Saratoga Race Course: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You More Beautiful than Ever.

Marion Altieri,New York writer

Marion Altieri,New York writer

She endured a long, harsh Winter.  Her special blend was covered by snow so thick and deep that often I doubted that her storied dirt ever would be dry and “fluffy,” I guess you’d say–for horses to race to glory on her surface again this summer.

Yeah, this Winter knocked the stuffings out of we, mere mortals--and yet somehow this ancient horse racing Parthenon–this Saratoga Race Course–came through beautifully, seemingly with nary a scratch.

During the bleak days of the aforementioned Winter, I drove by often, just to check on her. (I feel very protective of her, as I’ve spent the majority of my 59 years at that track.  In many ways–like most race fans and Saratogians–I feel mother-bear-like guardianship. She is mine, regardless of the facts. So it is always my motherly duty to check on My Track during the Winter, to be sure that she’s doing OK.)

I could not climb the snow mountains to walk through her Clubhouse and Grandstand areas, but I did sit outside the gates and imagine the soul-freezing cold as it blew through her historic wooden building.

God bless that wood, which labored beneath the weight of the frigid cold and Arctic winds.   My ears could imagine the creaking of wooden floors and hard surfaces (wood, concrete, stone, metal)–as they conspired together to hunker down and Make It through another hellacious зима, شتاء , inverno, 겨울 –whatever you call it–this Winter separated the hearty-of-spirit from the dead. Either you lived through it–or you’re a memory.

Saratoga Race Course May 9 2015Saratoga Race Course, built of materials not meant to endure the ravages of 21st Century, Global-Warming-Lake -Effect Winds–nevertheless dug in her heels, and stood her ground. So yesterday (May 9), as I drove through the backstretch, I just had to photograph the proof that, yes, she was assaulted by a biker chick named Mutha Nature–but, elegance always wins out. In a throwdown between genuine class and the culture of selfie-obsessed chicklets in barely-visible skirts–class always wins in the final analysis.

So Saratoga–“the Spaaaaaaa,” as Tom Durkin seductively oozed her nickname–beat the biker chick at her own game, emerging on the lovely Spring afternoon, more beautiful than ever. Like the grande dame she is, stately she sat.  Festooned in her familiar red-and-white dress, her campus was all a-buzz with activity:  carpenters and gardeners, buzzing to assure that the great lady is ready for Opening Day (July 24th).  Security officers, guarding the equines and humans who were on-campus for a large horse show.  Ghosts of Vanderbilts and Just Plain Folks who’ve passed on, pressing the rail, cheek-to-jowl in eager anticipation.

The Earth has awakened from a long season of full-out war–and of course, the Earth has won.

And this race track–America’s oldest (the oldest sporting venue of any kind in the United States)–this track, my track and her stately, red/white fortress–she won, as well.  Had she succumbed to the ravages of that wretched Winter–a page in history would have turned, and turned for the worse.

No one can imagine horse racing without the most beautiful, most elegant and serene race course. Without Our Saratoga.

And fortunately, we don’t have to go there:  she made it, so we can make it, too.

If an open-air, ancient wooden structure with exposed spine and guts can live through the worst Winter in Upstate New York memory–we humans can live through the assaults and challenges in our own lives.  Yes, the buildings and grounds at Saratoga Race Course are (supposedly) inanimate–but the spirits of hundreds of thousands (millions?) of spirits, lurking everywhere, enliven her with 152 years of memory, love and unbridled joy.

This is no mere building and grounds:  this space has been the life, and heart and soul of so many people and so many horses–that their heavenly numbers cannot be counted.  This place has witnessed more history, tears, joy and disappointment than any one space should be asked to endure.

Yet endure, she has.  Whether human angst; equine sacrifice or the physical assaults of meteorological disaster–still, Saratoga Race Course has brushed off her ballgown, and is ready to receive her guests.

Thank you, Mother–Queen–Saratoga.  Thank you for getting through the Winter–for showing me, all Winter-long, that I could do it, too–and for arriving at this beautiful time, seemingly-unscathed.  You’re so beautiful–so serene–so majestic.  Like human and equine grande dames, your beauty and majesty grow more with each passing year.

As we say here in the great Northeast:  if you can just LIVE through one of these soul-killing Winters–you’ve won.

For Saratoga Race Course to not just live through it, but to come out on the other side more gorgeous–more perfect—and more READY than ever–certainly is testimony to the soul of this very real, very enlivened, very animated, “inanimated” place.

Happy Mothers’ Day to the Mother of Race Courses.   Thank you for welcoming us all Home.  Again.