09/05/2013 12:54PM

Saratoga scenes: Parting images from the meet

Barbara D. Livingston
Mucho Macho Man takes the track just in time to see the sun rise at Saratoga on Aug. 20.

Barns are emptying out, and vans are carrying horses away. Saratoga has wrapped up its 2013 meet, its 150th. My cameras will soon be aimed toward Belmont scenes and memories. 

This season, like every other season, offered countless photographic opportunities for this lifelong fan of the Spa − from opening day, when Bahnah and Brazen Persuasion hit the wire together in the Schuylerville, to closing day in the Hopeful, when Strong Mandate ran away from his opponents.

I snapped thousands (and thousands and thousands) of images during the meet – mornings, races, people, scenes. What I enjoyed most was urging racetrackers to smile for the camera – which many did cheerily – and then posting “Saratoga Smiles” photos on Facebook. You’d be hard-pressed to find a place where more people enjoy their jobs.

Each race was exciting, but certain ones stood out. My friends Jena Antonucci and Leah Gyarmati trained winners – three for Jena and a Grade 1 score in the Spinaway for Leah, her first in a graded stakes. I joined many Saratoga regulars in cheering for the hard-working Cindy and George Weaver, who stable here the entire time the track’s open, when their Lighthouse Bay won a Grade 1. And Shug McGaughey’s Honor Code set people’s Derby dream-machines into motion with a rousing score in a 2-year-old maiden event.

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Reigning queen Royal Delta powered home a winner here to rousing applause. And the much less-heralded, but no less gritty, Dance to Bristol stirred hearts while winning two Saratoga stakes.

My friend Humberto Gomez’s morning mount Mentor Cane was brilliant in defeat in the King’s Bishop, and my buddy Jake Nelson’s partners − Verrazano, Palace Malice, and Princess of Sylmar − made getting up so early each morning all the more interesting.

Another friend, the exercise-rider Raymond Bulgado, gave me memories I didn’t want, suffering a broken neck when his mount broke down on the turf course. Yet five days later, Ray was back at the track, helping his employer Nick Zito lead Grand Arrival into the winner’s circle. Talk about a Saratoga smile!

A few horses provided special photo ops, including Associate, who, after losing his rider, took a sharp right turn and leaped over the outside rail, and Take Her To the Top, a steeplechase mare, who got into the tightest of spots in a stakes race. And yes, she still won.

But now, the stands are empty. Autumn leaves are already starting to drift to the ground, and there’s a damp chill to the air. It’s time to let go, but the memories, the images, remain.