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Book Review

Saratoga: The Ultimate Racing Experience
by Frank Scatoni and Horsephotos
DRF Press, 164 pages, 200 color photographs, July 2004

Saratoga Race Course in the summer is arguably the most popular race meeting in America. For just six short weeks, the best Thoroughbreds in training converge on the small Adirondack town of Saratoga Springs, New York, to race before huge crowds at America's oldest track, in a turn-of-the-century Victorian setting unmatched anywhere. It is this magic that is captured by DRF Press in their gorgeous coffee-table book, Saratoga: The Ultimate Racing Experience.

Frank Scatoni, the editor of the celebrated racing anthology Finished Lines, A Collection of Memorable Writing on Thoroughbred Racing, is back to provide the accompanying text for this collection of some 200 photographs provided by Harold Roth, Michael J. Marten, Vincent Dusovic, and the rest of the Horsephotos team. Starting off the text is a brief foreword by Saratoga socialite and horse owner Marylou Whitney, who tells the story of how she fell in love with this "enchanting town" on her first visit, when her then-husband C.V. Whitney brought her there to sell off his summer home. After one day there she offered to buy the property from him, not wanting to leave, and from that day forward it has been her main residence.

Scatoni accompanies the photos with a brief history of the track including the notable upsets that have branded it the Graveyard of Champions, and some interesting tidbits about some of the people and the horses that have visited this great facility. One example he gives is of a Floridian horseplayer who was convinced that a track whose elm trees "lacked coconuts" must be overrated. That all changed when the visitor arrived for breakfast and took a brief tour. He was sold, even before he saw a race run. Scatoni also includes some key quotations by famous writers that further stress the magic that is Saratoga. One, by Joe Palmer, refers to the canoe floating in the infield lake, painted with the colors of the last Travers Stakes winner, a tradition whose origins are unknown: "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."

The photos included cover all angles of Saratoga - the fog-shrouded morning workouts, the stables and training tracks, the backyard, the paddock, the crowded apron, plenty of racing action, the sales pavilion, and the night life. Many recent racing greats are shown, including With Anticipation, Sightseek, Voodoo Dancer, Empire Maker, Peace Rules, and of course local hero Funny Cide. Among the training greats photographed are Bobby Frankel, Todd Pletcher, D. Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, Allen Jerkens, and P.G. Johnson. The Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are also covered, with the proud winners displaying their plaques.

The photos were all taken during Saratoga's successful 2003 meet, when the overall attendance record was broken, this despite the first half of the meet being plagued with torrential rains. As Scatoni points out, "Racing is reliant on meets like Saratoga, for it is here that old fans make their summer home and new fans get hooked on the sport."

This is an excellent work that belongs in every racing fan's personal library and makes for a perfect gift. Saratoga is a place where time stands still, where racing can be experienced the way it was at the turn of the century, and this book captures this timelessness perfectly. Best of all since the photos were taken just a year ago, the people and horses, many of whom will be racing there again this summer, all have relevance to contemporary racing fans.

Saratoga: The Ultimate Racing Experience has a list price of $19.95 but can be purchased from Amazon.com, for $13.97.

Rating:     5/5

Other Books about Saratoga:
Graveyard of Champions by Bill Heller
Saratoga Days by Sean Clancy
Saratoga Tales by Bill Heller
They're Off: Horse Racing at Saratoga by Edward Hotaling

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