Trackgoers had more to root for than just thoroughbred horses at Saratoga Race Course on Sunday. There were more than 150 human contenders to cheer on in the 21st Annual Hat Contest.
Fancy hats are traditional headgear during the summer meet at the track.
Before the competition, contestants milled in the shaded space beneath the grandstand like exotic birds.
Atop each head was a unique combination of imagination and artistry, crafted from assorted materials that included rhinestone broaches, duct tape, peacock feathers, beer cans, silk flowers, ribbons, lace and racing forms. There were pillboxes and fedoras, fascinators, wide-brimmed straw beauties and some hats far too original to classify.
The nearly 50 youngsters who registered for the Kreative Kids category were the first to parade before the judges, and the young contestants demonstrated without question that they knew how to think outside the hatbox.
Cassidy Pawul, 12, of South Hadley, Mass., designed a pink hat inspired by the extravagant outfits of Effie Trinket, a character in the movie “The Hunger Games.” “Toga,” in glittery pink letters, marched in an arc over the brim of the straw hat and two stuffed, pink horses peeked over the letters.
“I used my outfit to accessorize the hat,” she said, calling attention to her pink dress, pink corsage, pink gloves and rhinestone-encrusted flip-flops.
Thirteen-month-old Riley Gordon of Austin, Texas, left the hat-making to his mom, Tara Tang, but he wore his lid with the confidence of a winner. His gray-and-white-striped bettor’s hat was embellished with a calculator, horseshoes, Daily Racing Form, plastic horses and play money.
The hat of Camryn Dunn, 11, of Clearwater, Fla., received top accolades in the Kreative Kids category. She wore a forest green horse barn built atop a straw hat. This is the second year in a row Dunn has been crowned with first place in this category.
“She loves this day,” said her grandfather, John Dunn, of Latham, who helped her construct the hat. “She couldn’t sleep last night. Usually on Sunday she doesn’t get up until 10:30. This morning, she got up at 6.”
Second place in the Kreative Kids category went to Isabella Potter of Duanesburg, and third place to Mikayla Schaefer of Schenectady.
The nearly 80 contestants in the Fashionably Saratoga category were all smiles beneath their hats, but none smiled more brightly than Liberty ARC participant Hester Livengood of Amsterdam, who wore a fascinator made from hot pink and white feathers, pink silk roses and a silver rhinestone broach.
The hat was one of nine designed by Maurita Smith of Fort Johnson, an employee at Liberty ARC, a program that offers programs for people with developmental disabilities. Smith said she acquired the ability to make hats after a serious car accident last year.
“I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, but for some reason, I could make a hat,” Smith said.
She sported a black-and-white hat inspired by the butterfly-shaped sunglasses that she wore.
Toby VanNostrand of Johnstown wore another of Smith’s creations, a cloth hat that looked like a huge, black peony with a rhinestone broach at the center.
“This was probably the hardest round because there are so many beautiful, beautiful hats,” said judge Mary Darcy, co-founder and editor of Capital Region website AllOverAlbany.com.
Other judges included Kristi Barlette, social media strategist and host of the Times Union lifestyle blog “On the Edge;” Matt Baumgartner, local restaurateur and host of the blog “Friday Puppy;” and Kevin Rush and Randi Tyler, co-hosts of the Morning Crew Show on WRVE 99.5 The River.
Veronica Martin of Great Barrington, Mass., took the top honor in the Fashionably Saratoga category for her elegant, wide-brimmed black-and-white creation she called “Midnight Train to Georgia.” It featured a softly undulating brim, a spray of black and white feathers, a swath of white netting and a bow made of sheer black organza.
Freya Smith of Fort Johnson was awarded second place, and Casey Coyle of Saratoga Springs received third prize.
Contestants pulled out all the stops for the Uniquely Saratoga category, the final one of the contest.
There was a wide-brimmed hat encrusted with buttons; a shiny headdress made from a Coors Light box and a bunch of empty beer cans; and even a table-hat set for lunch, complete with a sandwich, a bottle of Saratoga water and two boxes of Saratoga Chips.
The winner was hairdresser Julie Potter of Duanesburg, who styled headwear for herself and her children, Isabella, 6 and Frank, 4. The creation perched atop Julie Potter’s head was at least three feet tall. It started at her scalp, with a nest of thick, black ribbon arranged atop a small black top hat.
“There’s a feather boa that’s sort of folded in the middle, then a peacock ribbon on the back, hydrangeas and a bird on a perch and peacock feathers sticking up,” she explained.
Her daughter, who took second place in the Kreative Kids competition, wore a junior version of the peacock-themed hat, while son Frank sported a simple straw fedora tastefully embellished with a faux pheasant he picked out by himself.
“We decided on Friday that we were going to come to the track today for the hat competition,” Potter said, noting that it took her only about two hours to create her magnificent hat.
Second place in the Uniquely Saratoga category went to duo Tena Bunnell of Greenwich and Christine Krenzer of East Greenbush. Third place was awarded to Darryl Rod of Cheshire, Mass.