Saratoga has ended its 150th season of racing and as fans get ready to welcome the fall at Belmont Park, there are still moments when it seems possible there might be just one more racing card, one more honorary award, one more winner’s circle photo at this perennial darling among racetracks.
Were it possible to number Saratoga’s graces, one would have quite a long list. For an artist, a list is replaced by images - and my brief stay in Saratoga yielded enough material for a year's worth of painting.
Visually, Saratoga is so full of worthy subjects that it was impossible to keep up with all the ideas it inspired. While it was repairing to have an opportunity to relax outside of the city, Saratoga kept me on a farmer’s schedule - awakening early so as not to miss the horses working out - and working even harder once the race days began, because I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. I think most people up there felt the same way.
Below are just a few sketches from my notebooks. Enjoy! Prints are available at artinchaos.etsy.com
The Yearling Sales at Fasig-Tipton
I was lucky enough to be hosted by the America's Best Racing brand ambassadors for part of my stay (most genial and fun hosts, by the way) and one night we went out to see the yearlings auctioned at Fasig-Tipton. Part circus, part cocktail party, part Fellini film, we tried to watch the spotters to gain insight on how to pick out the serious bidders from the silly.
It was incredibly glamorous; even the horses were looking like a million dollars - and some were, literally!
Paddock, Fabulous Fillies Day
On Fabulous Fillies Day, you should wear pink. First of all, you get into Saratoga Race Course for free. Also, you help celebrate the role of women in horse racing and have an opportunity to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is the goal of NYRA on this special day.
Rosé is served in the clubhouse; the grandstand is a sea of pink; and the statue of Sea Hero in the paddock wears a blanket of pink roses!
Where: Clocker’s Stand, near the schooling gate at Oklahoma Training Track, 7 a.m.
I’m drawing with cold fingers as horses working out fly by, snorting and breathing heavily in the morning mist. I’m also taking some pictures, working on the art of focusing on fast-moving objects as they appear, disappear and reappear through the eerie haze.
Someone ascends the stand. “Get any good pictures?” he asks.
I told him: “Honestly, no, probably not - but I’m working on it.”
I figure he’s a local, so I ask him where can you get a decent – no, a good - cup of coffee and some breakfast food. He clues me in on a place nearby and then says, “That’s my horse, right there,” pointing to a white horse prancing down the track the wrong way.
The horse’s name is Flashy Sunrise. We talk about art and horses and he tells me a little of his backstory. He’ll be around in the mornings he says, if I need anything. I get a few pictures of his horse and we introduce ourselves - the man’s name is Dallas Stewart, trainer of 2013 Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul.
Next time I see him, I have this drawing for him.
The fog isn’t always out in the mornings, which is maddening when you come out as early as you possibly can to see it and hear, “Oh, you missed the mist - it was out here earlier.”
But I was able to get some nice pictures and bask in the Sleepy Hollow effects more than a few times. There’s nothing like seeing that blanket of white envelop the track. You hear thundering hooves but don’t see anything until the Doppler effect is in full shift and a speeding shape is drawing away from you, a blur of tail and aluminum shoes.
Lawn Jockeys vs. Jockey
I saw this scene unfold time after time, as jockeys entering the paddock at Saratoga pass by two lawn jockeys who commemorate last year’s Travers and Alabama stakes race winners. It made me think of the moment the Velveteen Rabbit meets the real animals in Margery William’s classic children’s book. Those well-worn and much-loved lawn jockeys have certainly seen a lot over the years!
I have a new appreciation for outriders after seeing how much they do at the track to ensure safety and smooth operations. Even outriders need to check email every once in a while.
The paddock is a live carousel of Technicolor horses, jockeys, owners, trainers, and friends of friends, and a great place to draw.
If Saratoga is the “August place to be,” then Siro’s is the “after the races place to be.”
Nowhere else will you see the kind of rare plumage and joie de vivre that Siro’s foments.
Labor of Love