07/21/2008 11:56PM

Palmer on Saratoga


The plan is to get out of Dodge around noon Tuesday and head north for Wednesday's opener. No ideas yet: I prefer not to handicap the opening-day card until I get up there and soak in a little local air to get in the Saratoga mood and mindframe.

Another recommended route to that state of Nirvana is to read a little Joe Palmer, the great racing writer for the old New York Herald Tribune, who died in 1952. (The Trib died in 1967.) Here are a few passages about Saratoga from his classic book "This Was Racing":


"This is the month in which New York horseplayers are turned out on grass. After five months of concrete and asphalt and gravel, they may have the lawns of Saratoga to play with. They may even take off their shoes and wriggle their toes in the grass, though the Saratoga Association, which is conservative, will not approve.

"Actually, of course, the bite is on at Saratoga just as severely as at Aqueduct, and the art of sucker-trimming has been raised to a level which will thrill the connoisseur. Some of this is in the hands of imported organizations but the natives are adept at it, too, and you begin to wonder if Burgoyne lost the Battle of Saratoga by military maladroitness or if the local taverns and hostelries just sapped his resources.

"But being deluded, and even frisked by the citizenry at Saratoga, is a good deal like eating honey. You will notice that the gentry who kick and bawl about prices and practices at Lousiville around Derby time seldom have much to say about fleecing in Saratoga, though I can assure you that over a distance of ground Louisville can't give Saratoga a pound."


"Saratoga has its critics, of course, but it is customarilly shelled from long range. Let a man hang around the place for a while and drink his breakfast from the clubhouse porch and you have no more trouble with him. Saratoga is slightly contagious, but you can't catch it at Jamaica."


"There is, in the Saratoga infield, a lake. On this lake floats, and has floated since 1620, a small blue canoe. For some years I have tried to find out why it is there, though being lazy naturally and by personal inclination as well, I have not been very persistent about it. Ask one of the older veterans of Saratoga and he smiles mysteriously and shakes his head silently. This is intended to mean he isn't telling. Actually it means he doesn't know.

"One reason I haven't worked more on this is that I've had a hint that there's an Indian legend connected with it. If I could ever be sure of this, I'd give up at once, because the noble savage, whatever his merits, was notably deficient in imagination. When I was in the fourth grade I could tell a better lie than any Indian legend I ever heard."


"A little outmoded, a little low on verve, and nearly always faintly patronizing toward the slap-dash ways of its contemporaries, Saratoga has kept on with its quiet ways, and its reward is that a little of the old time yet lingers.

"A man who would change it would stir champagne."


"Saratoga represents a reaffirmation of racing as enjoyment, of the original forces which first called it into being. You come away feeling that, well, there is going to be a good deal of concrete and gravel in your horoscope for a goodish while, but afterward there will be Saratoga again..."


Kaluktoo Jimmy Al More than 1 year ago
thanks for evoking the great memory of Joe Palmer. My favorite anecdote: Palmer was a huge fan of cock-fighting, and was once extolling the virtues of the 'sport' while covering a boxing match. Someone around him took umbrage and said, "Sir, I find what you are saying inhumane." To which Palmer pointed at the boxing ring and replied, "Yes, and I'd call that un-chicken."
Green Mtn Punter More than 1 year ago
Congrats, Steve, on the first anniversary of your blog. It has been just as enjoyable for your readers as it obviously has been for you. Blogging is a great medium and the best, quickest way for author and troops to stay in touch. Enjoyed the Joe Palmer passages about the Spa, they are as inspiring today as they were when written 50+ years ago. This will be my 43rd season - I first made the pilgrimmage to the Spa in 1965. 40 years ago I saw Dr Fager win the Whitney going away during his unequalled 1968 season, a season that catapulted him to # 6 on the Blood Horse all-time greats list. How can I contact the replay dept to be sure they show it on Saturday?
nawlinsjim More than 1 year ago
Every year I tell the rubes met along the way to make it to Saratoga before they die... It amazes me that so many will bet the ponies and never experience the curious electric atmosphere felt in upstate NY this time of year. Although I never win for the meet, it always thrills me. Thanks for the Palmer clip
John C. More than 1 year ago
Hey Steve, It's been a year since you "crashed the blogosphere"; congratulations on producing one of the best blogs on the 'net. I hope that you have no problems with your router/wi-fi connections in Saratoga this time. Over the past year, I've read each of your posts; I find them compelling, informative, artistic, humorous, and even inspiring (sometimes all at once!). Thanks for your generosity to us handicappers/racing fans. I and many of your readers get a vicarious thrill from your live blogging especially when we know that you are still alive in the final leg of a Pick-6; we also get lessons in decorum from you, (though we can't see your initial reaction via webcam- haha) e.g. how to shrug off a potentially insanity-inducing defeat (by dq or otherwise). I still haven't tried Cheez Waffies but I have noticed that they are available on LI now. Could some local supermarket managers and 7-Eleven owners be reading your blog? Best of luck at Saratoga. Amazingly, I'll be watching Opening Day with Jerry Bailey at my local OTB.
mike More than 1 year ago
Hey Gunbow, Take your pc crap somewhere else.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
Mr. Palmer could certainly wax eloquent, but he is clearly a man of his times as it concerns racial sensitivity. "the noble savage, whatever his merits, was notably deficient in imagination. When I was in the fourth grade I could tell a better lie than any Indian legend I ever heard." Makes me cringe. I hope I am interpreting the passage incorrectly. Just thought someone needed to speak up.
EJXD2 More than 1 year ago
This Saratoga meet also marks the paper (one-year) anniversary of this blog. It's been a great year, Steve. Happy anniversary, and I'm sure I echo many people's sentiments when I say I hope there are many more to come.
Onski More than 1 year ago
I just read that section last night!! Great book, great writer. I'm coming into town next week and can't wait. I caught my pooch online last night scouting for a dog house to rent....
Stewart More than 1 year ago
Hi Steve: Thank you for a year of insights and wonderful stories. I look forward to enjoying the blog for many years to come. I am leaving my Boston office for my house in Saratoga later this afternoon and look forward to seeing you at the Siro's seminar later this week. You clearly have more mental toughness and discipline than me, as I have been happily handicapping the Opening Day card since Sunday, with some statistical assistance from Progressive Handicapping and Jim Mazur (anyone who knows Jim's work should purchase his terrific trainer stats for Saratoga). Six weeks of heaven here I come!!
Jeff Tatus More than 1 year ago
Steve... Great work product makes this blog the success it has been; CONGRATULATIONS ! To all my fellow contributors on this blog... MANY THANKS for all your input and... many happy returns. May all your Pick 3's, Pick 4's, (and even your $.10 cent supers) be $599.99 and remember; just hit REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. I won't make it to the Spa this year (unless I make a nice score in the first week) but I will be with you all in heart and spirit. 'TOGA, 'TOGA, 'TOGA.