Keeping Score: Summer travels
My annual sojourn to Saratoga Race Course resulted in a whopping $5 profit. I put the pen away this trip and enjoyed sitting with friends under a television carousel near the Big Red Spring where brave hearts with strong stomachs drink mineral water that tastes like stale pickle juice.
I had taken the scenic route through Brattleboro on Route 9, stopping at Dutton’s Farm for apples and pastry and overheard the give-and-take from the drive-up window of a nearby Dunkins Donuts. “Okay. You want iced coffee with extra cream?”
“Oh, right. OK, let’s go over this one last time ...”
Signs for cheddar cheese and maple syrup are as ubiquitous on the Molly Stark Trail as they are for pecans and boiled peanuts down south, and a new stretch of Route 7 allows drivers to bypass both Bennington and Hoosick Falls, but paving crews had turned a five-mile stretch of Route 372 into a slow crawl.
It was Tuesday and the thoroughbred track was closed, so I drove to the harness track/casino where mutuels manager Bill McQuiston told me that Churchill Downs had purchased 25 percent of the business. “Nobody saw it coming. It was a jaw-dropper.”
Saratoga was the first New York harness track to get slot machines, and last month each the 1,782 VLTs fleeced bettors for an average $256 a day. Greed has no limit and in three years upstate New York will be overrun by four Vegas-style casinos. Churchill Downs wants in on the action and so it bought a chunk of Dan Gerrity’s business.
I stayed at a 1950s-style motel north of Glens Falls called the Wakita Motel. My room was next to a Six Flags roller coaster, and once you’ve heard one roller coaster ride full of screaming kids you’ve heard ’em all. Thankfully the ride shut down at 9 p.m. and an hour later all the kiddies in kiddy vacationland had brushed their teeth and gone to bed.
At noon the next day, track announcer Tom Durkin implored patrons to “Enjoy your day at the Spaaaaaaa ...”
The 67-year-old Durkin is retiring this year and I’ll miss his high drama and clever remarks. He’ll be replaced by Larry Collmus, an adequate track announcer who will never come close to the wit and inflection of Durkin’s smooth-as-silk voice wrapping up a close race: “On a humid day at the Spa, the favorite made you sweat!”
The powers that be decided to raise admission and parking prices by $2 across the board this year. It cost me $5 to get in but I parked for free on a side street.
Our seats in the picnic area gave us a good view of the million dollar horses, the stylish women in fancy hats and the dapper dons in three-piece suits with pink polka-dot bow ties. Meanwhile we strutted about in t-shirts and shorts, a group of us that included Jim and Sandy O’Sullivan, Bob and Sue Thompson and Bob Weiss and Carol Bresciano.
The news from back home was that John Dobrydnio was stirring tomato sauce when his wife Paula yelled from the living room that she’d hit the Pick-6 for $1,800.
“I hit a Pick-6 at Hinsdale on a $2 bet,” said O’Sullivan. “Twenty-two thousand dollars.”
We bought tip sheets — “The Wizard” for $10 and “Sure Thing Selections” for $5 — and compared notes.
Casual railbirds whimsically wager on the gray horse while others bet horses with catchy names like Hushhushmushmush, Okeydokeysmokey, or Omagoddonna. Yankee fans bet Jeter and “Godfather” fans put their money on Hyman Roth.
Owner Mike Repole names a lot of his horses after his wife Maria’s spending habits: Stopchargingmaria and Stopshoppingmaria.
In the eighth race, Sandy O’Sullivan said she bet Silver Freak because Joel Rosario was the rider. “I bet him when he’s on the rail,” she said.
Neither the horse nor the jockey let her down. Rosario sent the 3-year-old chestnut gelding straight to the lead and it won by 21/2 lengths. Off at 6-to-1 odds, a $2 win ticket paid $13.40.
My only score was on a 9-to-1 long shot named Hard to Stay Notgo that romped in the 6th race. I bet the 2-year-old because its owners, Chester and Mary Broman Sr. had already won with four of the seven horses they’d raced at Saratoga this summer.
Later that day I received an email from Doug Stotz, who through social media introduced me to his friend Bill Gutfarb. The two are affiliated with the Eaglebrook School; Gutfarb is a member of the board of trustees and Stotz is on the school’s advisory board.
In his “email of introduction” Stotz wrote that Gutfarb’s horse, Analysis, was running in Saturday’s eighth race. “Our partnership is small and we are not like other stables who take all comers if they can afford it,” said Gutfarb. “We are the Mosaic Racing Stable. Analysis’s sire is Freud, thus the name Analysis.”
Saturday’s eighth race was one mile on the inner turf, and Analysis was the morning line favorite. “This will be an exciting race. Wake Up in Malibu could be our toughest competition.”
He was indeed, but Analysis prevailed by a neck at the wire.
“He won!!!” texted Gutfarb.
“Congratulations!” I wrote. “The next few bales of hay are bought and paid for.”
“That’s right!” he said, referring to the stable’s $45,000 share of purse money. It was lots of green, but it wouldn’t last long in the racing business.
Two days after returning from Saratoga I was riding shotgun with Todd Gerry, whose eyes were glued to the mob chasing him up Clement Street. “Now comes the hard part,” he said. “They won’t be passing me now.”
Gerry was driving the pace car and guiding runners up Crittenden Hill at last Saturday’s Bridge of Flowers 10K. The arduous climb is known to break runners’ spirits but some argue that the Falltown Classic’s mountainous layout in Bernardston is just as daunting.
I’ve run in both, and the latter race is the one that tore my hamstring and put me into retirement.
Gerry’s a Buckland native and proud that for nearly half a century at least one member of his family had been enrolled in the Shelburne school system. He’s worked as a postmaster and mail carrier, and did a 12-mile route when he carried the bag.
Now he’s a salesman at Steve Lewis Subaru, which became abundantly clear when he rolled down the window and yelled to two customers, “Almost time for a new car!”
“My son Tim teaches in East Longmeadow,” said Gerry. “He just finished 55th in his age group at the Lake Placid Ironman in New York.”
Neither of the two frontrunners, Amos Sang and Glarius Rop, reached for water at the top of the hill. By now they’d pulled away from everybody but Justin Freeman, who trailed by about 50 yards.
The race hit a proverbial bump in the road at the bottom of the hill when a volunteer inexplicably put two large pylons in Gerry’s path. “What are they doing? Move ’em!” he yelled as Sang, Rop and then Freeman wheeled past us.
Just as we were about to be swarmed by 700 more runners someone moved the cones and Gerry tore down the road while I leaned out the window and yelled “Comin’ past you!”
“One year I was on my own,” he said. “The police got a call and turned on the siren and took off. Good thing I knew where I was going.”
Ten minutes later we were at the finish line; my second time over the course and Crittenden Hill was a breeze.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.