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.