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Newspaper | Suzanna K. Lourie

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Non-profit Shades of Light provides support system for women suffering from postpartum disorders

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Oct. 22, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Suzanne Nelson and Family

Suzanne Nelson with her family, husband Rick and two children Jaden, 11, and Adler, 4, in their home in Schuylerville. Suzanne is a co-founder of a non-profit called Shades of Light for women struggling with Postpartum. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

 

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.

Breese

Amy Breese with her children, Orion, 2, and Aidan, 9, in their Hoosick Falls home.
(J.S. CARRAS, photos@saratogian.com)

“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.”

Concert Review: 22 Years Later, Elton John Still Dazzles

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Sept. 6, 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Elton John

Elton John performed for a packed audience at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday. (ERICA MILLER, emiller@saratogian.com)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Bitch is Back — and when Reginald Dwight (yes, really), also known as Sir Elton Hercules John comes to town, traffic stops to make way.

Literally.

Though the 2.2-mile drive from Broadway to Saratoga Performing Arts Center took more than an hour, neither traffic nor torrential rain could keep away the thousands of fans who braved the elements for the rare opportunity to see Britain’s own “Rocket Man.”

A Live Nation security guard said the venue expected a crowd of 17,000, but with people still pouring in more than an hour from the show’s start time and fans posted up to listen outside the gates, the number could have easily soared closer to SPAC’s 25,000 capacity.

Clad in a long, black tuxedo jacket decorated with roses and a diamond bedazzled skull and crossbones, Elton’s costume wasn’t quite as over-the-top as back in his ’70s and ’80s pomp, but with his signature tinted-shades, Elton’s stage presence still radiated.

Warmly greeting the audience, Elton remembered the first time he stepped on the SPAC stage 40 years ago and the last time he performed here 22 years ago.

It could have just as easily been 22 days as the sparkling songster opened strong with, “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” his pipes and his piano-playing anything but rusty.

Noteworthy performances by shaggy-haired Scottish guitarist Davey Johnstone and longtime drummer Nigel Olsson strengthened the force of Elton’s piano and vocals.

Two of his soul-singing backup singers also included Rose Stone, co-founder of the psych-rock ’70s soul group Sly and the Family Stone, and Lisa Stone, Rose’s daughter.
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Seamlessly flowing into popular single “Tiny Dancer,” Elton had the crowd singing, smiling and swaying along in their seats.

 

With more than 250 million records sold, Elton John proved he is timeless by drawing in a mix of youngsters, rowdy teens and nostalgic baby-boomers, all of whom could connect with some aspect of his four-decade career.

For someone who has played a countless number of concerts and churned out 30 albums, Sir Elton never let his skill, energy and gratitude for the crowd fade throughout the nearly three-hour-long show.

In response, the fans never quit cheering for the man who has influenced the world with his music and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for his service to charitable organizations including the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

A vibrant version of “Hey Ahab,” a hip-shaking tune from his 2010 album, “The Union,” a collaboration with Leon Russell, had Elton jumping up and down, urging the crowd to clap along.

Other highlights included a powerful, prolonged rendition of “Rocket Man,” interlaced with crescendos and piano solos, and a pitch-perfect version of “Bennie and the Jets.”

Elton masterfully conducted the crowd’s energy, calming it down with “Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues,” then amping it up with the loud anthem, “The Bitch is Back.”

Throughout it all, Elton’s gusto and gratitude stayed strong as he fist-pumped, pounded and stood to wave and thank the audience after nearly each track — he even took time to sign autographs near the end.

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“When I first played here 40 years ago, it was incredible and still is,” Elton said before the finale. “I want to thank you for being here — thank you to everyone on the lawn, thank you for buying a ticket, thank you for loving me for all these years. I want to dedicate this song to all of you to have happiness and peace and to thank you for supporting me for so long.”

With that, Elton laid his cards on the table and gave a striking final performance of “Your Song,” a love song prolonged through the generations with its memorable role in the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge.” As he sang, fans could be seen wiping their eyes.

As the crowd trickled out, no one pushed, no one shoved and all around you could hear murmurs of bedazzled fans telling each other things like, “I’m speechless,” or “Man, that was amazing.”

We can only hope he doesn’t wait another 22 years before he takes the SPAC stage once again.

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Region Rattled: Rare Quake Shakes Up East Coast

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper. Print Edition, Wed., Aug. 24, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE, slourie@saratogian.com

State Employees

State employees mill about on the Empire State Plaza near the Corning Tower in Albany Tuesday, August 23, 2011 after an earth quake centered in Virgina shook the east coast. (J.S. Carras/photos@saratogian.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.
NORTHEAST_QUAKE_RISK
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.

Savvy Savings: Coupon-Cutters Save Hundreds at Local Stores

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper. Print Edition, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2011. Click Here to Read Online. 

By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Couponing

Coupon-cutter Charlene DuBuque of Milton clips coupons with the help of her 8-year-old son, Tom McClean, and 6-year-old daughter, AriAna DuBuque.
(ED BURKE, eburke@saratogian.com)

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.

Coupons

Coupon-cutter Charlene DuBuque of Milton transitions her coupon collections from an over-stuffed folder to a larger binder with clear sheets.
(ED BURKE, eburke@saratogian.com)

 

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.”

A Question of Faith: Religious Community Reacts to Passage of Marriage Equality Law

Originally Published in the Saratogian: July 2, 2011. Click here to read online.

By SUZANNA K. LOURIE

WINNER OF HONORABLE MENTION, “Best Feature Series” – 2011 LOCAL NY MEDIA ASSOCIATION AWARDS

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Local religious entities expressed mixed reactions to the recent approval of the Marriage Equality Act, which was signed into law June 25 and will take effect in late July, legalizing same-sex marriage in New York. Some say they will perform ceremonies for gay couples, while others will not. Some have yet to decide.

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Protestors rally for the cause at the Albany Capital

Throughout the debate on the bill, conservatives expressed concern about whether religious groups would be protected against discrimination charges under the new law.

“I haven’t read the law yet, but it’s my understanding that there are safeguards for religious institutions,” said the Rev. Dominic S. Ingemie of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter on Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

Ingemie is right. The new law does include safeguards protecting churches from being accused of discrimination if they choose not to perform same-sex marriages.

“We will not be performing same-sex marriages,” Ingemie said. “That’s the universal position of the Roman Catholic Church because it’s our understanding, as we see in scripture and in tradition, that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

On a personal level, Ingemie said he feels the rights of a couple ought to be honored and he does not believe that permitting same-sex marriages will affect the institution of marriage as a whole.

Other churches in the area also have decided not to perform same-sex ceremonies, although each congregation’s rationale differs.

“We will not perform same-sex marriage services,” said Senior Pastor Dale Jensen of Saratoga Abundant Life Church in Saratoga Springs, a non-denominational Christian church. “When we make laws like this, it marginalizes marriage to the point where eventually it won’t mean anything in our culture — it puts the whole institution at stake.”

The Rev. Steve Harness of Wilton Baptist Church in Wilton, holds a similar opinion, and said his congregation will not officiate same-sex marriages.

“We are an independent Baptist church so I can’t speak for the national Baptist tradition, but we follow closely what the Bible teaches, and I believe most other independent Baptist churches would feel the same,” Harness said.

Not every local church has reached a decision about whether it will perform same-sex services.

“The law is so new, it just got passed this week and it’s not something this congregation has really given any thought to whatsoever,” said Rabbi Kenneth Blatt of the conservative Jewish Congregation Shaara T’fille in Saratoga Springs. “We have a pretty liberal congregation here, but I have no idea how they feel about this, and I’m not even 100 percent sure how I feel about it.”

Blatt’s mixed feelings are echoed in the three subdivisions of Judaism: the more liberal reconstructionists, the moderate reformists and the conservative strand. Each of the three schools is at a different stage of applying gay rights in their own tradition.

“The reconstructionists fully endorse same-sex civil unions, but they encourage civil ceremonies over ceremonies performed by a clergyman,” Blatt said.

In 2000, Blatt said the reform movement voted to support colleagues in their tradition who chose to perform same-sex marriages. Within the conservative movement, which Blatt is a part of, feelings toward gay marriage are mixed.

“The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly met in 2006 to discuss the issue, but there was no unanimity so it was left up to the individual synagogue,” Blatt said. “Most people are perfectly comfortable with civil ceremonies, but because of the way the Bible talks about marriage it’s an issue we really need some guidance from the church leadership about.”

Although the scripture clearly states marriage is between a man and a woman, Blatt said since it was written more than 2,000 years ago, most people don’t live by a strict interpretation of the Bible.

“That’s why we have the Talmud, to try to explain and interpret the Bible,” Blatt explained. “Religion is not written in stone. Times change. This is so new, and we’re still grappling with a lot of questions.”

“It’s a personal matter, but I think people should be allowed to marry,” Blatt said. “I’m glad the state passed the law.”

Local Methodist and Presbyterian church leaders agree, and go one step further by choosing to conduct same-sex marriages in the future.

The Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs is a combination of two churches: the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church of the United States.

“The national UCC denomination is fine with it,” UCC-ordained Rev. Eleanor Stanton of the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church said about the congregation’s position on gay marriage. “I’m hoping to officiate some same-sex marriages in the future.”

The church’s other Presbyterian-ordained pastor, the Rev. Jay Eckman, has been a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage and equal rights, both in and out of the church.

“When Jesus asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, ‘to love God and love one another,’ ” Eckman said. “Prejudice against gays is not loving each other.”

In addition to the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church, the Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue also plans to conduct same-sex marriages.

“I am delighted with the vote, and I did announce to my congregation on Sunday that I would be open to performing same-sex marriages,” the Rev. Brolin C. Parker said.

Either way, the religious protections built into the new bill legalizing gay marriage work to protect each church’s decision. And for at least one same-sex couple planning to marry, that’s OK.

“We were never banging on the door of a Catholic church trying to force them to marry us,” said Ralph Hays of Wilton, who has plans to marry his partner, Kevin Martin, this fall.

“The law protects churches, and our getting married doesn’t hurt anybody under the Marriage Equality Act.”

Off to a Good Start: Attendance Up, Handle Up, Temperatures Way Up on Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course

Originally Published in the Saratogian Newspaper, Print Edition. Friday, July 22, 2011. Click Here to Read Online.

By SUZANNA K. LOURIE
slourie@saratogian.com

Opening Day

Horses make their way around the main track at Saratoga Race Course Friday for morning workouts.
Photo Erica Miller

 

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.”

Opening Day2

Sirsy duo Melanie Krahmer and Rich Libutti perform on Division Street during the first night of this weekend’s Hats Off to Saratoga Festival.
Photo Ed Burke

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.

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“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.”