Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tales of the Triple Crown

Many people have asked me over the years, how was it that I became so enthralled with horses? Was it family? No. Was it friends? Well, sort of. What really helped you to love horses? That answer is simple; it was ABC and Jim McKay.

I followed the Triple Crown of horse racing because year in and year out it was the only horse sport on television. And each year I would start trying to follow the televised races sooner. I would absolutely love to say that I remember Secretariat, but I don’t because I wasn’t even 2 yet! Now I do remember Affirmed winning the Triple Crown in 1978. And I recall the fervor that followed him as he progressed from Louisville to Baltimore to Belmont. I suppose it’s appropriate in a way that my memory starts with the last Triple Crown winner.

I can still recall some of the oddly captivating stories behind each Derby, Preakness and Belmont contender over the thirty two seasons of racing that has passed between. I remember the glory of the watching Genuine Risk defeat the boys and how happy my mother and her friends were. I still remember the newscast detailing Swale’s untimely death. I watched, as most did, at the amazing rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. And yet the glory of the connections as each gleaming coated winner swept under the wires has transfixed me for years. Every race, every blanket of flowers adorned, each moment of victory, and yes even some defeats felt like my own. I still can’t watch Real Quiet’s Belmont. I have the tape on VHS and every time I pick it up I want to cry.

Over the years my family usually watched the races in the TV room together. And so of course we’d root for our favorite horses. By the time the gates would pop my family would be rooting for every runner in the race. And more often than not we would have the winner and second place finisher backed by all of us at the end. (Jumping ships mid race was allowed by some in my household) My greatest coup was the 1990 Belmont stakes. A new entrant from Europe was coming in, “Go and Go” an Irish bred trained by Mr. Dermot Weld and ridden by Mick Kinane. Dad thought I was nuts to like him, I kept screaming “But dad he’s Irish, a mile and a half is nothing over there!” Dad didn’t buy it. He stuck with Unbridled, the Derby winner. As they came into the turn Unbridled made the beginning of a huge move up to Go and Go as they sat behind the two front runners. And then he stopped. Go and Go kept on and sailed down the lane to steal the show. Dad tore up the ticket I had made for him and looked at me as mom smiled, “You know she might just have been learning all these years.”

And so now we come to another exciting year and we’re in Derby week! Sadly Mr. McKay has long ago been replaced, and more and more people are covering the sport of kings, and more and more horses are being run for the roses. One of my dad’s favorite songs still is Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” and I can’t think of Louisville in May or the Derby without entwining the great melody and my constant handicapping nemesis from the TV room of old. But this year will be different. For the first time ever I get to go to Churchill Downs and stand where millions of horsemen, horse lovers, gamblers, and yes even politicians and royalty have stood. I feel a bit like the little girl version of “Virginia” being given a trip and a tour of the North Pole. (Though I doubt those elves there curse as much if Rudolph can’t beat Dasher in a 5 furlong sprint!)

If it’s not clear from my earlier writings, I believe in a lot of stuff. Hollywood has no trouble getting me misty eyed in almost any film. So already I am imagining the walk through Churchill, seeing the track before me for the first time and feeling a bit like Costner in Field of Dreams, Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, Tom Burlinson in Phar Lap, and so many other great people who conveyed with alacrity the awe that befalls people when you actually stand in a place or a moment you’ve only dreamed of.

Now to get to this, I have some buses to ride, some fancy clothes to throw on, and yes a grand hat to perch on my head. But to really glance back and see how I got here, well I see all the people I initially denied credit for this: My father, my mother, my sister and all my friends who have understood over the past 32 years that for three Saturdays my butt would be parked in front of a television, daring to dream that anyone can win.

I wish all the horsemen, horses and fans a lot of great luck and grand racing. Look for me in the big pink and green hat with the million dollar smile!


Friday, April 16, 2010

I haven’t blogged in days and I am starting to get a taste of regret!! So I am back now to toss one onto the net before I head to Maryland for a weekend of drunken debauchery in the form of my high school reunion. I figured that it would be best to write before the weekend, since after the weekend my brain could quite possibly be a bit fuzzy.

The piece of life I am going to share today is about my last day of high school, because it was, in and of itself, a memorable day. Right now my family and classmates are snickering because they of course know what I am referring to. But before we get to the end, a little background would help you along the way.

I have attended many private schools while growing up in Baltimore, MD. I never seemed to fit right into any of the schools I attended. For one reason or another I kept being that lone student with something missing. I was always defined as “different.” During my stint at Garrison Forrest for 7th and 8th grade, my parents and I could see that GFS wasn’t a perfect fit. The academic program is exceptional and challenging. And the expectations put on the students are high. This is all well and good but I was coming to GFS straight out of 3 years spent at a school for dyslexic children as I learned how to learn with the various learning disabilities I had. So because of the challenging academia present at Garrison, I was again having a difficult time succeeding in my studies. Mom and Dad were patient but it was clear to most that a change would have to be made. The search began and I toured schools, sat in for classes and walked many miles of pristine campuses. And finally I found my home at Oldfields School.

Oldfields has a very good program for their students in their “two-track” system. There are classes offered at both the “A and B” track level. The classes were the same, but how the information was covered differed based on the success level of the student. The “B” track classes covered things a bit slower, while the “A” track was typical of most schools. By having this system, if a student started to fall behind in an “A” track course, the advisor would be consulted and the student could be shifted, permanently or temporarily to a “B” track class to catch back up. Or if a “B” track student could excel, they could be moved up to an “A” track class. It was brilliant and my parents and I agreed it was the place for me.

I attended as a boarding student, even though the campus was a mere fifteen minutes from home. But they had a barn, a variety of dorms and 24 hour candy machines!!! Why on Earth would I stay at home???!!! Over the course of my four years I went through all the normal highs and lows that every person experiences in high school. I had first loves from school mixers with boy’s boarding schools. I learned to use a calling card like a pro. (The boy’s schools were all out of state) I rode every semester of every year and only acquired 2 concussions, a broken wrist and a toe. Pretty good for any four year time frame in my life! I succeeded in classes, I struggled in classes and I acted in school plays and sang in the music groups. I experienced all the diversity you could ask for.

Oldfields is a school with many traditions to it, and chief among them has to be the graduation ceremony. The first difference from many high schools is that all of the enrolled students are a part of the graduation day ceremony. We all are to be dressed in ankle length white dresses and carry the appropriate bouquet of flowers; mixed flora for underclassmen, a dozen roses for seniors. Then once all are congregated we are lined up, shortest to tallest underclassmen in pairs, with our bouquets being carried to the outside, then all the seniors one by one, shortest to tallest. Ok great, so now the music from a live orchestral band begins. (5 members I think) We must begin the walk down graduation hill. Oh but did I mention that we’re all barefoot??!! This will play in later. This ceremony is so elaborate that the week prior to graduation we have anywhere from four to seven rehearsals. It seemed to depend on the enrollment’s retention levels as to how many times we needed to practice. The walk down the hill leads to the flat level of grass below where we will initially see the underclassmen make a “V” shape. Then the seniors will file in down the center and make an arch behind the underclassmen. Then the may court will come down and stand or sit on their platform. Then the underclassmen come up to the may court, one pair at a time, now going tallest to shortest, and lay their bouquets before the may court. This takes some time as the underclassmen are about 70 pairs strong. Once the last bouquet is laid, the big ‘shift’ occurs. The underclassmen walk behind as the may court comes off their perch and leads the seniors front and center into a large horseshoe shape. The underclassmen now are in 3 ‘eyebrow’ shaped lines behind the seniors. Oh and there are no chairs for this shindig, you’re on your feet all the time. Except if you’re May queen, and boy did we all envy Wanda!!!

Now comes the easy part, the handing out of the diplomas. Mr. Rogers, our headmaster, calls your name, you walk up, and the plan is “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give.” Shake his hand, take your diploma, tuck it under your arm and hug Mr. R, and then give him the class gift. Our year we did a puzzle of a class picture, and each girl gave the puzzle piece with her image. By now I think you understand why 180 girls had to practice this multiple times. It was easy, but the myriad of things to do required solid knowledge before the big day.

So on my graduation Saturday I had slept terribly, been through about 2 boxes of Kleenex and was less than thrilled to see that 2 of my classmates had bought the same dress as me. I guess it was to be expected, since Laura Ashley was a hugely popular store for my schoolmates, and they only make so many wedding gowns. Oh well. My friend Scott had showed up on business…as a gorilla delivering balloons. I didn’t recognize him and he has never let me live it down. The time to go approached and I sat on the porch in front of old house and waited. I am tall, so I was one of the last to walk down the hill. I negotiated the descent fine, though I wished I’d had sunglasses, it was bright that day. I made it through everything without a blip, until it was time to go get my diploma.

Surely by now, most of you reading this have realized that I am a little ‘different.’ Square peg round hole, and that sort of thing. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I had to do something comical and different. I walked up to Mr. Rogers asking aloud, “Is it signed?” He smiled and nodded. The crowd giggled. I did the whole “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give” and then started to head back to line. But I didn’t walk…I power walked, in a hoop skirt and wedding dress. Then I ran, then I hit the small patch of dew and bare dirt soaked with dew, then I wiped out! *Sigh*

Yep down went the girl dressed, as Andie MacDowell called it in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” like a ‘meringue.’ The crowd laughed, the next girl had to have her name called a few times and the laughter carried through as I hopped up and literally bounced as I stood in line. I did a hell of a “Tigger” impression, which is odd in that I always preferred Pooh bear.

There have been many parallels drawn how the fall was a foreboding of life to come. How we always must rise and face the crowd after a momentary stumble. How fitting it was for it to be me to fall, since I usually was coming off the backs of various equines over the years. (I actually was the president of the Dusty Bottoms club at Oldfields) And so on, and so forth. It was embarrassing, but never as bad as I thought it’d have been. It’s been brought up a lot in the 20 years since I left. I am still the only person to have fallen down on the flat. Others have bitten dust on the hill, but never on the flat. But then, I never was like everyone else.

And so today I get to go back once again, past the spot of my fame, and I’ll frolic with memories, friends, and a place that was the home that took me from being an outsider to being one of us. There’s a quote from the (second) version of the movie “Sabrina” that I couldn’t find on the internet, go figure. Sabrina talks about how Paris is more her home because she found herself there. I feel the same way about two places on this Earth, and Oldfields is one of them. So I’m off to go home.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Scanning over Life's Moments

I have to ask for a little help today from Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel,

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was. A time of innocence, a time of confidences

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories, they're all that's left you”

So I have mentioned, I think, that I have my twentieth high school reunion coming up next weekend. In a short seven days I will be reunited from many members of my class from Oldfields School. Since we’re highly educated smart women, we have a facebook group with a whopping 21 of our original forty some odd class members. And as such we have some new pictures being posted daily. This will be our fifth big reunion year returning to Oldfields and I am interested in seeing how much we have evolved over the time.

As part of this event, my classmates and I have gotten to spend some quality time with our scanners. I sat down yesterday with my laptop and big boxes of pictures from my life and started scanning away the physical reminders of my memories that I have. Some pictures I pulled out easily made the cut, “Oh my God…yeah I gotta scan this.” Others, “Well no I still like this person and I believe they’ll kick my butt if I post this.” This went on and on until it was one o’clock in the morning and the dogs reminded me to go to bed. In point of fact they got up, looked at me and left. As Crow licked my hand and walked up the stairs I knew I was being told, “Go to bed mom.”

So today has been a wild and sometimes wooly trip through my past. Not all of the pictures I scanned were from the Oldfields years. It was very satisfying to sort through the diverse images, 10, 15, 20 years old and see faces in them who are people in my Facebook friends. And as such I of course decided that they too should be scanned and given a quick blast from the past. I’m generous like that, especially if 70’s and 80’s fashion was involved!! In the past 24 hours alone I have received 85 various notifications, comments, new friends and such all relating back to the posting of 50 new photos.

The experience has been quite thrilling, humbling and amusing beyond my initial comprehension. I simply looked at the boxes of photos as being possessions that remind me of things, people, places, horses, and experiences I have had. I don’t think I ever comprehended that each one of the pictures in and of itself could hold a deeper meaning for the people with me when I shot it, in the picture as the subject or simply from a place that means more to other people. Take for example this picture:

It’s from 1996 the Fair Hill International CCI*** Three day event. The woman riding is my friend, Michele Trufant on her horse “Desi.” I barely knew Michele then. She trained with the same coach as me, and as such when she was coming around to where I was I snapped off a few pictures. Now here’s the kicker, when it comes to photography I am a hit and miss person. On this particular day, I missed with 98 pictures out of 108. Believe me I went through the three film folders from 36 exposure rolls. They’re mostly all crap. I had the wrong speed film, low light and worst of all, low camera knowledge for technical elements. But in this pile of lackluster stuff was this image. This image alone has gotten a lot of Michele’s friends talking. Her huge smile I think sums it up. She loved that horse so much, I grew to know this as Michele and I ended up working together for a while there after. Her comments when she finally found the picture online, I guess some friends called her, made me smile:

“It took me awhile to figure out what picture you all had seen and it made me cry when i finally found it....i loved that pony and love you all for sending comments!... emily, thank you again. i just figured out how to print it out. you are so sweet to have sent it.”

It never even occured to me that she'd like the image. But I was glad, and to have brought a little smile and memories of a great run into her day, pleased me. I have tried to include images from all different parts of my life, and sadly most of the Oldfields stuff is at my fathers house and I will be journeying there tomorrow to see Dad, and pick up my additional photos, so the scanner will be working overtime again soon. I really am glad that I have been interested enough in photography to want to have a camera ever present in my life. I have such silly, but fun images to look at through the years. I am amazed by my variety of shots, and think its time to show off a couple:

(These are of course for the most part tongue-in-cheek)




As I keep thumbing through the stacks and stacks of "Kodak Moments" I just keep wondering if I would remember my journey as fondly and as vividly if I didn't have all these pictures here to remind me? Would I be any different if I didn't have 300 pictures of Toto, and all my personal horses? The answer is going to have to sit, unknown with many other irrevelant queries. This week I have already taken pictures of my spring flowers blooming, and shots of the puppy. This weekend I hope to catch a few of the timber racing, and some more of my dad. My poor cell phone is bogged down with 600+ pictures and 30 videos. And I guess my point is simple, life is a journey that I document often with a camera.  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little stroll through my life with Kodak, Nikon, Minolta, Yashica, and many others. Remember what Paul and Art said,

“Preserve your memories, they're all that’s left you.”


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ode to a grand dame of horsemen.

(Mrs. Hannum on Our Ivory Tower)
Ode to a Grand Dame

When I first started competing in eventing seriously, I had a thoroughbred gelding named, “Patty.” He was a lovely horse but he wasn’t going to hold up to the stresses and strains of the upper levels. So we sold him onto a great pony clubber and once again were on the horse buying search. Now let me explain, buying a horse capable of taking a 21 yr old amateur who is just starting to put the right tools in her toolkit is not an easy undertaking. You need a horse that will be part saint, to overlook the many missteps to come, and part eagle, which will fly and soar and jump whatever, comes up in front of them. These searches can take awhile. In my case I was blessed to find the right horse in the wrong package right away. We were looking for an 8-10 year old 16.1+ hand gelding with a lot of preliminary level experience. We bought a 5 year old 15 hand chestnut mare with three prelims under her belt. This is called doing right, while looking wrong. The mare came with an impressive pedigree (to me) and was bred by one hell of a horsewoman.

I bought “Genie” from Bruce Davidson, and his then mother in law, Mrs. Nancy Hannum, had bred her. Even living in Maryland in1992, I had heard of the Hannums. Their name brought legendary tales of hunting over four foot high fence lines, timber racing victories and the like to the tips of the tongues of the experienced horsemen who surrounded me. My mare’s grandmother was in fact a champion timber racer. At the time, circa 1974, this was somewhat unusual for a mare, or so I was told. The grand-dam was “Our Ivory Tower.” I looked up her record and saw that she had won the My Lady’s Manor and the Grand National, in back to back weekends. Indeed her record on paper told of a very classy chestnut runner who was herself, not very large. When we bought “Genie” I was told of a day out hunting with Cheshire @1992, when Bruce D had led the field. The hounds took a record run that day. Something like 2-3 hours of straight running, and when the hounds finally put the fox to ground, all the horses and riders were so tired that they all went to the nearest member’s farm. The horses were turned out in a field together and the riders went to get their respective trucks and trailers to bring the horses back to their individual farms, after a few swigs of old brown of course! There was only one horse that was ridden home that day, my mare. And so the legends of Ivory Tower and her progeny were well implanted in my mind.

Two years ago, I moved to Unionville, Pa. and was extremely fortunate to take a job where I was able to hunt with Cheshire. More fortunate was I, that I was spectating at the Plantation Fields event soon after and I saw Mrs. Hannum.

(Now mind you, this is the first time I have had the pleasure to meet this woman. It’s been sixteen years since I purchased my mare who I will forever remember as the one who was taken too soon. She was killed by lightning at age10. My first phone call after getting the news that day was to Chesterland. The Davidson’s and Hannums shared my grief on the day)

This was two years ago and I approached and was introduced to her by Mary Hazzard. My immediate conversation starter? “Hello Mrs. Hannum, I want to thank you for making the best horse I have ever owned.”

("Genie" aka "Summa Cum Laude" 1996)

I explained who I was and which horse I was referring to and she remembered everything. She even recalled that Genie and I had finished in the ribbons at our first three day at Radnor. That was in 1993. To say this woman lived up to every expectation, daydream and such I had ever had about her, falls about 2 hours of running hounds short of an accurate statement! She surpassed it, trounced it and ran it to covert and then dug it out and ran it some more.

So I felt blessed, a second time, to be out in the waning weeks of the ’07-’08 season when Cheshire had a meet at Brooklawn, Mrs. Hannum’s home, for the first time in many years. As I would expect nothing less, she came along with the hunt over her property, in an older but sturdy Subaru Outback. (Being the owner of my second Subaru Outback, I must insist there is something about us Outback owners that separates us from the rest!!) As we were checked in the back field of Brooklawn I watched as the Subaru glided up a hill to our right. That alone had me grinning. But then not 3-4 minutes later the horn was honking. No excuse me, the horn was HONKING HONKING HONKING. Mrs. Hannum had a full view, Tally Ho and I think if she could have, she would have kicked that car into the base of the coop and expected it to jump as well as good old Ivory Tower.

This past fall the hunt met again at Brooklawn and collectively celebrated Mrs. Hannum’s 90th birthday. She was there, in another Subaru, smiling and taking greetings from the warmth of the front passenger seat. The hunt was late setting off as each person wanted to dismount and give their personal birthday wishes. A cake was brought out and we all sang with full voice, even one of the hounds joined in.

Sadly last Tuesday she took flight and is now hunting around a little higher elevation. I’m sure I don’t know enough of her to do justice to even guess what, who, where or even what horse she hopes to rejoin up there. But at her memorial service today I was afforded the rare gift of appreciating someone else’s journey on this crazy floating marble. Hers was a life done right, even if it held a few wrongs. (I have heard stories, but I don’t know personally) Her service had three hymns. My mother observed that all of them are no longer in the current Hymnals, and that’s a shame. Roughly 300+ people sang in great voice over the fields of Brooklawn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Amazing Grace” and “Onward Christian Soldier.” The who’s who of the horse world showed up to honor her for 90 years of amazing shared gifts and experiences.

I will refrain from going into the great volumes of things that this amazing woman has done for the world. Let someone else who knew her better give golden voice to this truest of horsemen. I can only say that for me the woman was always a legend, and she always will be still.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Part two of the Wood and Easter Sunday hops in

Part two of the Wood Memorial story, a trip to Aqueduct Racetrack, Jamaica, New York.

When last I left of, I had included all the night before thoughts as we readied Scrappy T for the 2005 Wood Memorial. Now if you go to Youtube, the two minutes of the race are immortalized there. However the highlights of the day still bounce around my mind as clear as the sun is shining this Easter Sunday. And I have to wonder if the timing of all these thoughts isn’t somehow appropriate. Easter is of course about, CHOCOLATE!!! Whoops no sorry, I haven’t eaten yet today and mom’s old habit of hiding a load of candy in the house hasn’t been forgotten with the passing of the years. No anyway, Easter is about resurrection and surely my trip to the races yesterday was filled with moments of this.

In 2005 Scrappy, and everyone else, were soundly defeated by Kinsman Stables’ “Bellamy Road.” And when I say defeated, I’m talking totally trounced by 17 and a half lengths. That’s a heck of a lot of distance back to the next horse. We finished 3rd by a half length to the Phipps horse, “Survivalist.” The saddle on Scrappy had slipped up his neck leaving poor Rafael Bejarano with very little room to encourage him on. Why? Well physics on racehorses is a funny thing. You need a solid base so that the 120 lb jockey can rock and pivot their body and use their stick with accuracy. When that ‘base’ becomes a tilt a whirl, well, it’s a lot harder to get any kind of dynamic moves without yourself becoming a falling impediment to the horses around you. So Raffy couldn’t hit Scrappy with a full range of motion, he couldn’t shove his hands against the neck as the saddle was swinging forwards and back with a 16” range of slide. Not a great feeling. As a result of the 3rd place finish left us short on the graded earnings list and we all sat at home watching the derby.

Yesterday was the first time that I had ventured back to Aqueduct on Wood Memorial day to watch the races. I brought with me, my ‘good’ digital SLR camera to capture some of the moments from the day. I planned to meet up with a bunch of longtime friends who were my constant NY companions when I lived up at Belmont. Among them was my best friend from New York, Jeanne Wood. Jeanne has my dream job, well honestly any little horse crazy girl’s dram job. Jeanne is the on air handicapper for the Capital OTB network based in Albany. She gets to watch horse races for a living and tell people over and over who is the likely horse to win and why. Amazing, they pay people to do that??? How the heck do I get in??  We all had a lovely time in the Man O War room at Aqueduct. (By the way, the best food at the track is in this room. They have freshly sliced hot turkey subs that are heavenly, but expensive. But if you don’t mind trying to help save a dying track by ingesting a little L-Tryptophan, than Yurda and Jimmy will gladly set you up! Just tell them that “Emily” sent you.)

I had many people to stop and say hello to and many horses that I wanted to see up close as they make their way down the Triple Crown Trail. Chief among them of course was Eskendereya. Now I was awfully privileged to be in the paddock many times throughout the afternoon, mostly catching up with friends, and I kept hearing some of the guys talking about what this horse looked like, and how calm he was back in the detention barn. My curiosity was definitely peaked by the time the great chestnut strode into the paddock himself.

He is an awesome looking animal. My pictures do not do justice to him at all. Please go look up Barbara Livingston’s pics, or Tod Marks, or Deborah Tracy-Kral’s those fine photographers all know how to make the pictures that capture his brilliance. And he is indeed a brilliant animal. Now whether brilliant on a cold Saturday in April will translate to brilliant on a warmer (hopefully) first Saturday in May, is anyone’s guess. As Jeanne and I stood in the paddock and watched the Wood entries parade past my eye kept being drawn to Eskendereya. Oddly, and this was mentioned among many knowledgeable folks, there are an unusually high number of dark chestnuts in this year’s three year old crop, and believe me, Awesome Act is gorgeous as was Carnivore. But the sheer bulk and presence carried forth by Eskendereya, it simply took my breath away. Gone with my breath were any thoughts of a horse from Scrappy’s time that was as daunting as this colt. My apologies to Mr. Steinbrenner, but Bellamy Road has nothing on this guy.

The horses were joined with their jockeys and I will forever recall the big grin that Johnny Velazquez is emanating in the only picture I took of them in the paddock. Surely he had that grin later as well, but I didn’t get to capture it. Jeanne and I went up and watched from right behind the finish line. Since it’s a race longer than a mile the gate was there as well. We watched as the six entrants stepped forward to the gate, some more readily than others, and the chills rushed up my spine once more as the gates popped and out came some serious racehorses.

Again, the race can be seen on Youtube, so I won’t bother with the play by plays. At the end, as it was the last time I stood on the same spot, a gigantic superstar rose to the occasion and came home with open daylight back to the closest competitor. I have experienced that thrill, and I know that the grin won’t leave your face for days. The smile lines I have that are fast turning to powerful wrinkles were well earned and are still very much appreciated. I don’t care how old I look; the age is going to be defied by the amazing memories that brought the smile of a champion moment to life. Todd Pletcher’s grooms, assistants, and the rest of the gang are gonna age like me too! Their smiles were broad, their pride evident and that all important glow of hope of the possibilities to come was all encompassing.

And so with some reluctance I once again left the Empire state and returned home to the quiet Pennsylvania countryside. Today Easter has come, but sadly not mom’s amazing stash of candy. I am headed out soon to attend the Brandywine Point to Point. More timber races, less televisions, but the same spirits of hope, glory and brilliance might still be captured here. I’ll have my camera on one arm, and a horse on the other. How better to spend an Easter Sunday than to resurrect my smile lines.


Friday, April 2, 2010

A flash back to 2005, the night before the Wood Memorial

It's been five years, this fact alone just staggers me. Five years ago tonight I wrote the following and posted it to the Chronicle of the Horse forums. You all may or may not know that during Scrappy's run to the 2005 Triple Crown, I was posting stories of life on the track and more specifically the behind the scenes moments with my part in the Scrappy T story. For months I did this on the bulletin board. I don't think I'd have thought to call it blogging, but in a way it was.

So anyway, now we have come a full five years down the road from the night that the following was written. I'll try to write the "part 2" of it all tomorrow. It should be more than a bit fitting because tomorrow I am returning to Aqueduct to watch this year's running of the Wood Memorial. I'm excited to again be where the action is, even if it's only for a single day. My attention will be fixed solely on all the glorious 3 year olds who are going to be under the media spotlight as time is running out to make the all important graded stakes earnings to qualify for a spot in the derby starting gate.

But tomorrow is tomorrow. So I'll leave the story here as the night before, in this version, it's 2005. The horse looking to be the only sure thing was Bellamy Road. And he was on Wood day, but he wasn't at Churchill.

So on with the story:

There are just some stories that should be told. Maybe not for a good cause, hopefully not to flaunt, but rather to allow outsiders in to a moment so special that you would feel absolutely remiss if you didn’t allow others who can appreciate it in. And so lies the reasons for this post.

It’s the night before the Wood Memorial. I am sitting in a hotel room. I have just had dinner with my grandparents, in town to root our horse on. I am relaxed and calm considering the day and the events that lie before me tomorrow.

The horse I love, the 3 yr old who I have been riding off and on since last August has developed into an accomplished enough mount that he is running in tomorrow’s premier east coast Triple Crown prep. Even typing that makes my mouth dry. And yet the things I said last year still hold true. No matter what he will remain a winner in my book. Yet in 24 hours much of America’s racing fans will also be allowed to judge for themselves just how good he is.

Now he doesn’t have an easy task. Top horses from California, Florida, New York trained by Hall of Fame trainers are out there ready to prove that he’s not as ready for the race as they are. Every one of his 7 opponents could defeat him. But then this has been the case in every race he’s ever run. And his worst finish ever has been a 3rd in his last stakes. Not bad, no matter what level you run in.

His name is Scrappy T. His sire is Fit to Fight. His mother is Perpetual Light. And he is a big ol goofball. :-) He loves peppermints, enjoys nibbling on my jacket and will occasionally try to step on my toe as I lead him to see if I am paying attention.

He’s as ready as he can be. All the details are done. My outfit for the walk to the paddock has been altered and is clean. I spoke briefly to the NBC reporters today, and tomorrow from 4-6pm we’ll be there. Where I usually sit and watch nestled in my sofa with my dogs, instead I’m going to be a very small part of one moment of racing history.

I feel so mixed up and jumbled. I am proud, worried, scared, thrilled and most of all, happy to see him accomplish the goals the owner and trainer have excellently prepared him for. Robbie is a great trainer and an amazing person. He’s just the most normal laid back guy. To see him accomplish this has also been thrilling. He deserves this success and all the highs that come with it.

The people who work behind the scenes on him, from his groom Benny who adores him more than he lets on to Benny’s wife, Minerva who is our hotwalker and who plays with him in her spare time. To Julie and Ricky who are working hard down in Maryland now, but those two were the brave first ones to ride him at Colonial last year. (And believe me the word brave is an understatement) So many people hold this horse in their hearts. We all believe in him and know that no matter where he finishes, in our hearts he’ll forever be a star.

I know we all ‘know’ there’s a lot more support crew to every horse we see on tv and in the races. I hope that this brief moment of reflection gave you a little insight into what one cog in the wheel thinks right before a big day.

I am going to go to bed knowing that while it may seem big, tomorrow is just another day. Our horses need to be ridden, fed, wrapped and groomed. The stalls will need cleaning everyday and the glories and failures are merely moments caught in time. The continuity of caring for and riding these guys and gals is far more exciting than the momentary high we’re all caught in now. Here’s to a great race, and all the horses coming back safe.

As I say to the jocks everytime,

“Have fun, be safe, come home”


(Pics courtesy of Charles Mann ©2005-2010,