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I'm making my getaway on Saturday, climbing into an Amtrak coach at the implausible hour of 7:45 a.m., bound for Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Taking the cure, you could say.
In his memoir Betting on Myself: Adventures of a Horseplayer and Publisher, Steven Crist, who runs the Daily Racing Form, recalls his first trip to the Spa as a greenhorn racing writer for the New York Times, when he was dispatched to cover the 1979 Alabama Stakes: "Saratoga seemed like the best place I had ever been -- heaven, or at least summer camp, for a horseplayer, a gleaming little village where for four weeks a year everyone went to the races all day and talked about them all night. Everyone in town seemed to have a Daily Racing Form under his arm, and while I didn't know a soul, I felt as if they were all kindred spirits."
The escapist and regressive dimensions of this fantasy are plain, and I plan to both escape and regress. Saturday is the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, with a bumper crop of three-year-olds that will include Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and Haskell winner Lion Heart going postward. It's a pity no one pays attention to the Travers, because it features the Triple Crown contenders, winnowed down and more physically mature, racing at the most idyllic track in the U.S.
I hit the Travers exacta once, in 2000, Unshaded over Albert the Great. I had been cashing tickets on Unshaded all spring, betting on simulcast races from Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass., and though he had dropped a few races in a row, I stuck with the big lug. (Faith in Unshaded, I e-mailed a friend, had become an article of faith, like the efficacy of the sacraments.) Needless to say, it was an efficacious afternoon down at the OTB on Varick Street.
If you watch any of the Travers coverage (it's on ESPN), keep an eye out for Lion Heart's trainer, Patrick Biancone, who, as SI racing know-it-all Mark Beech puts it, is the coolest man alive. Biancone is an exquisitely composed Frenchman who roams the paddock in supple leather loafers -- the paddock, of course, has more than a little hay and horses---t lying around -- smoking what one hopes is a Gauloise. His accent, naturally, is to swoon for.
Allez, allez, Lion Heart!
My colleague Will Carroll over at Baseball Prospectus -- if you aren't visiting this superb Web site every day, well, you're still looking at maps of a flat earth -- writes an indispensable daily column called Under the Knife on baseball injuries. Part news roundup, part sports medicine primer, the cumulative effect of a season of Will's columns is a crash course in anatomy, physical therapy, surgery, etc. Start reading Will, and you'll smile inwardly when terms like "meniscus" begin to appear unexpectedly in your barroom conversation.
Side note: Will and I met last October on a concourse at Wrigley Field, during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, as we stalked Steve Bartman in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bartman, it turned out, would appear only in a cocoon of security guards, one of whom threatened to eject me for trying to ask the unhappy headphone-wearing guy a question as he was whisked off. The pain I felt for Cubdom was theoretical and vicarious; Will, a Cubs fan, was actually, positively distraught.
Anyhow, Will's Wednesday column (registration required) begins by discussing Gary Sheffield's "barking" shoulder, (When did "barking" become a standard, catchall descriptor for chronic injuries? For no good reason, this really irritates me.) and Will writes the following: "I decided that there was only one way to determine exactly how a Grade II tear of the left trapezius muscle would affect a swing. Assisted by a physical therapist, my left trapezius was placed under controlled stress until the muscle tore. After some ice and Aleve, I headed over to the batting cages and took some hacks."
I'm glad, for Will's sake, that he covers baseball, and not horse racing, and never has to experience in similar detail the impact of gelding.
Both times I have been to The Library, a ratty little Lower East Side bar with a lot of Smiths on the jukebox, the movie Rockula has been playing, with no sound, on a screen in the back. Rockula is a rock opera about a vampire, both Toni Basil and Bo Diddley are in it, so you should probably rent it soon, if only for Toni's dance number.