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Saratoga: Boat trip has become Travers tradition for Poughkeepsie pals

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
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— It is known simply as “The Boat Trip.”

Those three words, though, encapsulate more than a dozen years of fun at Saratoga Race Course’s biggest event.

“The Boat Trip” first happened in 1999, when Ted Luty decided he wanted to do something on his boat with a few of his Poughkeepsie friends.

“We’ve all known each other for 35 years, and some longer than that,” said Rich Truncale, one of the five original boaters. “We all like to play the horses once in a while. It was Teddy’s whim. It’s his boat, he said, ‘Why don’t we take the boat up?’­ ”

So Luty, Truncale, John Lackaye and Ed Lackaye and Vinny Avollone piled onto My Sunita, Luty’s 36-foot boat that can sleep eight, and they spent the Thursday before the Travers motoring up the Hudson River to Schuylerville.

From the docks at the Schuylerville Yacht Basin, they cab it everywhere they go. That includes the track Friday and Saturday, before boating back south Sunday.

“Hey, this is cool. Let’s do this again next year,” Truncale remembered thinking that first Sunday. “We didn’t plan to make this into one, but it’s become a tradition.”

“It’s a dream trip, especially for a guy like me, with the final dest­ination being here,” John Lackaye said. “Come on. It’s a dream trip, and it happens every year for us. I love this place.”

Eventually, other friends came along for a year or for a few. With Truncale the youngest of the bunch at 60, they have adult children who have families of their own, and after a few years, the kids started driving up to Schuylerville and camping.

Not only does that make it a big family function, it provides a valuable asset for “The Boat Trip” folks.

“So we got into Schuylerville and there’d be four, five or six tents with 15 to 20 young people, which was great because you know how you have to run in the morning for your tables on Friday and Saturday? The kids would run for us, then we’d come in,” Truncale said. “They’d secure the tables, then they’d go back to the campsite and get a couple of hours sleep.”

The Travers isn’t the only race that can draw these guys up to Saratoga, but it’s the only one that gets them to shove off for a nine-hour river ride.

Sitting at a picnic table in the backyard Monday after a less-ceremonious trip up the Northway, the two tried to peg their most mem­orable trip upriver and arrived at the same trip at the same time, for the same reason.

The first time was great, but 2006 may have been the most exciting, thanks to jockey Julien Leparoux and a 3-year-old bay gelding breaking its maiden in the final race the day before the Travers.

“There were nine of us and we threw in $20 apiece in a kitty and we all took our picks, and we wound up hitting the Pick 6 for over $13,000,” Truncale said. “So that was a good day. The funny thing was, we sent John up to put it in, and he inverted a couple of numbers. He did it wrong, but it won.”

“Therefore, I did it right,” Lackaye chimed in.

The two went back and forth to tell the story like they were, themselves, running down the stretch separated by just a bob. Neither one rushed to the wire, though, savoring the telling as another chance to relive one of their best boat trip moments.

“After three winners, he realized he did one wrong and he was beside himself,” Truncale said. “Then when it came in, he was a saint.”

“Bob was,” Lackaye corrected him. “He said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘Well, if it loses, I’ll just fess up.’­ ”

“We only had a single in the last race,” Truncale said. “Our last one was a single, and I’ll never forget.”

Lackaye said, “Meeses Two Pieces.”

“Meeses Two Pieces, and Lep­aroux was on top,” Truncale continued, shifting slightly on the picnic table’s bench as he describes the ride, as if he was in the saddle. “He rode the race of his life. I mean, he was on the rail, boxed in, came out to the outside, cut between two horses and won in a photo finish.”

“He came from behind, and the stretch seemed to take about 20 minutes,” Lackaye said. “It was one of those things. He was in an impossible position, then he gets out, he’s chasing horses, you knew he was going to catch him, he did catch him, and then all of a sudden, a closer started coming in behind him! But he won.”

It wasn’t just the weekend residents of My Sunita that were whooping and hollering, handing out high-fives like they were tip sheets. It was a group of about three dozen folks around them.

Their kids and their kids’ friends, and anyone else who knew these guys were one win away from the Pick 6, all jumped on the bandwagon and there were 35 or 40 people with the 5 horse on their tickets.

“That’s why it’s the most memorable,” Lackaye said. “Everybody won.”

Meeses Two Pieces had beaten Elder Skatesman by a head. He was seventh after six furlongs of the 11⁄16-mile turf race before rallying under Leparoux for his first win in his 10th start.

Never mind that the crew of My Sunita was going to watch Bernardini win the Travers the next day by 7 1⁄2 lengths.

The stars of the day were Lep­aroux and Meeses Two Pieces, and everybody won. Then it was back to My Sunita for a night of carousing on the banks of the Hudson.

There are plenty of memories on that boat. Most of them will keep these guys talking for hours through irremovable grins.

Even the unfortunate moments are recalled with a certain fondness. Two years ago, Sunday’s return trip was interrupted by a large rock in the shallows.

“When we grounded it, everybody had to get off the boat and you could stand in the water,” Truncale said. “We had gone out of the channel to the left side a little too far. It was just sitting on the rock, so we had to get people off so the boat would float a little higher. I swam and pulled the rope to another boat, and they tried to pull us out.”

Lackaye laughed and called him Tarzan, looking like the king of the jungle with a vine in his hand instead of a line looking for a tow.

Propeller and rudder ruined, and still a laugh.

They had to call for rides home that year. Last year, Hurricane Irene kept “The Boat Trip” from leaving its home port, and they drove instead.

How ordinary.

After consecutive years unable to make the round trip on the river, four of the original five will be back for “The Boat Trip” this week, but they know when they climb on board Thursday morning, it could be for the last time. The Last Boat Trip, with a capital “L.”

They won’t talk about that, though.

“After all these years and all these trips, you don’t know if this one is the last,” Lackaye said. “Nothing is said, but you can feel it maybe starting to feel like, ‘You know, we’re not getting any younger here, fellas.’ ”

“We don’t know how much longer this is going to last,” Truncale said, “but every year we say, ‘Well, let’s do it one more time.’ ”

He repeated that last bit, and maybe Sunday night as they climb back ashore, they’ll all look at each other and say the same.

“Let’s do it one more time.”

 
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