SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The 7-year-old, a horse embraced by the most flint-hearted of New York horseplayers for his consistency, his courage and his blue-collar roots, stood forlornly near the outside fence. Within hours, former claimer turned multiple stakes winner Saginaw -- winner of 10 races from 14 starts last year and all of his five races in the current season -- would be dead, shattered sesamoid bones in his left-fore ankle beyond repair. He was not exactly John Henry or Forego, but Saginaw, for all the right reasons, had gained a legion of admiring fans over the course of a long career.
Acclaim and affection came slowly, a race at a time. Claimed for $30,000 by David Jacobson for his own account and partner Drawing Away Stable in March, 2012, he won 14 of his next 17 races. He displayed the best qualities found in both horses and humans -- determination, courage and consistency. He got up in the morning, went to work and he always showed up -- on the board in 30 of 40 starts before this horrible, sad afternoon at Saratoga.
The haunting sight of Saginaw standing, his injured limb raised, across the track from the quarter pole will be the enduring image of Saratoga's 150th season of racing.
At times, this was Saratoga at its finest. The racing at levels appropriate to the setting was tremendous, but these were moments provided by horses rising above the best efforts of humans to behead the grand old lady. Horses can overcome the most-misguided of humans and the most languid of intellects. But at other times -- most times -- this meeting felt like a forced march.
At other times -- most times -- this meeting felt like a forced march.
By Monday, the curtain appropriately drawn with a maiden claiming race run over a muddy track, the 420th race of the summer, the meeting's end was greeted in a gale-like sigh of relief that came primarily from the overtaxed employees of the New York Racing Association, who stood up to more races run over a 40-day span than have ever been run in a single meeting at Saratoga including a 14-race marathon on Travers day and routine 11 and 12-race cards that from beginning to end tested human resource unnecessarily and without reward to the point of abuse. For lack of collective bargaining agreements, NYRA paid employees on the basis on a nine-race workday.
One dullard racing secretary, lacking prudence and reason, left to make decisions without supervision, can make life miserable for literally hundreds of people and this meeting will forever be the standard example.
Visionary leadership has never been a hallmark of NYRA management but the nation's most important racing enterprise is doubled over beneath the weight of executive cluelessness.
When newly appointed CEO Christopher Kay -- who appeared to spend most of the summer in search of cameras and microphones -- congratulated prematurely retired rider Ramon Dominguez on having won more than 4,000 "matches," during one of what seemed an endless procession of presentations it was obvious something is amiss. Ignorance is best served by silence, but the light was turned on. What Kay lacks in racing background he apparently compensates in ego and this is of no benefit to anyone who earns a living racing horses in New York. By meeting's end, Kay's ubiquity in the winner's circle became something of an ongoing joke.
What is the most dangerous place at Saratoga?
The space between Chris Kay and a microphone.
There may be no discernible operational or esthetic benefit to Kay's first months on the job, but he has already become a punch line, breaking new ground for a NYRA executive. But he tipped an empty hand too early.
In 150 years of racing here, never have so many been so happy to see a meeting end. Perhaps 2014 will be the year managerial acumen returns to the NYRA executive offices.