When Not in Saratoga

At the time this is published, I’ll be just three days away from going to Saratoga.

However, I started writing it in my head a couple weeks ago. That means my outlook is a lot more positive at this moment that it was when I first scratched most of this blog down on yellow sticky notes as I sat at my desk in Kentucky on Saratoga opening day.

Friday, July 21st:

If you’d have told me a year ago that a year from then I would be living in Kentucky, interning with one of the most prestigious thoroughbred sales companies in the world, I would have been thrilled, and maybe even cried a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still am thrilled, but my emotions are a bit displaced at the moment.

For two strait summers I was spoiled, living in Saratoga for almost the entire duration of the race meet while working as a staff writer for The Saratoga Special. This opportunity launched me full-on into the thoroughbred industry and opened doors that would have been unimaginable, had the guys who run The Special not taken a risk on a young lady from Fargo, North Dakota.

One of my friends who I met at the historic racecourse in upstate New York once told me he would rather be dead than not be at Saratoga on opening day. Now that’s insanely dramatic, and I was heavily criticized when I tweeted his quote. But if you’ve been there, you can empathize with where he’s coming from. Saratoga is not real life. You’re transported to another universe when rich and poor, young and old, horses and humans come together in a setting that fosters passion, heartbreak, sin and euphoria.

If you’ve never been, you don’t realize what you’re missing. It’s after you’ve experienced it once and then aren’t there, when you  begin to comprehend that tasting the water has changed you.

Today, I realized what it’s like to not be in Saratoga when it’s happening.

Just by saying the name Saratoga aloud, people can somehow legitimize mistakes they will try not to regret. And yet, the rest of the year they look back on those sins and euphoric highs and want to be nowhere else than there, doing it all again.

I’ve had Sean Clancy’s book Saratoga Days sitting on my shelf for months. After an entire school year of not reading a book for enjoyment, only drilling textbooks through my skull as I tried to survive my final year of college, that was the book that made me see the light once again, and remember that I love to read. And how can you not, when Saratoga reaches out through the pages of the book and envelops you with scenes of the people and horses.

The North Dakota Horse Park is running concurrently with Saratoga. My mom is working there in the gift shop, and gives me updates on people I know, and some I don’t. The General Manager face-timed me Wednesday and gave me the grand tour via “buggy,” what I nicknamed the golf cart I drove when I was the small Fargo track’s Director of Communications. That was when I was a mediocre-sized fish in a small pond. Now I’m a minnow in an ocean.

When I think of the Horse Park and Saratoga, they’re places of completely different calibers that conjure different emotions. The Horse Park is like an old friend who I haven’t called in a while, and I reflect on the good times we had. Sometimes it would be nice to return to those times, or just catch up. In dating terms, he’s the high school boyfriend you left behind.

And then there’s Saratoga, like a fling on a study abroad trip who could have been more if you weren’t separated by distance. The kind of romance I wish I would have had while in Chile (but didn’t, probably because I went to the racetrack more than I hung out with people my own age). Your mind travels back to the raging emotion and rushing endorphins of infatuate love – the wild kind that dances until 3 a.m. without regard to 8 a.m. class in a few hours. That’s Saratoga.

I sat behind my desk at Fasig-Tipton, reading the first edition of The Saratoga Special that I hadn’t been a part of since I learned of the paper’s existence. ‘Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry,’ I told myself, as I received “I miss you” texts from The Special’s Shayna Tiller and read Sean Clancy’s famous “Cup of Coffee” column – the one people either turn to first or last, because it’s the literary equivalent to a thick, rich chocolate brownie, meant to be savored.

I’m not there now, but I still am. Only three more days.

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