The Spa Treatment

Two summers ago a friend returned to Saratoga after a hiatus of a couple of decades and he couldn’t believe how much the old girl had changed. Well, at least in her backyard area, which, as Catherine Deneuve has suggested, is a choice that all women must face. What my friend had fondly recalled as an idyllic oasis conveniently located astride a bustling racetrack, was now inundated with bars and food stands and other markers of suburban sprawl.

This brought to mind the old science experiment, with my friend being the frog tossed into already boiling water and your narrator as the waterlogged amphibian who had failed to notice that it’s been getting kind of hot in here.

Of course, it’s been many years since Red Smith’s directions to Saratoga (“turn left on Union Avenue and go back 100 years”) still applied. That Saratoga died a few years after Smith, when the racetrack’s lawyers did away with the free-range saddling area and fences started springing up like weeds, forever separating the horses from the civilians.

Change, of course, is constant. Saratoga, we kidded ourselves, was different. This year there is a feeling – with picnic tables multiplying like rabbits and lovely old shade trees getting the axe to make way for a mini-museum of dubious quality – that things have gotten out of hand. The chief suspect in these crimes against nature is the CEO of the New York Racing Association, Christopher Kay.

Kay was given the job with the mandate to turn NYRA profitable, which makes his assorted price-gougings and nickel-gatherings somewhat understandable. But what stumps us is why someone who knew so little about racing that he needed a Sherpa to help him cram for his lucrative executive position, could all of a sudden feel entitled to mess with Saratoga’s still glorious ambiance by blocking access to the paddock with for-hire picnic tables, and knocking down trees for an entirely unnecessary “museum”.

These failings are emblematic of Kay’s near-total indifference to the concerns of the horseplayer. Which is odd, given the sensitivity he had shown towards endangered species in his previous gig as COO for the TPL (the Trust for Public Land).

And there are other questions we ask at TPL. For example, is the land home to certain species which don’t live anywhere else?

Kay says he will be strolling the backyard this summer and is open to suggestions. Let’s hope some of those endangered horseplayerus saratogians take him up on that, and tell him how they really feel.

The Waiting Room

Even if you started your day knowing absolutely nothing about laminitis, you wouldn’t need to go deep into the Blood-Horse’s story about Lady Eli to find out that it’s bad. Here’s a quote from one of the 3-year-old filly’s co-owners, Jay Hanley of Sheep Pond Partners.

“It’s horrifying and disheartening. If you’re an optimist, you’d say she’ll race again. If you’re a pessimist, she could be battling for her life.”

There’s no need to handicap such a prognosis. Being able to still run if she is lucky but facing euthanasia if she’s not is bad enough. Venturing into the “Comments” section, a risky business on any website but especially so with a story like this, feels like entering an intensive care waiting room. An online prayer circle is haloing the filly, who is almost certainly battling for her life right now regardless of where you fall on optimism and pessimism.

This blogger’s knowledge about laminitis is neither wide nor deep, but when has that ever stopped us? Even with some recent positive results, the dreaded hoof disease still seems to swing closer to incurable than curable. Whatever is working in equine medicine these days, we hope it takes. This ridiculously entertaining filly, whose perfect 6-for-6 record includes a few races where turf course traffic caused her some trouble that she blithely overcame, needs one more big win.

Lady Eli has a lot of love going for her, as evidenced by this photo posted on Twitter by Cherie DeVaux, an assistant to the filly’s trainer, Chad Brown.


Ms. DeVaux, who in a subsequent tweet copped to being the nose kisser, also informed that Lady Eli does not appreciate being the recipient of public displays of affection. Given the circumstances, Ms. DeVaux gets an allowance for insisting.

So we wait. Right now the American racing scene seems to be all about waiting. Will Lady Eli survive? Will American Pharoah make it all the way to the Breeders’ Cup Classic? Will California Chrome ever race again? Will all our waiting be in vain?

To all those praying for Lady Eli, keep it up. Contrary to the Jim Morrison lyric, you can petition the lord with prayer: It just might not take. This is why racing’s wise old heads tell you not to fall in love. Lennon and McCartney said it was all you need. But as Joy Division noted, it can also tear us apart.