Nine fashionable fillies, each adorned with an exquisite millinery design from Saratoga Trunk, made up the evening’s card. Attendees purchased ‘bets’ for just $10 each and cast their votes for the lovely lady who they thought would win, place or show. This year, each filly brought her trainer, adding to the frivolity and increasing bets all around. People were quick to raise their stakes knowing the ultimate bet was on Jake’s.
Once again, the race was to be determined by a game of Plinko, so post positions were crucial. Fittingly, the first spot went to Jake’s mom and founder, Heather Straughter, aka “Go Big or Go Home.” From there, the posts filled with Johanna Friedman, Kelly Hite, Christianne Smith, Jenny Witte, Julie Johnson, Elaine Sillery, Beth Alexander and Melissa Zieker.
As guests sipped the signature ‘Sweet Jake’ cocktail, Brian Straughter welcomed everyone, sharing the story of their son, his struggle with a rare illness and the charity Brian and Heather launched in Jake’s memory. The organization is dedicated to supporting individuals with multiple medical challenges and disabilities, helping them and their families.
After an emotional and inspiring video, Brian lightened the mood placing his bets on Heather, the filly he brought to the gate. Her trainer, Jim LaVigne, worked the room on her behalf with his wife, Mary Gavin.
At the same time, Jacob Hopper was pushing tickets for ‘Runway Sensation’ Smith, though a mock copy of the Daily Racing Form had touted Robin Dalton’s filly, Nellie Bly (Witte), to be the odds-on favorite earlier that day. ‘Wrinkle Remover’ Zieker and her trainer Traci Jersen teased their husbands, Chris and David, with the crack of a riding crop if they didn’t bet more.
Around the room, excitement was brimming. Spectators anxious for the start of the race included Kate and Andrew Jarosh, Heather and Rocky Fresh, Minnie and Joe DiGeso, Alex and Bill Willard, Tammy and Dennis Rigosu, Cathy Morin, Ghislaim Gagne, Mary Prostick, Katie Clark, Georgie Lussier and hat designer Christine Moore, in town with her husband Blake for a trunk show the next day.
Even at Vapor, the ponies bring out the politicians. Mayor Scott Johnson was there to cheer on his filly, wife Julie, running as ‘Workout Wonder.’ He chatted with deputy mayor Shauna Sutton while across the room, Sutton’s opponent in the upcoming mayoral race, current county supervisor Joanne Yepsen, caught up with campaign staffer Gayle LaSalle.
But at 8 p.m., the only race to watch was on the dance floor. As Plinko queen Colleen Carlson stood beside the magic board, mistress of ceremonies and Jake’s board member Natalie Sillery took the microphone to call the race. It was post time and only 10 moves were needed to win, place or show.
The pack was tight at the start, with most advancing at the same pace. As on the real course though, things quickly changed. Vying for the double crown, last year’s winner, Elaine Sillery, racing as Billionaire Beanzie (or was it ‘Aunt Nattie’s Niece’?) had been trained by Danielle Milot to push out of the crowd. Next to her, Julie Johnson, trained by the gracious Michele Funiciello, would not be left behind.
Theresa Skaine, trainer for ‘Go Gaga for Bono’ (Hite), rallied friends to cheer for the filly, but all the cries in the world can’t shift a Plinko puck. Meanwhile, Friedman, last year’s ‘show’ filly, held strong thanks to her trainer, Alison Robbens. But in the end, it was newcomer Beth Alexander, ‘Poulet de Danse,’ who hit the finish line first. Jasper Alexander, trainer for ‘The Dancing Chicken,’ beamed with pride for his wife.
Beth took home an exquisite sunshine yellow chapeau by Cat Stevens, courtesy of Saratoga Trunk. From her bettors, one lucky winner was drawn for the grand prize. Angela Beddoe couldn’t get away from work to attend, but she will be making a three-night getaway to Pensacola Beach, Florida!
Of course, the real winners are those assisted by Jake’s Help From Heaven. Thanks to the fillies, their trainers, the fans and the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, more than $13,000 was raised for this extraordinary charity.