SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY- Fifty years ago, Teddy Heisler dragged his friend Allan Carter to opening day at Saratoga Race Course. It was a life-changing experience.
Carter-the historian at the National Museum of Racing since 2004 -hasn’ t missed a Spa opener since. With his buddy Heisler along for chuckles, stories and, of course, some gamble Friday, Carter attended his 51 st consecutive opening day at America’s oldest track. There may have been a few folks with longer opening-day streaks at the Spa, but that was of little consequence to Carter, who was hanging out in his usual place behind Section W in the grandstand, about three-sixteenths of the mile from the finish line.
Opening day at Saratoga is the happiest afternoon of the now six-week season at America’s most popular track. It is a day of hugs, handshakes, smiles, memories and dreams-and a few tears for departed friends, who were once part of the scene.
Many describe it as Christmas in July, a highly foreseen special few hours that comes just once a year. For decades through 2009, Saratoga Race Course is coming to life on Wednesdays and the joint was always jammed , no matter that it was in the middle of the work week. To be sure, many called in sick and induced the trip to the way, confident of the Spa’s healing powers.
The 2017 season, the 149 th since that inaugural satisfy in 1863, opened on a very warm, sunny day that was pretty close to perfect. NYRA announced its attendance as 32,730. At the way known since the 1930 s as the Graveyard of Favorites, there were double-digit returns on the last seven races of the 10 -race card and a Pick 6 carryover. Among the upsetters, were Canadian-based jockey Luis Contreras, who picked up the first Saratoga victory of his career on Dream It Is ( Shackleford) in the GIII Schuylervile, paying $11. The filly’s trainer Barbara Minshall said she had not brought a horse from Toronto to Saratoga since Mt. Sassafras ran in the 1999 Saratoga Breeders’ Cup H.
That enthusiastic crowd welcoming racing back to town included Carolyn Karlson , now a resident of Saratoga Springs.
She learned to love racing as a young girl on visits to the way with her parent, the late Richard Boulger. During vacations to Lake George from their home in North Adams, Mass ., Boulger would take his oldest child to Saratoga Race Course. That intro ran. Karlson’s involvement in the sport has blossomed through the years and she now owns 16 ponies in partnerships and in her own name.
To honor her father on opening day, the 17 th anniversary of his death, she played his favorite numbers in every race and pocketed a is a great pleasure payoff, a $5,736 superfecta in the seventh.
” He always played 2-5-4-7 because 25 was his marriage day and 47 was his street number ,” she told.” I just knew it would hit today and it did .”
As usual, the historic facility and grounds were filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Not too far away from women in elegant gowns and hats and men wearing seersucker suits, Carter and Heisler, both 76 and buddies since they met in grade school in 1946 in nearby Glens Falls, were part of the casual Friday crowd. Carter wearing a t-shirt and nursing a can of Yuengling, chuckled as he told the backstory of his first visit to Saratoga Race Course.
” I had just gotten out of the service and was only hanging around, drinking a lot of brew ,” he told.” A friend of mine, Teddy, said,’ Let’s go to the way .’ I told’ Why do that? It’s a waste of time .’ He told,’ Give it a shot, they’ve got bars there.'”
The promise of beer being available shut the deal. Carter promptly discovered that Saratoga Race Course held other delights.
” Luckily, Teddy knew something about ponies ,” Carter said,” so I was able to start to get some kind of education .”
Heisler and Carter grew up 20 miles north of Saratoga Springs, but neither man went to the track until when they are completed their time in the military. They’ve been back countless days since. Carter has a 20 -minute walk from his home. Heisler lives 20 miles back in the village of Scotia.
Carter espoused racing, the challenges of handicapping and has become an expert in the sport. The day after he retired as a law librarian for New York State in 2003, he began a second career as an assistant Tom Gilcoyne, the beloved historian at the National Museum of Racing.
When Gilcoyne retired the next year, Carter succeeded him. In the 13 years since, he has helped many journalists and writers with their research. This year, his second racing volume was published:” From American Eclipse to Silent Screen, an Early History of New York-Breds .” The volume encompasses the years 1823 through 1970.
Heisler has been with Carter for many of those 51 opening days, but has missed a few along the way. They understand the importance of opening day. Carter recalled the buzz in town each spring and summer as the racing season approached. That hasn’t changed.
” You can feel it ,” he said.” I went downtown yesterday and it was in the air. They were real aroused that something was going on. Saratoga will always being arousing. It’s the greatest track in the world .”