Mostly, I had time to kill. What I got was a great morning and a reminder of a few things. One, horses are cool creatures. Two, horse people work hard. And three, I need to get out of the office more often.
After spending all weekend at a swim meet – Nolan Clancy is a beast in the water (especially for a Clancy) – and taking a quick jaunt to Salisbury, Md. to have lunch with birthday boy Jack Clancy, it was time to pick up Katie the Labrador who spent her weekend with Ryan Clancy in Baltimore. Got it? The other Clancy in my immediate family, Sam, went to work early Monday. So I had to pick up Katie.
Despite being a suburbanite and regular runner of Fair Hill trails, Katie likes the city. And she loves Ryan. They walked on sidewalks, met interesting people, visited Federal Hill, slept a lot I’m sure. I’m not sure she made it to Faidley’s for a crabcake or met Mr. Trash Wheel. Next time. Monday, it was time to come home and Ryan met me at the Manor Tavern restaurant in Monkton, Md. It’s not halfway, but it’s relatively convenient for Ryan and his daily commute to work and fairly easy for me to shoot over there and avoid the Beltway. We met at about 8:15 Monday morning, Katie jumped from Honda to Subaru and, with nothing else to do, I sent Todd Wyatt a text.
“In the neighborhood, where’s your barn?”
His reply, first via text and then by call, with the address and some directions came in about a minute.
And Katie and I were soon following a set of four Wyatt-trained Thoroughbreds out to the galloping field. It’s a great walk, even at a frosty 20 degrees. Katie tugged at the leash, I kept pace, the horses walked down the road, across a creek, up a hill you could ski down and then trotted/galloped in a straw ring Wyatt had put down the night before to combat the frozen ground.
All the while, Wyatt, his wife Blair, jockey Ross Geraghty and Lia McGuirk kept up a conversation with me, Katie and each other.
Todd told me I’d be popular with Blair, because my dog had yet to start a fight with her dogs. I kept Katie on the leash for the most part, but never saw another dog. Katie did manage to petrify two cats, give Jasper the miniature donkey a kiss, chase a deer in the woods, kiss timber horse Puller on the nose and roll in the straw ring among other adventures.
Blair explained a donkey/horse friendship between Jasper and Closertoyourheart. They live in a field together, wear matching green rugs and watch the racehorses go back and forth all morning. Closertoyourheart, 14, won four races for the Wyatts – two on the flat and two over hurdles. Blair said Jasper was a college graduation present. She also told me he was 5 years old, so . . .
Ross, the only one of the four riders wearing a face mask, mentioned a hot-shot American prospect coming over from England or Ireland (though wasn’t sure which U.S. trainer would get the horse). Ross talked Cheltenham, the potential of his spring season, the upcoming Foxhall Team Race and the jumping ability of flat stakes winner turned hurdler turned foxhunter turned who-knows-what Tricky Hat.
Lia, who won the 2013 My Lady’s Manor aboard Moonsox, looked ready for another timber ride.
All of them talked about the pending blizzard, which turned out to be less of a blizzard but still a mess of cold, ice, snow and wind (I did not visit Tuesday).
I was amazed, as usual, by the horses. Wyatt’s string would be considered “mixed” by any standard. There are flat horses, hurdlers, timber horses, retirees, horses looking for purposes, Jasper . . . they’re old, young, experienced, green. All look happy and healthy. The two sets I watched included an English-bred turf sprinter (Racy), an unraced Get Stormy 3-year-old, turf horse turned hurdle prospect Biedermeier, Maryland Hunt Cup winner Raven’s Choice and timber veteran Puller among others.
Talk about all-comers. I have no idea how many races they’ll win in 2017, but they were thriving this week. They looked great and acted better, especially considering the various paths they took to get where they are now. Biedermeier raced on the flat with Todd Pletcher. Racy was bred by Cheveley Park Stud, and now belongs to Koo’s Racing Club. The 10-year-old bounced to his work Monday. Raven’s Choice looked fit already – a long way from his 2017 goal. He’s a player in the timber division, again. Still. Puller, if he’d stop pulling, looked like a great ride and was my choice when Blair asked me which one I’d like to ride over timber. The Get Stormy 3-year-old, seen at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association yearling show in 2015, might have a bright future. He got some of his dad’s flash too.
They trained like future Marines at boot camp. You should see the hill they climb on the way to train. It’s a narrow path though a small woods and appears to go straight up. They take it at a walk, and you can see the muscles across their backs work. Horses off the flat track must be shocked the first time. I was awed. There’s no one way to train a horse.
Two sets down, fingers frozen, dog suitably exercised, I headed back to Fair Hill and – you guessed it – a day in the office. Which wasn’t so bad after a day on the farm.
Walking up the hill at Wyatt's.