"The Horses Are at the Starting Gate"

Physician's Money Digest, July31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 14

Every year around this time, my father-in-law makes his sojourn to upstate New York. My wife's father, a physician's son, has been visiting the dynamic village of Saratoga Springs (and its associated delights) for more than 60 summers.

His reverence for Saratoga—and by direct connection top-notch thoroughbred horse racing—all started with his dad, Dr. James F. Norton. A highly regarded OB/GYN physician from New Jersey and the president-elect of the AMA at the time of his death in 1950, Dr. Norton taught his only son to study and love the Sport of Kings.


My father-in-law said that his physician-dad, in addition to being a "great doctor," could "read a racing form like a pro." A 1918 graduate of the Columbia University School of Physicians & Surgeons, Dr. Norton loved the energy of racetrack life. "Dad said that horse racing was the most cerebral of all wagering sports," Jim, Jr said. "He taught me that thoroughbred handicapping required a real skill and a dedication." (Incidentally, to further establish my lifetime of doctor connections, my grandfather, Dr. George A. Sheehan, also graduated medical school in 1918.)

Situated in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, a half-hour north of the state capital, Albany, Saratoga Racetrack is steeped in tradition and old-style class. The oldest thoroughbred racecourse in America, some of the sport's greatest horses and horsemen have competed there. But to my father-in-law—who for many years was perhaps the most respected trial lawyer on the Jersey Shore—Saratoga is more than just horse racing. It's an event.


Known for its health-giving sulfur springs as well as its racetrack, Saratoga opened during the Civil War. Today, the whole area is one of history, art, culture, and relaxation. There is an abundance of shops and fine restaurants (my father-in-law is the foremost practitioner of fine dining). Theaters, museums and festivals abound. Nightlife is vibrant. And for those looking for more than just the racetrack tan, there's golf, fishing, boating, and hiking.

Like everything in life, not all Saratoga memories are fond. Jim told me his dad once stopped to aid some people hurt in an auto accident during a summer trip up to Saratoga from their Jersey City home. After administering care to the strangers, he was hit by a motorcycle as he returned to his own car. "He was never really the same again," Jim said. "It's too bad. He was just doing his job—being a doctor."

I think Dr. Norton liked challenges, though. Jim also told me he was a "real champion of the medical profession"—often speaking out on the dangers of socialized medicine. Seems we could use his voice now.