Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Saratoga Dreamin'

by Natalie Keller Reinert

I'm writing tonight about summer-time.

It's seventeen degrees in Brooklyn this evening and summer-time couldn't seem much further away. I've been outside nearly all day, and I'm warm for the first time in thirteen hours -- because I just got out of a scalding hot shower. I've turned up the radiators and I've stolen my husband's flannel PJ pants (he never wears them anyway) because I want to write about summer and I can't do that without bursting into tears unless I'm warm.

Oh summer. I spent all my time thinking about you. I've actually been writing about summer since... last summer. That's because I was working all autumn on my new novel, Other People's Horses, and it's set in the most wonderful, summery-est place of all: Saratoga Springs, New York.

One of Saratoga's perfect, cute, adorable, wonderful signs.
Does it get any better than Saratoga in the summer? Probably not, or I wouldn't be dreaming of it every day. The leafy streets, the gaudy Victorians, the red-and white awnings of the grandstand... and all those horses.

Thoroughbreds everywhere.


There's even a barn named Horse Heaven. Genius!

Look, I know Ocala is the Horse Capital of the World (TM) and I know that's probably disputed by Lexington. I've lived in one town; I've visited the other. But Saratoga, graceful beautiful historical Saratoga, truly wears the crown. Saratoga is like Racehorse Disneyland. It's so perfect you have to suspect the hands of masterful Imagineers must have put it together; a shimmering illusion of what the racing life should be.

I conceived Other People's Horses while sitting at an outdoor cafe in Saratoga last summer. It was scorching hot and the sun kept finding me no matter how I wriggled around the table, trying to use the umbrella for shade and failing. I pulled my straw hat down to shield my eyes and flipped open my Fasig-Tipton catalog to the blank pages reserved for notes. Instead of jotting down observations about the yearling Thoroughbreds we'd seen at the sales pavilion earlier, I jotted down the plot of a story.

The story of Alex, the star of my first novel, The Head and Not The Heart, set loose upon poor, unsuspecting Saratoga.

Jumping in head-first at the most prestigious meet in North America, Alex, an inexperienced groom, and six horses journey to Saratoga and find that pretty is as pretty does, but one can't account for how people will behave, even in the most beautiful surroundings. There's a whole new cast of characters, including Leading Trainer Ken Doll (not his actual name), and some fun new horses, each with their own quirks and personalities.

Concept cover art for Other People's Horses
In the end, some of my favorite parts of Saratoga made it into the novel. The horses crossing the road with a horsey crossing guard to block traffic. The wonderful bars and restaurants tucked into the stately brick buildings downtown. The riots of flowers and brightly colored buildings that make up the sprawling grounds of the historic racecourse. The modern glitz of the sales pavilion where baby racehorses sell for the gross national products of small European nations.

And of course, some horses that I've loved, or lost, or met along the way.

Everything comes together under one of the hottest, driest summers Saratoga has ever known. Which, I might add, is the exact opposite of tonight. It's probably snowing up there right now. There's a reason why Saratoga is only a heavenly vacation spot for racehorse groupies in the summertime. That joint is really, really far north. 

But tonight I'm dreaming of summer-time. It's almost here again, right? I can see it, I can feel it, I can taste it now. Green trees, blue skies, soaring temperatures. Cold drinks and melting ice cream. And, oh look! There's me in my straw hat, leaning on the white rail of the paddock at Saratoga.


Anonymous said...

Never been there, would love to go sometime . . .

Just thinking about summer makes me a bit warmer - as we cope with our below zero temps today!

Alison said...

I, too, love Saratoga and wrote about it in Gabriel's Triumph set during the Civil War. It was horse racing heaven then as well.

Just a comment on the cover concept(I hate to be negative): I love the power of the horse and the taut muscles and just seeing the rider's leg, but all that head gear on the horse, yikes, it makes my own mouth hurt!

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

If you were up there on that baby you might be glad for an elevator bit to keep him in check ;)

Natalie Keller Reinert said...

Anyway it wouldn't hurt your mouth, gags work on poll pressure.. very common in show-jumping as well, you know. There's a typical broken snaffle in there. As for the tongue tie, that's beneficial in two ways: it prevents the horse from getting his tongue over the bit and becoming out-of-control, and it is thought to help prevent soft palate displacement, which would cause the horse to have sudden difficulty drawing breath. So you see, there are benefits to what looks like a lot of stuff...

Christine said...

It sounds gorgeous, Nathalie! I live in the 'horse capital' of Victoria, Australia and love it!

And agreed, the photo of that sign is gorgeous :)

I'll try to send some of our summer your way - I'm dreaming of autumn ;)

Rhonda Lane said...

I may be a native Kentuckian, love Keeneland and the KY Horse Park, but I have to admit I do love going to Saratoga. It's the best of Lexington but MORE of it.

I also realize Younger Me is gasping and clutching her chest as I write that. ;)

John Norris said...

It is absolutely freezing here at the moment and not many people feel like going outdoors to do anything. Your article was a welcoming read, thanks.