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Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Tale of Six Trees

Mike MacAdam covers horse racing and local sports for The Gazette in Schenectady.  He's an excellent writer, and a really nice guy too....and I say the latter not only because he wrote so eloquently about impending changes at Saratoga, thereby saving me the trouble of having to write a post on the topic while the Head Chef and I are away on our annual summer extravaganza down at my mom's house near Sarasota, FL.  In case you missed it last week, here is Mike's column (embedded here via Twitter with the hope that you'll be able to bypass the newspaper's paywall).

This column, written after Chris Kay's remarks at the annual preview press conference last week, sums it all up perfectly, from the price gouging to the "creepy corporate Disneyspeak" defending it, to the proliferation of "pockets of exclusivity in what historically has been one of the most democratic places in the country."  It's just perfect, so please give it a read. Not at all necessary for me to say much more.

But yes, as you might have guessed, I do have a little to add.  It's obvious that Mike, and the aggrieved customers quoted in the column, are personally offended by such changes.  And I know that all of us who have, year after year,  had the privilege of attending this historic track, of which all of us are indeed "possessive," feel the same way.  So please don't take it the wrong way when I say that the Head Chef and I feel even more personally affected than some others may be.  And that's because the area behind the Carousel is where we have stationed ourselves for many, many years.  It's bad enough that the main floor Carousel is being turned into a premium sports bar (for which one has to pay to sit at tables).  But that picnic area behind it, where we have spent so many wonderful days, will now be significantly altered - and reduced - by a "Red Jacket" museum. Not sure exactly where it is, but Teresa was there and informed me that it's "very close" to where we usually sit - "a little to the south." Don't know my north from south around there, but "very close" is very close enough.  (In fact, while I had relented to the Head Chef's wishes regarding going to Saratoga this summer, this news has made even her hesitant.)

And that's right, this area is being compromised for a museum.   Don't want to speak for all of you, but this horseplayer, in over 35 years of Saratoga, has attended the existing National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame across the street from the track exactly once; and I don't really remember a thing about it.  Seems to me this new museum will be more for the "guests" than for the horseplayers who support this whole endeavor. Not sure exactly what the point or purpose of plopping a museum in the middle of a track is....will they be charging admission?  While supposedly a tribute to Saratoga legends, as Tom Noonan succinctly put it, "one suspects it is really a tribute to Chris Kay."

But what might be the most upsetting aspect of this whole sorry affair to me - more even than the price increases, infringement of popular picnic areas, and the hypocrisy of this NYRA - is the fact that six grandiose trees have been cut down in order to make way for a museum.  Now, I wouldn't quite put myself in the tree-hugging category, but those magnificent, cloud-scraping trees that populate the backyard of the track are, to me, an integral part of the experience; a major, if not the major, contributor to the majesty and tranquility of the place.

Many a time have I drifted into a sedate state of meditative bliss lying back in my chair staring up at them. (True, at times while under the influence of various mind-altering drugs conducive to such a state, but still...)  To take trees out of Saratoga is like removing flamingos from Hialeah, the San Gabriel mountains from the backdrop at Santa Anita, or the cries of "bloodclot" from Aqueduct.

And what makes this defilement of the sacred grounds of the Spa even more ponderous is this: before he came to NYRA, Chris Kay was the Chief Operating Officer of an environmental group, The Trust for Public Land! Its mission is "Creating Parks and Protecting Land for People."
We protect the places people care about and create close-to-home parks—particularly in and near cities.
 And while the organization generally deals with larger and more urban areas than is Saratoga, the inconsistency between his mission there and his actions here are quite obvious.  While at Trust for Public Land, Kay used the word "parks" as much as he presently uses the word "guest." Yet, now at NYRA, the grand park - is there another way to put it? - that constitutes the backyard of Saratoga is readily sacrificed,  whether for profit or for vanity, solely at NYRA's whim; correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any public input regarding the removal of these natural treasures.  And I mean, I thought the state now owns the land??!!??

Many people feel as if Chris Kay drips with insincerity when he talks in glowing terms about our sport, whose jewel track he has come to be entrusted with.  Considering and contrasting his past position with his present actions may serve to put his words now in an even harsher context. We better hope that Kay does not go on to run a racino.  He may decide that his guests are better served without any pesky racetracks nearby.