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.


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