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by Mike MacAdam

The Wire

A Daily Gazette sports blog
News from the world of thoroughbred horse racing
 

RIP Gambling Tree

By Michael Mac Adam
Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- “O Gambling Tree! O Gambling Tree!”
“Thy leaves are so unchanging:”

Cast adrift, I wandered into the middle of the backyard late Monday morning just to handicap the Saratoga card for awhile at the last empty picnic table, then be on my way. It’s made of wood. It used to be a tree. This will suffice.

It didn’t take long for one of those spontaneous Saratoga Race Course moments to happen, when strangers soon to be friends find themselves elbow to elbow. Four guys with two big coolers walked up and asked if they could share the table, and that was that. By 11:30, I had a Bud and a Mich Ultra in me, and four new friends, Mark, Dave, Mike and Sully, who drove to Saratoga from Springfield, Mass., in a ‘96 Cadillac Sedan de Ville with just 54,000 miles on it that one of them had just bought for $2,000.

“New Guy Mike, have a do-nette. They’re pre-stale.”

“I gotta hit something big. My grandson needs the college tuition. Ah, that’s OK, he’s not too bright, anyway. He’s going to jail, that kid.”

“He’s 5.”

“New Guy Mike, this tip better come in, or you’re sitting at the kiddie table.”

We had a ball. It was the type of communal spirit that still coalesces at the site of the Gambling Tree, alas without our beloved Gambling Tree to provide succor and prosperity any longer.

“O Gambling Tree! O Gambling Tree!
“Much pleasure thou can’st give me:”

When the New York Racing Association built the paddock bar, Shake Shack and another restaurant two years ago in the area between the clubhouse entrance and the paddock, the Gambling Tree, hard by the rail with a perfect view of the horses being saddled, became the center of our universe. You didn’t need a phone or Twitter or texting to find friends. People you knew simply gravitated to the Gambling Tree, and off we went.

It was huge, shady, next to a bar, and most importantly ... it was ours.

Until it wasn’t.

A frantic Tweet from my friend Teresa that sent shudders of outrage and dread throughout the merry Gambling Tree cohort hit Twitter early during open house the Sunday before the meet, notifying everyone that the Gambling Tree was ... “GONE.”

NYRA chopped the tree down in order to put in three ridiculous little square gazebos that I still have yet to see anyone using. It’s just clutter. The guess here is you have to pay a fee or have some special privilege to cage yourself in these superfluous abominations. Lousy reporting, but I refuse to summon even the slightest initiative to find out.

Yeah, blah blah blah, they’re sort of pretty, and you get a table and two chairs crammed in there, and -- my favorite part -- a chain to keep the hoi polloi at bay. Two of them now have their own bulky personal SAM machines with a monitor to further obscure one of the best viewing spots on the grounds, a place where you can watch the horses -- remember them? -- being saddled and as they walk in line out to the track right past you. Down in front, R2D2.

O Gambling Tree! O Gambling Tree!
Thy monitors shine so brightly!”

Are these rants going to be an annual feature? I sure hope not. Last year, it was the gutting of the Jim Dandy Bar.

I’ve heard rumblings and rumors that the upper section of the Carousel is being targeted as a food court.

NYRA is already showing signs of mall-ifying the grounds and squeezing every possible commerical opportunity out of open spaces. Case in point: the new beer “garden,” which conveniently offers some nice different beer choices, but is just a piece of fake-ish flooring with some beer taps.

In case you can’t find it, there are two gigantic “I’m with stupid” black arrows pasted to the paneling of what otherwise is a grandly and gracefully appointed landing on a stairway to the second floor. The arrows are as big as something Kirk Douglas may have shot at Tony Curtis out of a catapult in “The Vikings,” and they’re all of 50 feet away from the garden.

The Gambling Tree, though, wasn’t bothering anybody.

“It’s herbicide,” the Daily Racing Form’s Matt Hegarty said. He promises to pour a ceremonial sacrificial beer on the hallowed ground where the Gambling Tree used to stand.

Presumably, the sad, fallen trunk, which had symbolized only good things — verdant abundance, quiet permanence, a freshly germinated tradition among friends — is being dissected to make Andrew Cuomo bobbleheads for next year’s giveaway days.

“O Gambling Tree! O Gambling Tree”
“How richly God has decked thee!”

How callously NYRA has decked thee.

 

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