By SUZANNA LOURIE
TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Two weeks ago, Tamarindo Airport was shut down by Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority due to runway safety concerns. Now the company that owns the land – Hotel Diria Beach Resort Group – has stated that it will “continue with its aeronautical operation once everything is resolved.”
“Everything” includes working with consultants and construction companies to come up with quotes and alternatives solutions for repairing and reopening the runway, according to Diria Director Manuel Rockbran
The comments came after two weeks of radio silence from the Diria following the airport shutdown, which caused local residents and business owners to fear they were losing their airport for good. Without it, the town’s tourism-drive economy would take a hit, residents said.
While the Diria’s recent statements cleared up some of the misconceptions and put minds at ease, important questions about the airport’s future remain.
The Tamarindo airstrip lies on a large piece of the Diria’s privately owned land; land that is home to a driving range and may become a full-scale golf course. With signs, billboards and the recent completion of a model home advertising a future residential golf community, it’s no secret that the Diria has plans for the area.
According to a statement made by Civil Aviation at a recent meeting, its authorities first began sending safety reports to the Diria in 2009, informing the administration the runway needed attention. Five years passed and more memos were sent, but no one from the Diria responded.
So when the airport was temporarily shut down, some local residents feared the worst. One of them was Guido Scheidt, a pilot and area resident whose company, Auto Gyro America, has flown scenic gyrocopter flights from the Tamarindo Airport for over five years. He organized community fundraising to fix the runway, but once he heard the Diria’s statements, Scheidt admits the effort may have been premature.
“The Diria said they are not looking for help,” he said. “They don’t need financial help to rebuild the runway.”
Diria representatives told the group they remained silent until now because they had been negotiating with construction companies and contractors to determine a budget for runway repairs.
When it comes to Diria’s long-term plans for the airport, Rockbrand and other Diria representatives have declined to comment.
The uncertainty over the airport’s future has created frustration for Tamarindo businesses – particularly three real estate conglomerates reportedly interested in donating land for a new public airport. Those projects include Reserva Conchal in Flamingo, Hacienda Pinilla in Avellanas and a group in Tempate.
Once a location is chosen, the project could take up to three years to complete. Business owners say they are eager to get started and disappointed with lack of information coming out of the Diria. For a new runway to succeed in this region, it would rely on the service of regional airlines Sansa and Nature Air – both of which seem unlikely to add a new route so close to Tamarindo’s airstrip, should it remain open.
As for an exact date for the reopening of the airport, Rockbrand didn’t know. But the public can expect an announcement soon, he said.
Muscular Dystrophy Association salutes Saratoga Springs wife and mother devoted to caring for her husband as he battles a neuromuscular disease
By SUZANNA LOURIE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — When her husband was diagnosed in 2006 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Kelly Ragan’s life changed forever.
Ragan soon found herself a full-time caregiver for her husband, Andrew, in addition to being a full-time wife and mother, as the neuromuscular disease claimed Andrew’s speech, motor skills and mobility.
“We’ve been fortunate in so many ways, and I’m lucky because I’m able to stay home with Andrew, but being a caregiver is honestly the hardest job I’ve ever done,” Ragan said. “It’s not easy; there are no vacations. You’re on all the time, and you’re watching someone you love deteriorate in front of your eyes, but you also have to stay strong for your family.”
Earlier this month, Ragan received a call from a staff member at St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center in Albany informing her that the national Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) had chosen her as one of 12 caregivers it planned to recognize as part of its MDA Salutes Caregivers campaign held each November.
“I’m honored to be a representative of the thousands of caregivers who are doing this for their loved ones who are battling ALS,” Ragan said. “I’m really thankful for the support we’ve had because it makes the dark days not so dark, and we do have lots of happy days.”
St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center recently became affiliated with the Albany chapter of the MDA, which has more than 200 offices nationwide.
Muscular dystrophy disorders are muscle diseases — ALS being just one of many — that cause the progressive weakening of the musculoskeletal system.
When Kelly first met her future husband in college, she never imagined someone as athletic and healthy as Andrew would be diagnosed with a disease as physically crippling as ALS. The pair dated for seven years before getting married, and they eventually moved to Saratoga Springs to be close to Andrew’s job with General Electric Co.
“He was involved in every sport,” Ragan said. “We did a lot of tandem bike-riding fundraisers. That was kind of our thing.”
While traveling for work in 2006, Andrew noticed something wasn’t right.
“He would call me and his voice was slurred. I thought maybe he had a couple of cocktails, but he said, ‘No, Kelly, this is getting worse,’ ” Ragan recalled.
When he returned home, the couple thought Andrew’s voice problem was the result of a bad sinus infection until they were referred to a neurologist after seeing countless doctors in the area.
“You always kind of think it’s something small or not a big deal. We were both healthy, happy, vibrant and working young people with two little boys,” Ragan said. “I guess you could say we were in denial until 2006 when he received the diagnosis of ALS from a doctor in New York City. (The doctor) told us to get our affairs in order because you’re basically handed a death sentence when diagnosed with ALS,” she said.
Currently, there is no cure for the disease and the one medication on the market can, at best, give a patient several more months to live. Despite the fatal diagnosis, Ragan sought out every option and alternative treatment.
Still, the disease progressed. Today, Andrew requires a special wheelchair, feeding tube and computerized communication system that he can control with eye movements.
“Within six months he went from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair and had to retire from his job, which was frightening having the kids and a mortgage to pay for,” Ragan said.
Five years ago, doctors said Andrew had three to five years left to live.
Ragan has adjusted to being his full-time care-giver, acting as her husband’s arms, legs and voice. A hospice worker helps for 90 minutes each day, giving Ragan time to run errands, clean or just sit down.
Although Ragan doesn’t know who nominated her, MDA Supports Caregivers coordinator Ali Santander and a team of staff members at the MDA national headquarters in Arizona felt Ragan’s story of courage and dedication deserved national recognition.
“Kelly was chosen because she’s been so strong and has dedicated her life to giving (Andrew) the quality of life he deserves,” Santander said. “It’s our way of saying thank you to the caregivers, and for the MDA community it’s a nice way for us to recognize their hard work because it’s truly remarkable what they do for family members and loved ones.”
Ragan is one of 12 finalists chosen from the hundreds nominated by a local ALS center staff member who works with the caregiver and the area MDA branch.
“The MDA/ALS center has been an absolute lifeline to our family,” Ragan said. “ALS can be devastating financially and emotionally, and they have provided us with a high-tech wheelchair that makes my husband more comfortable and my caregiving responsibilities manageable.
“I’m in awe of my husband every day — he has battled this disease with determination and integrity and he gives me strength every day. ALS is still a life sentence, but I’m determined to carry on the fight no matter what.”
By SUZANNA LOURIE, firstname.lastname@example.org
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Officials say a dangerous national trend is catching on in and around Saratoga County: synthetic marijuana. It’s perfectly legal, but its dangers are very real
About three weeks ago, Saratoga Springs High School Resource Officer Lloyd Davis caught several students skipping school. He brought the students back to school and while searching one student Davis discovered the student had a small green package of “herbal incense” called Supernova.
It was herbal incense, Davis discovered, a synthetic mixture of plant materials and unregulated chemical compounds that mimic the effects of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
“That’s when it first came to my attention,” Davis said at a Saratoga Partnership for Prevention meeting Wednesday. “We asked — what is this? And he explained it’s something he gets high off and it’s completely legal and that he bought it at a shop in Saratoga.”
Marketed as herbal incense or herbal smoking blends, synthetic marijuana is called by a variety of street names including Wicked X, Posh, K2 and Thunder. These artificial marijuana products actually have 4 to 5 times the potency of marijuana, causing intense and dangerous side effects including hallucinations, anxiety, vomiting, heart failure and even death.
On Wednesday, Davis shared his concerns about synthetic marijuana with Partnership members including representatives from the Saratoga Springs High School, the Saratoga Springs Recreation Center, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Four Winds Hospital.
“This is just like kids sucking chemicals into their body and possibly having hallucinations or seizures — there’s no gray area on this,” Maureen Cary, of the Prevention Council, said.
Smoking herbal incense can cause harmful health effects and erratic, even dangerous behavior, and those side-effects have been seen in communities across the Capital District recently.
Several weeks ago, a 15-year-old Whitehall girl was treated at Glens Falls Hospital after having an adverse reaction to smoking herbal incense. Police also say a man was high on synthetic marijuana when he beat a 7-week-old child, landing the infant in Albany Medical Center.
Police in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Fort Edward are investigating a series of burglaries and break-ins at stores that carry herbal incense.
In Saratoga Springs, one local shop owner chose to remove synthetic marijuana from her store altogether.
Theresa Sheffer, owner of Smoke & Fire, a tobacco accessories shop on Caroline Street, noticed strange addictive behavior in her herbal incense customers — just one of the reasons she stopped selling “fake weed” in October 2010.
“Every time I would show up for work there were people waiting for herbal incense and it made me feel uncomfortable — it was an addiction almost like crack or cocaine — they were obsessed,” Sheffer said. It was a costly decision. Packages of herbal incense don’t come cheap — 3-gram packages can sell for up to $25.
“We started learning about it and what they were finding in the products. We made a lot of money off it, but at what expense? Do we need to make money if it’s hurting our customers?” Sheffer said.
Some other local head shops still carry brands of herbal incense, though.
Before Wednesday’s Partnership for Prevention meeting, Cary visited several of these shops to find out where the product was being sold and discuss with the owners the possibility of not selling herbal incense if there were a community-wide agreement.
Synthetic marijuana is currently available in Saratoga Springs at the Getty station on Church Street and Smoke n’ Save in Congress Plaza. But, Cary says at least one shop owner seemed agreeable to pulling the product if other local stores do the same.
Though they don’t have a solid plan as to how they would approach local government, the Partnership agreed something needs to be done in the community to help make parents — and kids — aware of herbal incense and its dangers.
“This looks like a package of candy or gum. If I saw this on my son’s desk I wouldn’t think twice,” a concerned parent said at Wednesday’s meeting.
In addition to being legal — even for kids younger than 18 — herbal incense is fruity and sweet-smelling. It has been popular among people on probation because it does not show up in drug screening.
By SUZANNA LOURIE
SCHUYLERVILLE — Schuylerville resident Suzanne Nelson only had a few blissful hours with her firstborn, Jaden, before the panic attacks set in.
“It was terrible. I had no idea what was happening to me,” said Nelson, who was living in Colorado at the time.
It was years before she could label the nightmare that ensued as severe postpartum depression.
So severe that early this summer, Nelson teamed up with Hoosick Falls resident and fellow postpartum anxiety survivor Amy Breese to found the budding not-for-profit Shades of Light, a Capital District support network for women suffering from postpartum disorders.
In telling her story, Nelson said she not only hopes to generate awareness about Shades of Light, but also to help women realize help is available.
“I hope people can hear my story and realize they’re not crazy, they’re not alone and realize something is wrong and they need to get help,” she said.
The story continues a week after Jaden’s birth, when Nelson’s panic attacks grew into nonstop crying, extreme anxiety and irrational fears of the baby dying.
“It was this overwhelming feeling of doom — constant thoughts, terrible, terrible thoughts,” she recalled.
By two months, Nelson’s health was deteriorating. She would go days without sleep, her hair was falling out and she dropped to a weight so low it caused cardiac complications.
“The doctors would say I must be bipolar and say maybe you should be put in a psych ward,” she said.
It was four months before a therapist suggested Nelson get her thyroid tested. Sure enough, her physical symptoms were a biochemical illness and a hormonal imbalance known as Postpartum Graves Disease, which had led the body to attack the thyroid.
“We tried all sorts of med therapies, but nothing worked, so they ended up having to eradiate — basically kill — my thyroid,” she said.
That was seven months after giving birth. With daily medication, Nelson’s strength started to return. After 18 months, Nelson said, she could consider herself normal.
Once settling in Schuylerville and hearing about postpartum depression disorders from doctors and family members, Nelson began to make sense of what happened.
“Everything started clicking, but I think the bulk of my education came after the birth of my second,” she said.
After giving birth to Adler four years ago, Nelson experienced another four months of postpartum, although less severe because of her established support system.
Still, the lack of resources in the Capital Region for women with postpartum mood disorders was glaring, she thought.
“Even the doctors don’t know where to send these women,” Nelson said.
She connected with Breese, who has worked for almost eight years as a postpartum doula, someone trained to provide in-house support to women and their families after childbirth.
“I was a survivor of extreme postpartum anxiety. It’s always been a cause near and dear to my heart,” Breese said.
In May, Breese started a monthly postpartum support group in Troy. Now the group is a part of Shades of Light and has a consistent following.
“I was ready to create some support in the community so these women wouldn’t have to go it alone like I did,” Breese said.
Nelson connected with Sonia Murdock, co-founder and executive director of the Long Island-based Postpartum Resource Center of New York, who quickly got on board with Shades of Light.
In June, Nelson went through training with Murdock to earn the same certifications Breese has to conduct postpartum support groups.
Last month, Nelson hosted the first Saratoga Springs group at the public library, and the women have a Glens Falls group in the works.
In New York state, around 25,000 women suffer from perinatal disorders and more than 50,000 suffer from postpartum mood disorders, Murdock said.
The spectrum of these diseases and their risk factors are wide. While not genetic, women who have experienced a trauma are at greater risk to develop the condition, Murdock explained.
With trauma often comes postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder in which birth re-triggers the traumatic experience.
“There are a lot of sub-sets — postpartum psychosis is where the woman is unable to tell the difference between what’s reality and what’s not reality,” Murdock said.
Other postpartum classifications include depression/anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and anxiety or depression during pregnancies.
“The information needs to be integrated into the whole continuum: pre-
conception, during pregnancy and after having a baby for everyone who plays a role. It’s important for them to be educated about how to be part of the safety net,” Murdock said.
That’s exactly what Nelson and Breese hope to bring to the Capital District with Shades of Light.
Future plans include a website with a local guide of professionals and support groups, as well as distributing informational brochures through regional health care facilities.
“We would like to have what they (the Postpartum Resource Center of New York) have here. We want to be independent and have one support group per week. There are all different kinds of outreach we hope to accomplish,” Breese said.
There’s still a way to go, much of which requires funding. But if Shades of Light grows the way she hopes, Nelson, owner of a graphic design business, envisions this becoming a full-time career.
“I’m hoping some businesses will want to help us or donate so we can provide all these things,” Nelson said. “If everybody plays a little part, it could be a really, really big thing.”
By SUZANNA LOURIE, email@example.com
SARATOGA SPRINGS — At 1:51 Tuesday afternoon, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake, 3.7 miles deep, struck Virginia, rattling the entire East Coast up to the Capital District and beyond.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake’s epicenter was located in a town 44 miles northwest of Richmond, Va., in Louisa County. In Washington, D.C., the White House, Capital Building and the Pentagon were all evacuated due to the strength of the tremors. Flights from the Reagan National Airport outside of Washington, D.C., were also put on hold.
The quake, close to a 6 on the Richter scale, shook the computer monitors in the Lake Avenue office of The Saratogian here in Saratoga Springs. Within minutes, calls from people in towns across the county started rolling in and the newspaper website and social media outlets exploded with feedback.
Bob Gordon, who lives in Pyramid Pines on Old Gick Road in Wilton, said he felt the quake for about five minutes, and although nothing broke, it shook the entire house.
“We live in a mobile home and it shook the place like nothing,” he said.
Like many in the area, Judy Shrade of Nelson Avenue said that at first, she thought the vibrations were from a passing truck, but when the shaking didn’t stop, Shrade knew it wasn’t a truck causing her glassware to clatter on the shelves.
Quakes don’t strike this area often, but 87-year-old Saratoga resident Roslyn Pittinger has had earthquake experiences in the past. After yelling to her daughter, “Your washing machine is backing up,” Pittinger said her daughter responded that it wasn’t even on.
“I’ve lived a lot of places and felt this before,” Pittinger said, still laughing about the incident.
While the ground was still rumbling, people from Virginia to New York reported the events using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to tell the story as it was happening in real time.
Even state Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, tweeted at 2:27 p.m., “My office in Schenectady was shake, rattle and rolling from the earthquake!” On Facebook, Steve Lyon added, “Definitely felt it here, about 8 miles east of the track, just off Route 9.”
South of Schenectady, a spokesperson from the Albany branch of the National Weather Service said their building, “shook like crazy,” and most staff evacuated the premises. Employees at the Capitol Building and government agency buildings also were required to evacuate their office, but returned to work later that afternoon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement at 2:43 p.m. announcing that effects of the quake in New York state were being monitored by the State Office of Emergency Management and that as of that time, there had been no reports of damage to buildings, bridges, roads, power grids, the Indian Point nuclear power plant or other infrastructure.
Locally, the Saratoga Springs Police Department said although no emergencies or accidents had been reported as a result of the quake, more than a dozen calls came in immediately after the ground stopped shaking.
Lt. Robert Jillson of the Saratoga Springs Fire Department said firefighters were dispatched to a possible gas leak, but said he didn’t know if it was related to the earthquake or if it was just coincidence.
Since no horse races are run on Tuesdays, “dark days,” at Saratoga Race Course, thankfully no horses were running when the ground shook. Dan Silver, communications director for the New York Racing Association, said as of around 3 p.m., there had been no reports of harm to any horses, who were safe in their stalls in the backstretch.
Although the Virginia quake was felt here in Saratoga County, it wasn’t the first earthquake of the day for New York state. The USGS reported a smaller, 2.2 magnitude earthquake, 13.3 miles deep, that hit three miles outside of Altamont, a town just 20 minutes northwest of Albany, at 6:35 Tuesday morning.
Earthquakes might be rare in the Capital District, but it was only one year ago on Wednesday, June 23, 2010, when Saratoga residents felt the rumblings from a 5.0 quake that hit northeast of Ottawa at 1:40 p.m. — today’s earthquake coincidentally struck on the same date, the 23rd, of a different month, August, just 11 minutes after last year’s quake.
Later Tuesday, the USGS confirmed two aftershocks hit near the epicenter in northern Virginia — the first, magnitude 2.8, at 2:46 p.m., and the second, at 3:20 p.m. with a magnitude of 2.2. The National Weather Service said no tsunami was expected as result of the quake.
Saratogian reporters Michael Cignoli and Lucian McCarty and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Extreme Couponers. Sure, you’ve heard of them: ordinary people saving extraordinarily large sums of money by clipping coupons. And maybe you’ve seen them on TLC’s hit reality show, “Extreme Couponing.” But do these savvy savers really exist here in Saratoga Springs?
The answer is yes. Meet two local super couponers: Charlene DuBuque of Ballston Spa and Kate Scott of Saratoga Springs.
Between the two of them, DuBuque and Scott save more than $700 on groceries and household items every week.
How do they do it?
To cut costs and fight back against a tough economy, DuBuque and Scott plan financially savvy schedules each weekend, starting with the bonus coupons found in the weekend editions of local newspapers.
“On Sundays, I wake up and get the two local papers. Then, my mother-in-law and friends send me their coupons, so I’ll have about six or seven copies of the same inserts that you get in one paper, which is six or seven times the discount,” Dubuque explained.
Scott’s routine is a little different. Early Saturday morning, she heads to Stewart’s to pick up four copies of the Times Union’s early bird special edition with extra coupons.
The next step is digital. Both women spend between 30 minutes to an hour each day comparing print coupons to current sales at stores like Price Chopper, CVS and Rite Aid. They’re looking for online coupons and sales that match their print coupons.
“At least half match up each week with the sales,” DuBuque said.
After scouring the print and online deals, it’s time to start clipping.
“My two oldest kids clip and they get free TV time — they love it and it helps a lot,” DuBuque said with a laugh.
Once everything is meticulously laid out, Scott and DuBuque arrange their personal coupon binders.
“I cut the coupons and organize them in the binder — I plan out everything I’m going to buy that week,” Scott said.
DuBuque also uses a coupon book with the vouchers carefully laid out, organized not only by store, but by aisle. That book travels with DuBuque to every store, just in case she happens to see something forgotten on the list.
On the off-chance they do see an item not on the list, DuBuque and Scott rarely surrender to the urge to make an impulse buy.
“The thing is, I do everything with coupons. We don’t buy anything unless it’s with a coupon, from going out to restaurants to buying clothing,” DuBuque said.
Scott agreed. “I don’t even remember the last time I went anywhere without a coupon, and I never splurge on random items,” she said.
It might be strict, but living by the couponer’s code pays off. DuBuque saves between $200 and $500 each week while shopping for six, and Scott saves around $200 between herself, her boyfriend and two pets.
“There’s no way we could have the kind of stuff we have if I wasn’t clipping. Even once I’m in the job force, I’m still going to do this,” DuBuque said.
Although DuBuque recently finished graduate school, full-time work isn’t an option right now.
“My husband makes a decent salary, but it’s not enough for six people, and two of my kids have special needs — my baby goes to therapy, so it’s hard to find a nine-to-five,” she said.
DuBuque said she saves the most each week at Price Chopper due to their policy of doubling coupons up to 99 cents.
Price Choppers’ competitive Capital District coupon deals are about to be broadcast nationally.
A Price Chopper spokesperson said the TLC show “Extreme Couponing” filmed a segment at the Watertown Price Chopper several weeks ago to profile an extreme couponer from the area. The air date is still uncertain.
“We’ve definitely noticed an increase in people using coupons since the show started,” said Tom Smith, the Ballston Spa Avenue Price Chopper’s front end manager.
Although DuBuque and Scott aren’t quite as extreme as some of the crazed TLC couponers, both admit that the hobby does have a darker side.
After learning to clip from her mom, Scott quickly surpassed her mother’s couponing compulsion.
“It’s definitely an addiction,” Scott said. “If I don’t do it — yesterday we went out to the lake and I was like, ‘I have to do my coupons’ — I feel anxious when I don’t do it or if I buy something without a coupon.”
DuBuque agreed, saying, “It does become kind of addicting. When we were in Plattsburgh, we would get stuff pretty much free and we’d have so much stuff — just coming out of the closets. Now I only buy things we need or just a little extra.”
Of all the addictions in today’s society, saving hundreds of dollars per month doesn’t stand out as a cause for worry. Of course, all habits need moderation, but DuBuque and Scott are two examples of local extreme couponers who, with a little extra time and effort, manage to balance their lives with their savings.
“I’ll never go back to shopping without coupons,” DuBuque said. “I started clipping coupons when I was 17 and I’ve never looked back.”
By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was the hottest July 22 in more than 10 years for Saratoga Springs, but blistering temperatures couldn’t stop the 25,155 fans who showed up, water bottles in hand, ready to celebrate the kickoff of Saratoga Race Course’s 143rd annual racing season.
The high temperatures were a stark contrast to last year’s opening day when a crowd of 23,178 came out despite torrential downpours; this year’s opening day attendance represented an 8.5 percent increase over last year.
For the next six weeks, the racing industry will be focused on Saratoga, America’s most historic track, where plenty of new features abound,from the entrance of Dunkin’ Donuts and the exit of Carvel to the touted low price of beer at $3 for a 12 oz. domestic draft. Fans were up early in the Clubhouse for the 7 a.m. breakfast at the track, where they dined on scrambled eggs, pastries and sipped a morning mimosa during the horses’ early workouts.
Close friends Marie Vredenvurg of Mechanicville, Teresa Califano and Ann Palin, both from Clifton Park, come to breakfast at the track on opening day every year.
“We like to see the horses work out,” Califano said. “We also just love Saratoga and it’s not just during race season,” Palin added. “I love Saratoga all year long — I enjoy coming up here, just walking the main street through the little shops — you find things you don’t find any other place. Saratoga is just unique and we’re fortunate to be a part of it.”
Other dedicated fans lined up even earlier than 7 a.m. outside of the main gate to ensure they would get a shady picnic table in the backyard.
“We line up every year at 6:30 in the morning to get this same spot,” said longtime racing fan Randy Johnson, who also teaches biology at Saratoga Springs High School.
Johnson, a Saratoga Springs resident, reunites with friends he only sees during racing season each year at the very same picnic table.
“Randy runs every morning with his packed backpack, table clothes and chairs to get this spot,” said Johnson’s friend Cynthia Hutchinson of Montreal. “He calls it running with the bulls.”
Johnson is no backyard rookie either, for more than a decade he’s come back to the same spot to meet friend Bob Guay, of Montreal.
“We met right here 15 years ago and now this guy is my best friend — we go to his house and he comes down here,” Johnson said of Guay.
For Johnson and his crew, the best prescription for beating the heat was kicking back with a cold beer, plenty of water and, of course, laughing with old friends.
“We sit in the same area every year and you really start to know people,” said Guay’s wife Joy Brock. “People say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ It’s really wonderful.”
A “who’s who” list of Capital Region business leaders gathered at the Carousel Restaurant, where socialite Marylou Whitney and her husband, John Hendrickson, hosted their annual Opening Day luncheon.
Outside in the picnic areas, track goers were in high spirits despite temperatures soaring into the mid-90s.
“It’s Christmas in July!” yelled one happy fan while setting up his tent.
Strolling past the bars, there was a buzz about the new low prices of beer.
“Dude, it’s only $3!” called out another anonymous crowd member from one bar.
For some, the cure for the sizzling heat was knocking back a cold one and for others, it was savoring a bowl of ice-cold Ben and Jerry’s. Moshik Teichholtz of Israel came to Saratoga for the first time with son Guy Teichholtz and brother Udi Vax. Having only been in Saratoga for three-hours, the trio was already enjoying the atmosphere of the track.
“I like the atmosphere, it’s not like Israel — except it’s hot, the weather is just like Israel,” said Teichholtz.
Closer to the track, fans outside the paddock lined up to watch the horses warm up before the second race of the day.
“The horses are why we come here; they’re the stars,” one observer said.
Racing fans did a lot of wagering Friday: on-track handle was $3,551,745, up 13.4 percent from 2010; total handle including wagers made on-track and from nationwide simulcast outlets was $15,871,449, up 18.9 percent.
Other fans were content to post up with elaborate picnic set ups in front of the outdoor TV screens to watch the races and do their betting from the comfort of their claimed space.
“We only go to the rail if it’s not blistering hot,” Hutchinson said. “We mostly spend the day right here in the shade and it’s great.”
Despite the high humidity, well-coiffed women in the Clubhouse managed to stay glamorous with elaborate hats and headpieces, high heels and frequent make-up touch-ups.
“I love the excitement and the challenge of picking the right horse… which I often do by name,” laughed 10-year track attendee Wendy Burke, of Boston.
It’s not just racing fans who are feeling good about the 2011 Saratoga meet, the New York Racing Association heads into the 2011 meet in much better financial condition than a year ago, when it was faced with the possibility of a racing shutdown before getting the first installment of a $25 million loan. The loan, first provided by the state, has since been taken over by Genting New York LLC, the firm chosen to run Aqueduct Race Track’s new casino that’s scheduled to open this fall.
Adding to the sense of optimism, Saratoga Race Course is expected to undergo $100 million worth of capital improvements in the next few years as new gaming revenue becomes available.
Overall, searing temperatures couldn’t slight the opening day excitement felt around the track about the official kick off of what is sure to be another exciting 40-day meet.
“I think Saratoga is the best track in the country because of the ambiance,” said Mary Ann Monaco of Albany. “At Belmont, it’s just the racetrack — here, it’s the picnic areas, the trees and just look at the track! It just inspires you to come here. Saratoga is the place to be, just like they say.”