dust from his scalp, which showered down as if he’d spent a week at the beach. Even he was surprised and said he had been careful to sleep on the sleeping bag and not in the dirt. Not one of us stepped back from him, though, and it was clear that even those of us just visiting couldn’t help but have our hearts reach out to this fellow needing a little human compassion. Hensley began her work with SOS in March of this year, and has already built trust and helped many members of the local homeless community. Her vast experience stems from her work with the homeless in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she worked in a few different capacities, including in an adolescent acute unit for several years. When asked what she hopes to gain from hosting ride-alongs with reporters and elected officials, Hensley said, “We need easier access to detox and rehabilitation facilities, places that won’t keep them for only a few hours.” Currently, Hensley drives her “guys” to either St. Peter’s in Albany or St. Mary’s in Troy for those services. Anecdotally, she hears from homeless individuals that local places will take them in for three or four hours and then discharge them. Hensley hopes that legislators at the state and federal levels will understand that health coverage for the homeless population needs to cover longer-term detoxification, so it is out of their systems and they are given education and support to keep it out, as well as counseling services to address the underlying problems that made them become addicted to substances or alcohol in the first place. “Once you treat the addiction, you have to treat the person, and we need that. I will put them in the RV and take them, then and there, if they say they are ready for rehab,” said Hensley. “I don’t want to risk losing that window.” Hensley was glad Tonko came along and spent so much time on the ride along. At one point, she told him, “Normally they clam up around strangers, but they really opened up with you. You could be an outreach person.” After a couple hours, we left Congress Park in her van to visit an abandoned encampment, a home for the homeless. She surprised us when she pulled to the side of a road in a well-known section of the city, and took us to a hidden path through the woods we would never have seen without someone showing it to us. We climbed over a fallen tree; slipped a little down a hill; crunched through dead leaves, mud and underbrush; and found ourselves in a small clearing. The trees muffled the sounds from the road, and the beauty of healthy green plants and trees seemed incongruous next to the broken bottles of vodka and overturned shopping carts. As I stood there surveying the empty food wrappers, a torn tarp, tufts of grass peeping up around shards of glass and a moldy pillow, I imagined people sleeping here. It was peaceful, a hiding place from everything about the world that could scare you, a place where you could hide even from yourself. Someone like me, educated and with years of work experience, or even someone like Tonko, who has dedicated his career to public service, could one day find ourselves in a hidden home like this. One mistake, one economic downturn, one house fire, one illness – and everything I – or Tonko – or Hensley – or anyone – had built could disappear. That could be me, numbed to sleep by alcohol and rustling leaves, on that pillow, grass, and glass. In that quiet place, Hensley asked us what it would be like to have to live with nothing but our own thoughts, regrets, frightening memories. What it would be like to have to choose to live, not just day by day, but hour by hour. “Some people say they should just get up and get a job,” said Hensley. “They say it as if a homeless person just decided one day they’d be more comfortable sleeping and drinking on the ground, that it would be more comfortable than having a home or a job. It’s sad to see that stigma. People only see the aggression, but not what’s behind the aggression. They [the homeless] are not the bad guys. These are mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters.” Bottom line, human resiliency depends on a support system, meaning people who care, who have giant hearts like Hensley. If such a person, friend, relative, neighbor doesn’t exist in your life, it’s that much harder to get up from a fall, especially a tragic fall. There but for the grace of God and the caring people in my life, go I. Hensley said the one thing she wishes everyone would take to heart is, “Just because someone is unshowered and sitting against a tree with a backpack doesn’t mean they should be judged; it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your kindness. Be kind to everyone, because, as the saying goes, you don’t know what battle they are fighting.” And no one could be kinder than Deanna Hensley. To support her work and the countless other volunteers and professionals working with the homeless in Saratoga, a series of colorfully-painted drop boxes have been placed along Broadway to accept check and cash donations. [See our story “New Donation Boxes Hit the Streets of Saratoga Springs” by Allison Capasso in Saratoga TODAY’s August 19 edition.] For more information about Shelters of Saratoga or how you can help, visit sheltersofsaratoga.org or call 518-581-1097.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales are in Saratoga Springs. Having arrived on Tuesday, August 16, they will be in the Capital Region through Sunday, August 21, with events in Saratoga Springs, Lake George, Troy and Altamont. The Clydesdale breed originated in Clydesdale, Scotland over 300 years ago. Canadians of Scottish decent brought the animals to America in the mid-1800s, and they made their first appearance in correlation with Budweiser on April 7, 1933. August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch presented 12 Clydesdales as a gift to their father in celebration of the repeal of Prohibition, sparking a multiple-city tour of the six-horse hitch that delivered cases of Budweiser to each city. From there on out, Clydesdales became associated with the Budweiser brand. The Clydesdales have spent the summer of 2016 on tour, hitching their famous red beer wagon in hundreds of locations across the country. To be considered for the job of hitch horse, a Clydesdale must be at least three years old, approximately 18 hands tall, weigh approximately 2,000 pounds, and have the signature Budweiser Clydesdale coloring and markings. On average, a single Clydesdale horse consumes 20-25 quarts of feed, 40-50 pounds of hay, and 30 gallons of water per day! The hitch is also accompanied by a Dalmatian, which has been the mascot of the Clydesdales since 1950, when a Dalmatian was introduced with the horses at the opening of the Newark Brewery. Originally, Dalmatians were trained to protect the horses and wagons while the drivers made deliveries; today, they are simply another symbol of Budweiser. In Saratoga Springs, the horses are stabled in the Warming Hut in the Saratoga Spa State Park. Stable viewings are held daily and open to the public beginning at 10 a.m.; everyone is invited to come take pictures with the horses or simply admire the impressive animals. On Wednesday, August 17, the Clydesdales had their first of two “public workouts” – parading along the picturesque Avenue of the Pines from inside SPAC to their home base by the Warming Hut. The reaction was universally gushing: “I love, love, love the Clydesdales!” exclaimed Fred Clark, AKA ‘Saratoga’s Santa.’ “I was so happy my daughter, Lisa, saw this on Facebook and told me… I saw them at the race course in their last appearance a few years ago.” Clark played down rumors that he was scouting said Clydesdales as reindeer replacements should they come open on the free-agent market. “Well, they’re not as fast. Santa loves his reindeer,” he stated firmly, yet with a hohoho. Lucy Dwyer, age 12, was there on the Avenue with Aunt Molly and Grandma Sheila (visiting from Stuart, Florida). The seventh grade student at Maple Avenue Middle School said it was her first time seeing the “pretty horses” up close and personal. “Aunt Molly told me about it!” she said. Molly also learned about it from Facebook, in this case a group page called “Signs You Live in Saratoga Springs.” Teddy Foster and her posse (all from Saratoga Springs) made it unanimous. “I’m just thrilled and delighted,” she said. “It’s my first time seeing them, and it’s also a beautiful evening!” Her friend Tammy supplemented Teddy’s thoughts by saying “Yet another reason why we love this town,” Tammy said. Lena was thrilled to see the mighty steeds receive their bath earlier in the day; and Donna (who insisted on opining that she plans to never plans to grow up, is a season ticket holder for the “Clydes” of sorts – this was her fifth time seeing the stallions – two in Florida (Busch Gardens, naturally). The Clydesdales will also be making various other appearances throughout their stay in the Capital Region, including the Charles R. Wood Park in Lake George, the Altamont Fair, and the Troy Valley Cats baseball field at Hudson Valley Community College. Locally, It’s not too late to catch a glimpse of these amazing horses: come to the Avenue of the Pines in Saratoga Spa State Park on Friday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m. and watch the awe-inspiring Clydesdale parade.
‘Tho Mother Nature thankfully blessed us with perfect weather at the start of the week for the Fasig-Tipton Yearling Sales, by midweek she was cursing us with the dreaded “h-cubed muggies”, and by Fourstardave Saturday, she was defiantly laughing in our faces! The annual Sales hold a very special place in my heart. It is there that my lifelong love affair and fascination with horses began. Since my childhood home (our Presbyterian Church’s manse) was literally behind the yearling stables on the north side of Madison, I could walk out my backyard on Fifth, cross over what was then a real alley, slip under a gap in the fence, and be in seventh Heaven! If I knew then what I know now, however, I would never have been filled with the joyful innocence of that little girl who believed that one day a horse like these could be hers! On the second night of the sales, a filly by Medaglia d’Oro, (sire of the great Rachel Alexandra and current star Songbird) elicited a bidding war between Mandy Pope and B. Wayne Hughes that resulted in the Sales topper at $1.45 million! Ms. Pope, who has been building a powerful breeding operation in Ocala for some time now, along with the reputation as a fierce player and bullish foe, outdueled Mr. Hughes in a spirited battle, as they sat close by to each other! It never becomes old to watch in wonder as these beautiful babies are led out to the walking ring, often and loudly displaying their dismay with all of the attention, and to then see their potential suitors fight over them in the Sales ring like jilted lovers! In the very same location on Friday morning, pillars of the industry gathered for the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. For many years, I’ve relished being able to attend this wonderful event that has always been open to everyone, but thank goodness I had a media pass this year, because for the first time, it was closed to the public! Sadly, this resulted in a much smaller crowd than usual, for what was perhaps their most decorated class ever. Even though I’m sure the Hall anticipated huge ticket requests from the connections of this star-studded class, it was common knowledge that they were mostly fearful of PETA protesters ruining their event because of the scurrilous and baseless allegations of abuse that were leveled by Joe Drape in the New York Times against Steve Asmussen. Thank goodness these trumped up charges, based on a dubious and highly edited video that was manufactured by PETA, were found to be false after lengthy investigations by both the NY and KY Racing Commissions. After two agonizing years of waiting, their findings opened the door for the Hall to finally and rightfully induct him. Steve’s wife Julie, who began as a hot walker in his barn, introduced him, and remarked that the most important lesson he has shared with their three sons, is that you never give up, and that you wake up every morning and give it your all, because effort is everything! Although it’s been said that Steve is rather unapproachable and can appear aloof, in an extremely emotional and heartwarming acceptance speech, he showed us a very different side. He made it clear that he owes so much to his wife, who stood bravely by his side in spite of battling cancer during this ordeal, and to his Mom and Dad, (a former Jockey and Trainers who were in attendance) who raised him and his older brother Cash (a former Eclipse Award Winner as an Apprentice Jockey) in the small Texas town of Laredo, to believe in their ability to succeed, and to understand the importance of family and hard work. Choking back tears, he thanked his Mom for her faith in him, and his Dad for being the essence of a “true man”. He also made a point to thank his longtime Assistant, Steve Blasi, who had been the focus of the PETA witch-hunt. He went on to explain that this honor belonged to his entire team, and to his owners that never stopped believing in him, and most importantly, to the horses, including greats like Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, My Miss Aurelia, Untapable and Kodiak Cowboy. I can’t recall ever feeling any more devastated about an athlete’s injury than I did after hearing the horrible news of the bad fall Ramon Dominguez had taken on the hard inner track at Aqueduct, that January afternoon in 2013. I was absolutely heartbroken that this could happen to not only such an amazing talent, but to such an incredibly fine human being. Praying incessantly that he would recover, and hoping beyond hope that he would be able to return to the saddle, as the months passed, I remained optimistic. When the final verdict was announced, that the 3-time Eclipse Award Winner had to retire, I cried like a baby, and continued to tear up each time I saw him after he finally returned to the Track that following summer in Saratoga. But this year, and this day, are different, as the tears of sadness have turned to tears of joy for a man who has accepted his fate with the same humility, class and grace that defined his career. To make it easier on us who are easily moved to tears, he engaged us with hilarious stories during his acceptance speech, and showed us all why he will forever remain on top, no matter where life leads him. The ever-entertaining Tom Durkin, who once again served as the MC, introduced each honoree with his usual flair, and when he did so for Ann and Jerry Moss’ incomparable Zenyatta, he lamented that he was never able to call one of her races. Moss, the founder of A & M Records, (hence Queen Z being named after the album by The Police) and wife Ann, were understandably ebullient in their praise of, and thanks to and for their superstar, who wowed her throngs of fans with her diva-like prancing in the Post Parades, bigger than life personality, and devastating come from behind thrilling stretch runs. As has become my routine, I have saved the best for last, and I say this unapologetically and unabashedly with pride, because Rachel Alexandra is one of my very favorites of all time! I’ll freely admit that my opinion is based on the fact that I was so blessed to see her greatness in person several times, and from Churchill Downs in the Oaks, to Belmont in the Mother Goose, and ultimately on to Saratoga for her iconic Woodward, she thrilled me like no other, and left us all breathless and in tears! My heart stopped when we almost lost her in childbirth, and broke when we realized she would never be able to give birth again, but the unbelievable memories of her courage, grit and determination will remain alive in my heart and soul forever! As her compassionate yet understated owner, Barbara Banke, remarked during her acceptance speech on behalf of Rachel, it is her amazing courage that will define her legacy. In what was arguably his greatest race call, Tom Durkin reminded us of how Rachel’s heart stopping Woodward literally raised the rafters and moved the crowd with her gutsy victory! I will never forget standing at the rail on the finish line, with bodies ten-deep pressed up against me, and with tears running down my face, as she returned to the Winner’s Circle! Thank You, Rachel, for creating these unforgettable moments! Anticipating a storm of epic proportions, NYRA wisely cancelled the last six races on Saturday’s card, putting safety first, and all eyes then turned to Arlington Park. At this point, NYRA had to be very pleased with their fortuitous decision to provide bonus coverage that day from AP during their Saratoga Live show, and since Gabby Gaudet was already there to cover the big races, they smoothly transitioned from the mess at home, and turned it into a positive Win-Win for their new national programming. In spite of struggling in his Saratoga debut this Meet, with only three wins to his credit before he headed to Chicago, Florent Geroux, the almost-30-year-old French Jockey, had a day to remember at his old stomping grounds at AP! He racked up five wins from eight mounts, with four of them being Stakes, and two of these being Grade 1s. He owes a huge debt of gratitude to his hardworking Agent, Doug Bredar, (husband of TVG analyst Caton, and a former Racing Secretary at Churchill Downs and Gulfstream) for securing mounts for him three weeks out, on very live horses, that were favorites in every race he won! His Stakes streak began in the American St. Leger, on Mike Maker’s 4-5 favorite Da Big Hoss, and continued in the Grade I Secretariat for 3-year olds, aboard Chad Brown’s classy Beach Patrol, a son of Lemon Drop Kid. In the $700K Grade 1 Beverly D, FloG rode Chad’s even money favorite, Sea Calisi, stable mate and training partner of the great Lady Eli, to victory, and ‘tho he didn’t have the same luck in the Arlington Million, he closed out his streak in the Grade III Pucker Up, where with a continued stroke of good luck, he was awarded the victory on Chad’s 5-2 shot when the apparent winner was disqualified and dropped to third! The up and coming young Trainer from the UK, David O’Meara, further elevated his rising star when his 6-year- old Mondialiste, a son of the great Irish Sire Galileo, captured the Million. Although O’Meara only got his Trainer’s license six years ago, he has opened eyes with a win in the Woodbine Mile and a place in the Breeders Cup Mile already to his credit. In spite of still maintaining a four-win lead in the Jockey Standings with 31, it was a pretty rough week for Irad Ortiz, per his usual high standards. He was shut out on Wednesday, and again on his Birthday on Thursday, and also on the shortened card on Saturday. He was able to manage one win on both Friday and Sunday, but was also disqualified in Sunday’s feature, the Grade II Special, following a scary moment when his wayward 2-year-old bumped Ricardo Santana’s baby hard, who then in turn, bumped Johnny Velazquez, but fortunately, nobody went down! Javi Castellano was not involved, and ran down Irad aboard Gunneveral, who with an impressive turn of foot in the deep stretch, won in a thriller! This was Javi’s fourth Win of the day, and it moved him into a tie with Johnny for second in the standings at 24, but he would move ahead with a win on Monday to 25. However, this would be short-lived, as José Ortiz had a great Monday with four winners, too, and bolted ahead of them to 27! Joel Rosario remains in 5th with 18, and a streaking Luis Saez, who has been on fire since his huge 55-1 upset in The Test, now has 17! Manny Franco has 13, and after a big Wednesday for José Lezcano with three wins, he now has 10. ‘Tho FloG kept his hot hand going in the 1st Race Sunday, upon his return that morning from Chicago, he still only sits in 14th place with 4 Wins, proving how extremely difficult it is for any Jockey to venture into Saratoga and win! Chad Brown has a six-win lead over Todd Pletcher, 23-17, and Kiaran McLaughlin remains in 3rd with 9, while a red hot Rudy Rodriguez now has 8! I cannot wait for Saturday’s Alabama and the chance to see the magnificent Songbird once again! The delayed Fourstardave will also be on Saturday, and the cancelled Adirondack will now be run on Friday. See you next week!
Paying for the privilege to participate in high school sports is still a relatively new thing for me. ‘Participation fees’ is actually a better description since no one is really able to guarantee playing time. I never had to pay to participate in high school sports back in the late 50s and early 60s, while growing up in New York. Other than a few dollars to buy football cleats, socks, basketball shoes etc., New York State is where property taxes and other levy’s funded all academics and extra curricular activities. Up until the 1980’s most states were also this way with regard to funding athletics. Then of course funding challenges in public education, Title IX equity mandates, recessions and expenses of growing athletic programs began to chip away at available funding and the practice of charging pay-to-play fees became more and more common to keep public school athletic programs afloat. New York State does not permit pay-to-play, even though some local school districts experimented with the idea. Here are some pros and cons. Pros: there is no advantage here, so there are no pros. So, what’s wrong with the concept? Increasing the cost of playing sports by implementing pay-to-play, without a doubt, keeps some low-income students from participating, at a time in their lives when they should be trying new things, and at a time in our country when kids are less active than ever. Officials are finding it hard to resist using fees beyond athletics, risking the creation of an a la carte-style education where only students with means can take full advantage of what is offered through public schools. Not to mention that the concept might have the potential to widen the gap between students based on their financial resources. Both must be avoided. The last 40 years of public education have been defined by the demand for more: more classes, more clubs, more services and more sports, especially with the addition of Title IX. For much of that time, those demands have been accompanied by more money. Since the 2008 economic crash, however, pressure on state budgets and property taxpayers has produced sharp cuts in the money sent to schools. In New York State, as a result of underfunding, students are being shortchanged as schools have inadequate supplies, overcrowded classrooms, insufficient numbers of guidance counselors and social workers, understaffed and under resourced libraries, underfunded arts and sports programs, lack of sufficient tutoring and other supports for struggling students and reduced curriculum offerings and after school options. These classroom cuts have the greatest negative impact on students in high needs schools with large concentrations of students in poverty, students with disabilities and English language learners. So school districts across the state are looking for other means to fund certain “extracurricular” programs, like the sports programs, in order to sustain some quality in academics. Andrew Cuomo’s two percent tax cap had short-changed many school districts across New York State, as a result Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to live up to his constitutional obligations to New York State’s school children. Governor Cuomo has consistently failed in his obligation to provide the resources necessary for all New York State students to receive the “sound basic education” that is guaranteed by New York State’s constitution. Cuomo is delinquent in the amount of $5.9 billion that is owed to the New York State schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). Governor Cuomo’s delinquency perpetuates inequality with the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts being at $8,733 per pupil. So, the athletic programs have become part of this tendency of negligence, for most of New York’s public schools. This information comes from The Public Policy and Education Fund, in an article about the Governor’s failure to keep public schools on track. As a matter of fact Governor Cuomo has butted heads with the NYSUT (teachers’ union) since the day he was voted in as New York State’s leader. The above scenario, of gubernatorial cuts and delinquency funding strategies, has become an issue for at least 35 states across the country. There has been discussion, as well as the implementation of pay-to-play in many states because of the concern of budgetary slashing. Many ideas have evolved to remedy and solve ways for the funding of sports programs. So far, there hasn’t been an ideal model that actually works. In general, it has been, for the majority of the states, to fund public education through property taxation. To use a sports related analogy, school districts, teachers’ salaries, the extracurricular programs, especially athletics have become a political football. I see it in a very different way. I feel, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo, like some other governors across the states, have this thing about teacher’s unions, let me use the prehistoric label called “union busters.” The concept has been reincarnated from the early 1900s - it might be the underlying force behind cuts to education, and one result being cuts in athletics. But, the subject of the pay-to-play scenario has unfortunately become a bad idea, turning into programs for elitists, for those who can afford to pay to participate. So, not all students would have the opportunity to become involved with athletics, because of the costs. Some states have districts that are charging up to $1,200 for the school year athletics, some states have school districts charging $250 to $600 dollars per sport. So the student who comes from a single parent family and whose mom (usually) who makes barley a sustainable income for her family, might not be able to pay for her child, or children to play school related sports. As a coach, I can see so many related problems. If a child is paying $1,200 to participate on the football team, the coach is pressured to use that kid more than he has planned maybe because the kid just might not be strong enough to physically compete. The biggest problem with pay-to-play might even come from the parents: “I just paid all of this money and my kid isn’t getting the time “I” think he deserves!” Pay-to-play is a dangerous concept, and I see no winners in this game, it changes the scholastic environment from a chance for all versus only a game for the privileged. Quite frankly, it’s the “haves overshadowing the have-nots.” Thoroughly a true opposite of what public education represents.