Saratoga’s Horseracing Flower Blanket Queen

When jockey Joel Rosario rode into the Winner’s Circle after the Belmont Stakes this past June, my eyes weren’t on the glut of people surrounding him but on the flurry of snow-white carnations draped over, his mount Sir Winston. I tingled with pride, knowing that local florist Susan Garrett and her team of volunteers had created that handmade flower blanket in Saratoga Springs. Hold your horses! There’s more. At last year’s Belmont Stakes, a Garrett-made blanket rested on the back of Triple Crown winner Justify. She’s still reeling with excitement, as it was her first Belmont—and Triple Crown, for that matter—assignment. “I can’t even tell you how I feel,” says Garrett. “A blanket on any Triple Crown winner is an honor.”

Garrett, who calls Wilton home and once owned a flower shop in Gansevoort, creates her blankets at Dehn’s Flowers & Greenhouses on Beekman Street (the shop offers up space to her and helps by ordering her the carnations). As far as Saratoga Race Course is concerned, you could call her the queen of equine embellishment, as the track didn’t even deck out winners with flowers until 1994, when she came up with the idea. This summer, she’ll make the blankets, each with up to 1000 flowers, for the Saratoga Oaks, Saratoga Derby, Alabama Stakes, Whitney Stakes (with Marylou Whitney’s pink roses!) and, of course, the 150th running of the Travers Stakes.

How did Garrett become blanket-er of the equine stars? Easy. Her parents, Bob and Brenda Lee, ran The Wishing Well restaurant, a longtime hangout for track people, and her dad, who died in 2002, was once the New York State Racing commissioner. Bob and Mary Alice Lee, her brother and sister-in-law, now own the restaurant (where her mother still works), along with The Brook Tavern, which is right down the street from Saratoga Race Course.

At Dehn’s, Garrett was happy to show me how the blanket-making magic happens with a little glue, quilting needles, thread and hundreds of carnations. I’m proud to report that I sewed ten white carnations onto a blanket for Belmont Park’s Secretariat statue. For me, watching horse racing will never be the same.

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