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Henderson native hobnobs with horse racing elite at Travers Stakes after winning contest

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When Aaron J. Ditch, 34, was growing up in Henderson Harbor, he never imagined that he one day would be hobnobbing with the horse racing elite at the nation’s oldest thoroughbred race, let alone gambling with a briefcase full of someone else’s money.

Yet that is exactly how he and his wife spent this past Saturday, after Mr. Ditch won the Saratoga 150 contest and the opportunity to place a $15,000 wager on any horse of his choosing in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

“Unfortunately, I lost,” said Mr. Ditch, who lives in Saratoga Springs.

The stakes were won in an upset by Will Take Charge, who was given 9-1 odds. Mr. Ditch wagered on Verrazano, who was favored but finished seventh in a field of nine.

Apparently, winning isn’t everything.

Mr. Ditch, whose parents, Eileen C. and John A., still live in Henderson Harbor, said that it was a “great, great day” and that he got to socialize with horse racing socialites, heavyweights and dignitaries, including Marylou Whitney, John Hendrickson, U.S. Racing Hall of Fame horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson.

The contest was sponsored by Mrs. Whitney and Mr. Hendrickson, central figures in the Saratoga social landscape and the honorary chairs of the race course’s sesquicentennial celebration.

Mrs. Whitney, heiress to the fortune of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, married Mr. Hendrickson in 1997. The couple arranged to provide awards of $15,000 from their own money to five contest winners through the summer. To win the chance to make a wager, contestants entered their information online.

Mr. Ditch graduated in 1997 from South Jefferson Central School, Adams, where he played soccer and lacrosse before majoring in history at SUNY Plattsburgh. He works at the Capital District YMCA as a senior program director.

If he had bet on the winning horse, Mr. Ditch would have cashed a ticket for about $135,000.

He joked with colleagues before Saturday that if his pick won the race, he would skip work on Monday.

While that didn’t happen, Mr. Ditch did walk away from the race course with good memories, a few new friends in high places, and the empty briefcase that once held $15,000 in cash.

After the race, Mr. Ditch and his wife attended a champagne reception at the Saratoga Room before hitting the town.

“I tried to take advantage of the fact that I was a celebrity for a day. You don’t get that opportunity a lot,” Mr. Ditch said.

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