Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kentucky Dreaming

Nothing seems to affect my life more than when other obligations force me to be out of touch with racing for a few days. It happens to all of us, regardless of what our passion may be. At those times I become nostalgic for the days I spent working toward what I had hoped would be a career as a trainer.

Often I think of he first day I arrived in Kentucky. I drove through the front gates of Poplar Hill Farm and before even getting my belongings settled I decided to take a ride to "twin barns" at the rear of the farm. I didn't make it that far. As I passed the paddock in front of the foaling barn I saw a mare down on her side rocking to and fro. I saw Dale, one of the farm managers, running toward her with a shank as he waved his arm signaling me for help. I drove into the lane leading to the barn and pulled onto the grass and bolted from the truck running to Dale and the mare. By the time I had joined them Dale had gotten the Mare up. He handed me the shank and said "she's colicking walk her; don't let her go down. I'll get the van, I'll be right back." Dale jumped the fence and dived into the old green Toyota pickup we used to get around the farm and sped off toward Twin Barns, leaving me to my assigned task.

I suppose, for those of you who have grown up around horses, this may not be so unusual. But for me it was. I had arrived on that Kentucky farm by an amazing 'twist of fate.' Four years earlier I thought I was pursuing a Law degree in Albany. But as we often find out life sometimes has other plans for us. Attending Law school had just been the vehicle that led to a serendipitous line of newly made lifetime friends and a newly found passion for thoroughbred horseracing. And that is where my odyssey began. Four years after experiencing my first race at Saratoga I was on a farm in Kentucky trying to keep an eleven hundred pound mare from going down.

Now that was no easy task. She was really leaning into me. I had to keep my feet at about forty five degrees from my shoulder which was wedged against the mare. With my lack of experience it hadn't occurred to me, until much later, that had she really decided to go down I probably couldn't have stopped her and likely would have gotten myself pinned. But all I could think about was keeping her up; not failing at this first task I had been given. She would spiral inward forming tighter and tighter circles and I'd yank at the shank to get her attention and force her to circle in the other direction. It worked for a turn or two but her left side seemed to be the one bothering her the most so she would continually shift back to circle in that direction. It seemed like I was there for an hour. "Where the hell did he go" I was thinking to myself. I was also thinking that I didn't know if I could keep her up much longer. Then in the distance I heard the van and it gave me new strength. Dale gunned it down the lane. He seemed to open the back of the van and the gate in one motion. He grabbed her from me and led her into the van. "Get in" he said. I jumped in the van and we were off down Iron Works Pike to Hagyard McGee's. I remember after getting into the van Dale turned to me and smiled that joyful smile he had and said "Good to see ya boy." We had met about a month earlier when I had gone down to meet everyone and make arrangements. On the way Dale explained to me how serious the condition could be and he hoped for the best. He said I had done a good job not letting her go down. That felt good. Dale was always one to give you a pat on the back when you deserved it. In time I would come to admire him as one of the best horsemen I was ever around. He never took credit for anything but it always turned out he was right in his observations and remedies.

I think that may have actually been the first time I touched a horse. I can't remember an earlier experience. All in all an auspicious beginning. Certainly one I'll never forget! The mare made it but didn't return to the farm for what I seem to remember being well over a month, maybe two. When she did finally return she was very skinny and still sickly. It was a wonderful motivator to watch her slowly regain her health while knowing I had had some hand in saving her life.

I read today in Tim Wilkin's blog in the Times Union that Yutaka Take will ride Casino Drive. I think that's great we don't see enough of the foreign jockeys.

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