Saturday, January 1, 2011

First Night and Happy Birthday,Thoroughbreds!

With Christmas feeling like so last week, what better way to enjoy the new year in Saratoga than at First Night, followed by a thoroughbred birthday party on January 1?

With the unusually mild weather, the Handsome Husband and I were happy to join the good-natured crowds at Saratoga's First Night festivities. Varied entertainment, family-friendly activities, and reasonable admission prices makes this a popular local event.

We were able to see five acts before the fireworks at midnight and still managed to fit in a quick dinner at Hattie's.

The acts we saw were the Heavenly Echoes Gospel Chorus out of Albany; Mamalama (new age/world music); Captain Squeeze & The Zydeco Moshers , who got everyone up dancing - and I mean everyone; the venerable Ernie Williams , who must be well into his 80's but can still play a mean blues guitar and fill a venue with happy fans; and The Fighting 86s Irish Band. With some regret, we skipped a few of our favorites this year, like Sonny and Perley , but ya just can't do it all...

Thoroughbred racing is what Saratoga is most famous for so it seemed fitting to spend a little time at Old Friends today, celebrating some birthdays.

Folks like me who grew up horse-crazy, devouring books by C. W. Anderson, Marguerite Henry, and Walter Farley, already know that all thoroughbred racehorses have the same "birthday", January 1.

Thoroughbreds are raced by age. The Kentucky Derby, for example, is a race for three-year-olds. To keep the eligibility simple, all thoroughbreds are considered to be a year older on January 1, regardless of their actual date of birth.

Old Friends Farm in nearby Greenfield Center, NY, is a retirement facility for former racehorses. They opened their facility today for tours and a birthday party in honor of their thoroughbred residents, who are all officially a year older today. They even had birthday cake for their visitors.

The farm is currently home to eleven retirees, including a couple of Travers winners. This fellow is Watchem Smokey, who was retired in 2009.

The sprightly chestnut in the foreground here is the one youngster on the farm. Mr. Cowboy will be leaving soon to start training for his racing career. He is considered, as of today, to be a two-year-old.

Here above, nearest the camera, you can see Zippy Chippy, who was anything but. Honestly, he is famous for his impressive losing streak: 100 races without a win. Look him up - he has his own Wikipedia entry.

Thunder Rumble fared a good deal better in his career. He won the Saratoga Travers Stakes in 1992 as well as seven other races. He was retired from breeding in 2006.

Horses like Karakorum Patriot, above, are typical of the thoroughbreds who, if they are very lucky, end up as charity cases on a rescue or retirement farm like this one. His racing career was so-so, he is a gelding and therefor not able to be used for breeding, and he's not in good enough shape to be used as a pleasure horse. The slaughterhouse was the likely next stop for this fella until he found a home here.

Old Friends is a non-profit organization and they seem like good-hearted folks. Look them up if you'd like to get involved. They have a website and a blog.

P.S. The horse at the very top of this post is Red Down South. His last race was in 2007.