September 24, 2020

Saratoga: disqualifications and drama on a silent big race day

Vexatious
Vexatious wins by a neck over Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign Stakes (NYRA/Joe Labozzetta)

Editor’s Note: With limited access to Saratoga due to the pandemic, Teresa presents her experiences track-side to help us see what many of us are unable to during COVID-19.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — August 1 was one of those big racing days that have become standard at Saratoga. The era of a graded stakes race every day is now long gone, with important races instead stacked on a few weekends.

Saturday’s card was anchored by the $750,000 Whitney (G1), its 93rd running; accompanying it were the $500,000 Personal Ensign (G1), the $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens (G1), and the $250,000 Bowling Green (G2).

The day felt both familiar and strange;

The day felt both familiar and strange; the card attracted some of the most accomplished horses in the country, but the Allen Jerkens, the erstwhile King’s Bishop, is long a Travers Day staple, and it was weird to see it happening when the calendar had barely turned to August.

By now we’re used to the quiet. Even during the most stirring of stretch duels, the excitement is muted, limited to the handful of spectators—stable staff, owners—who have been permitted to watch from the apron.

The Personal Ensign offered one of those compelling runs, the champion Midnight Bisou contending with the upstart Vexatious, the former a winner of five Grade 1 races, the latter seeking her first.

They finished a neck apart, the champ settling for second, and that alone, in a normal year, would have elicited gasps and cries, of joy and frustration, depending on which mare you backed.

But the silence was most striking moments later, when track announcer John Imbriale let us know that the stewards were taking a look at the stretch run and that Midnight Bisou’s rider, Ricardo Santana Jr., had lodged an objection against the winner.

Ordinarily, we’d have heard cries of disgust from the people holding tickets on, or just rooting for, Vexatious. We’d have heard cries of hope, of possible redemption, from those wanting the marvelous Midnight Bisou to get another Grade 1 win at Saratoga, or to cash a bet.

Instead: stillness.

As the replay of the stretch run played on the infield screens and on televisions throughout the track: nothing.

And when, a few minutes later, came the announcement that the result would stand, there was an invisible, soundless shrug.

For the first time, I wanted to hear indignant exclamations of injustice. I wanted waves of boos and cheers to wash over the grandstand and clubhouse.

Instead of agitation, there was a sense, almost, of serenity, on a glorious Saratoga summer day.

It’s tempting to go for the metaphor, to see in the disappointment of a DQ, in the literal turning of the (program) page, a symbol of the hardships of the last five months, of the resilience on which so many people have had to call, of the determination to forge on in the face of unexpected and unwelcome challenges.

The metaphor sits there, offering itself up to be exploited. But it’s still too soon for philosophical reflections on a state of affairs that is still too trying for too many. Embedded in the Saratoga silence is the absence of employees who depend on a summer paycheck, the absence of annual gatherings of people who wait all year for this meet, the absence of the passion that makes any live sporting event, especially a contentious one, more than simply a matter of who wins and who loses.