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A Travers winner: Perfect weather, happy crowd

A Travers winner: Perfect weather, happy crowd

The early birds get the picnic tables
A Travers winner: Perfect weather, happy crowd
Mike Parrish of Saratoga Springs watches as his daughters Emily, center, and Jennifer set up their table.
Photographer: Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- The black, gold and polka dot streamers were not part of Mike Parrish's Travers plan.

Daughters Jennifer and Emily insisted. They decorated family picnic tables at Saratoga Race Course for their parents' 30th wedding anniversary celebration.

"None of this is my idea," said a smiling Parrish, as he prepared for a happy, late summer Saturday with wife, Diane, and about 40 family members and friends. "I wanted to keep it low key, my buddies will be here busting my chops, but that's fine. If they want to do it, that's awesome."

Low key was out and awesome was in at Saratoga, as 48,213 gathered to watch the Travers Stakes, and six other stakes races, in perfect weather.

Code of Honor liked the conditions, too. Shug McGaughhey's thoroughbred, who went off as the 4-1 third choice, beat favored Tacitus to win Saratoga's signature race.

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The Travers Day on-track handle was $11,657,493, up from the $11,466,264 wagered in 2018. The total handle was $52,129,344, a figure that bested the 2018 all-source total of $52,086,597. Both figures are new records.

The sunny skies and 70-degree temperatures were the sure bets, the mortal locks at the race course.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Albany said Friday there would be no chance of rain on Travers Day. They handicapped the atmosphere perfectly, tossing past weather performances that have brought heavy thunderstorms to Saratoga and other parts of the Capital Region this summer.

Wilton's Parrish family has always celebrated wedding anniversaries at the race course, setting up a party station in picnic grounds next to the horse path to the paddock. Diane Parrish said the actual happy occasion is Aug. 26, but the family chooses the Saturday closest to Travers Day for the festivities.

"It's a special place for us and our family," Diane said. "It's just been tradition, this is a second home."

Gates to the track opened at 7 a.m., so the Parrish crew and hundreds of other people were able to save picnic spots by topping them with plastic table covers. There were reports some poor sports decided to cut the line by climbing over fences lining the track's perimeter.

Rick Strasbourg and his friends played by the rules. By 9 a.m., the quartet had settled in their favorite spot, on pavement in back of the grandstand, near Dunkin' Donuts and next to a tall tree.

"We love horses and we watch the big races. The Derby, Triple Crown Races and the Travers are the most important races in the year," said Strasbourg, 77, who lives in Gatineau, Québec. "We're always at the same place, around this tree. The first time we were here, that tree was small."

Chantal Osborne, 53, who also made the trip from Québec, wore a white baseball jersey with blue "Expos" lettering -- a nod to the major league baseball team that left Montreal after the 2004 season.

"They're coming back, right?" Osborne asked. "They're going to be a joint team with Tampa Bay. Half a team is better than none."

Strasbourg does not believe the deal is a sure thing. "No," he said, "it is not."

There were other people, and other stories.

* Jazz trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who led the Tonight Show band during the Johnny Carson era, joined race course trumpeters Sam Grossman and Bethann Dixon for the catchy "Call to the Post" that precedes each race.

Severinsen, 92, played shows at Caffè Lena Friday and Saturday and will conclude his Saratoga gig with a show tonight. He must have liked the "Post" tune; he played it before the fourth race and stuck around for an encore before the fifth.

"I've had my good luck with it," Severinsen said, "and I've had luck that wasn't so good."

Severinsen said he still practices every day. "It's like being a jockey," he said. "Come down off that horse, get back on that sucker and ride it to the finish."

Severinsen connected with old friend D. Wayne Lukas during his 30 minutes in the winner's circle. "He's my number one trainer," Severinsen said.

* Peter Goody, a former Burnt Hills resident now living in New York City, celebrated the approaching end to his bachelor days with about 12 friends.

"We come here ever year," said Goody, 35, who will marry next month. "It seemed like a good excuse to come back."

Saratoga was the first stage of the party. The guys hired a driver for a trip north. "We're going to Montreal tonight and flying home on Monday," Goody said. "It's an aggressive trip."

* Saratoga Springs' Catherine Gagnon made her aggressive trip shortly after 7 a.m., securing picnic tables with her son Noah.

"People don't understand," she said. "Don't come with all your coolers, leave them in the car. Get your table and then go back and get your stuff. They were trying to run with coolers, things were falling all over the place. We've done this for a long time."

Gagnon's agility bought her space for a birthday party.

"It was my birthday on Wednesday and we're celebrating all week," said Gagnon, now 62. "We have some PBRs, plenty of water, ice coffees, salads, chicken salad sandwiches, nuts, chips. For the little kids, we have sandwiches and juice boxes."

* Aidan Quigley, 23, of Burlington, Vermont, started his Travers with a cup of mineral water at the race course's Big Red Spring. 

"For good luck, a good luck charm," Quigley said. "It hasn't been lucky yet, but I hope that changes today."

He may not be taking a jug of Big Red home. "The water's refreshing, let's go with that," he said. "I'm not sure if I would want a full glass."

* Dave Hennel of Glenville made it to the race course for his first Travers.

"I didn't want to fight the crowds," he said. "I'd come up to the Jim Dandy a lot, but never been to the Travers. Today with Tax running, you couldn't resist."

Hennel was part of a 23-person group at the "Porch," one of the course restaurants. His friend, Troy resident Lucas Stritsman, is part of Tax's ownership group.

"It's been great," Hennel said. "What beautiful weather and a good crowd."

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

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