People really like bobbleheads.
The Saratoga Race Course offered free Fourstardave bobbleheads with the purchase of a ticket Sunday, and people swarmed the place. Crowds circled the ticket booths, paying their $3 over and over again, handing a sheaf of tickets to the bobblehead distributors.
“I saw one guy get 60 bobbleheads,” said Janice Sivillo, who managed the row of track employees handing out box after box of bobbleheads under the giveaway tent.
She wasn’t concerned. They had 58,000 of the things — plenty to go around, at least for a few hours.
By noon, just over an hour after the official gate opening, half of those 58,000 bobbleheads were gone, leaving a mound of boxes under the tent and a stream of people still coming.
At the edge of the line, Nicole Tecl loaded up a beach bag with the white boxes, took another stack in her arms and had her friend Karly Daly do the same. They worked with an efficiency and calm not seen in the grasping masses. They are professional spinners.
There are other spinners, opportunists who get dozens of bobbleheads for $3 a pop and sell them on eBay, sometimes at a 500-percent profit. Those people are generally frowned upon.
Tecl’s activities, however, are sanctioned by the track.
“We bring all these up to the clubhouse,” she said. “I do this with all the giveaways.”
As it turns out, clubhouse occupants don’t enjoy waiting in line, and pay Tecl to go for them. She had over 60 orders Sunday.
“It’s a tip-based job,” she said, pointing out that carrying so many little boxes is no easy task.
There were plenty of people stocking up on future gifts as well — just a few extras for the family. But it seemed as though few of the happy bobblehead owners knew much about Fourstardave, the thoroughbred whose bobbing head was so lovingly cast in resin.
“He was a big deal in Saratoga,” said Ryan Hand, retreating to his car with seven bobbleheads.
That explanation didn’t go nearly far enough, according to longtime track aficionado John DelNegro.
“Here’s the thing about Fourstardave,” he said, leaning his elbows on a weathered track picnic table. “He was just a regular horse everywhere else. He’d run at Belmont and come in four lengths behind. But when he came here, well, he’d be four or five lengths ahead. That’s why he’s the Sultan of Saratoga.”
Fourstardave won at least one race at Saratoga each year from 1987 to 1994. DelNegro recounted coming, then in his early 20s, to the track to witness each consecutive feat.
“At first, year two and three, it was just a race,” he said. “But then he won in year seven and eight. It just kept happening. You don’t see that sort of thing much anymore.”
DelNegro smiled at the memory, but he only got his one bobblehead.
The winning record put Fourstardave in the public eye for a time. A small lane in Saratoga was named after him. DelNegro still has a framed poster in his basement, years after the thoroughbred passed away.
He was a big deal, but never bobblehead famous, until Sunday.
As the rush subsided a bit, and people took their lawn chairs for the race, bobbleheads got loose of their boxes and out onto picnic tables. Kids played. A few heads came off.
“They’re not actually the best bobbleheads,” said George Prehoda, lifting the severed head of Fourstardave off its spring.
As the flow of ticket holders subsided, Sivillo had time to talk.
“I don’t know what people do with these things,” she said. “You can wear a hat, or a shirt like our other giveaways, but these are just dust gatherers, right? But people love them.”
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