The Inside Rail

Contributions from TIHR co-founder, editor and writer Sean Clancy.

Goodbye

You’d think this would be the easy one. I’ve written this one every year since 2001, the final blank page, the final goodbye. The old feel-good, get-out-of-town farewell, the last swipe across the canvas, push back the chair, marvel for a moment and turn off the lights. As my Uncle Lew always said, “When you get up to go. Go.”

I’m going.

Missing You

It’s that time of year. Time for the annual ‘I’ll miss, I won’t miss.’

I’ll miss seeing The Special at the Morning Line Kitchen. I won’t miss The Special blowing off the tables at the Morning Line Kitchen.

I’ll miss Joe and Tom’s enthusiasm and respect for the craft. I won’t miss Joe and Tom walking around the office at midnight saying, “…only Sean’s column left.”

For the Moment

Aron Wellman lobbied hard. “That’s got to be the moment of the meet. Come on…it is for me.”

It was minutes after Catholic Boy provided Jonathan Thomas with his first win at Saratoga, in the Grade 3 With Anticipation no less. Your first win and your first stakes win at Saratoga, that’s a hell of a moment. Wellman, a client and a friend (perhaps not in that order) of Thomas’, helped to convince the 37-year-old to run a few horses off his Bridlewood base, the plan percolated, crawled and burgeoned with a stakes win at Saratoga.

Running

I started running again in Saratoga this summer. Well, running might be overstating it. More like slogging, plodding, bumbling.

Joe and Tom revved me up the first Sunday, three papers down, our first night off, we hit the 5-mile trail at the state park. Not having run in months, I pleaded for them to slow down (they didn’t) as I took short cuts through the woods, turning squares into bends, walking for moments when I was out of sight, trying to quiet the pain of my old friends. Spiral fracture in my right ankle, plate, seven screws – Beetleman, Saratoga, 2000. Torn lateral collateral ligament in my right knee – Abacus, Morven Park, 1992. And other ailments. I know how old horses feel, the injuries never go away, they are the first things to nag. I survived that first run, that’s all, just survived. There was no runner’s high.

Obscurity

Quint Kessenich coined the phrase back in 2002 when we would send the all-American-lacrosse-goalie-turned-cub-reporter loose on Saratoga.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” we asked.

“Root for obscurity,” Kessenich said, as he ran out the door, waving folded-up paper and a pen (he refused to use a tape recorder).

Yes, root for obscurity, yearn for chaos, cheer for the underdog, wish for the story. That’s how The Special rolls.

Nothing against the behemoths, but we’re looking for the horses and horsemen who hitchhiked here, not the ones who were anointed with free passes at birth.

Nothing wrong with the chosen ones, but we’re looking for the ones we don’t know. I remember a little guy winning a race and running in the office the next day, “You guys cover the rest of the races. Nobody covers the rest of the races.”

“Root for obscurity, brother, root for obscurity,” we told him.

With that in mind, this is what we’re rooting for on Travers Day.

First Race. This is a no-brainer. Jamie Mejia. The silks are listed as white, red Saratoga emblem and cap. That’s obscurity. The stable is 0-for-the-meet, but they’re still swinging every day. Belle Tapissiere is 20-1 after a fade-to-ninth debut just three days ago. Yes, three days ago. Imagine the questions we can ask, the story that we can unearth. Come on, Belle Tapisserie, one time. Actually, we just turned the page and now have a tie. Escarapela makes his debut for, you guessed it, Jaime Mejia. The longshot duo take on $1 million yearling Good Magic for e Five Racing and Chad Brown, a $675,000 Tiznow colt for Lane’s End and Shug McGaughey and a $430,000 son of War Front for Eclipse and Todd Pletcher. Sorry, we’ve told those stories, come on Jaime Mejia, miracle me.

Second Race. Easy. Memories Of Peter for Jimmy Ryerson. Cool horse. Good guy. Ryerson needs a lift after losing some nice horses and being blanked at the meet.

Third Race. Easy. Sidewinder for Dominick Schettino. See reason for the second.

Fourth Race. Oh, hell once a year you’ve got to talk to Blue. Leon Blusiewicz drops Spartiatis from the Vanderbilt to an optional claimer. Kessenich spent as much time with Blue as he did in the office the first year, we could probably borrow his notes if Blue wins this one.

Fifth Race. The stories get more scarce as the races get better, this one is deep with Shug, Mott, Jerkens, Kiaran, Chad Brown, Casse . . . we’ll root for Poshsky. He made his debut for a $20,000 maiden claiming tag in 2013, climbed the ladder to win the Grade 3 Berkley Handicap in 2015, only to go back down the ladder and get claimed four times this year. Dave Cannizzo trains him, he’s always good for a story.

Sixth Race. The Personal Ensign. We’ll admit, it’s hard to root against the once-beaten Songbird, story or no story. If she stumbles, the story of the year would be Flora Dora who chased her in vain twice last summer and rides a 10-race losing streak for Coffepot Stable and Marialice Coffey. No doubt, we’ll weave her barnyard flowers into the story.

Seventh Race. The Ballerina. Anybody know Happy Alter? Now, there’s a story. How about Rodrigo Ubillo and Highway Star? The big horse in a small stable, the New York-bred has a Grade 3 win and a Grade 2 win this year. A Grade 1, now that’s a story.

Eighth Race. The H. Allen Jerkens King’s Bishop. As Rusty Arnold put it, “It’s brutal.” Practical Joke, Takaful, Coal Front and American Anthem lead the brutality in a 7-furlong war. I guess the story is what did Danny Gargan do from 1997 when he was 0-for-5 as a trainer to 2013 when he returned with a 13-for-105 record that has grown from there. If Phi Beta Express shocks this one, we’ll ask that question.

Ninth Race. The Forego. The Chad Summers HRRN-to-G1 story has been told, so we’ll be yelling for Ross, an Irish-bred, German-based 5-year-old and Very Very Stella for Jose Noda-Fernandez or Jose Fernandez-Noda. Guess that’s our first question.

10th Race. The Sword Dancer. The story is to see how many words we can get from Ryan Moore when Idaho wins the $1 million stakes. Not exactly obscurity, but a challenge nonetheless.

11th Race. The Travers. There isn’t a lot of obscurity in the Travers. Right or wrong, we haven’t told Nick Zito’s story for a while, why not, come on Giuseppe The Great.

12th Race. The Ballston Spa. When Hunter O’Riley upset the Bowling Green, we started screaming for Jimmy Toner as the field hit the quarter pole. We’ll be on Time And Motion even quicker as she tries to oust a three-prong Chad Brown arsenal.

13th Race. Back to major obscurity with a $40,000 maiden claimer on the turf in the fading Travers light. Sheldon Russell makes the trip for 20-1 Praise The Moon, Wingman tries to give Phil Serpe another win at the meet and, whoa, look who’s back, Jaime Mejia with another 30-1 shot. Come on, Summer Causeway. Come on, obscurity.

• Click here to read the entire Saratoga Special. 

53 and Counting

I love the emails. The tips, the touts, the rants, the “I’ve got an idea for you…” notes that come across my screen. Once in a while they are mean-spirited, but most are good-natured, a suggestion, a thought, a story, a shared laugh, a shared anecdote. I received one from Kate and Jeff Harris about a decade ago, hell, maybe longer, about a woman who had been coming to Saratoga since the 60s. I jumped on it and met her. It filled a page.

I got another email last week, this one, from Jim Schaefer, a retired Ph.D who works mutuel window 1526. It was about a woman who had been coming to Saratoga since the 60s, he included a scanned copy of her hand-written letter about her upcoming trip to Saratoga.

Writer's Up

The jockeys have always intrigued me the most. Flat or jump, doesn’t matter. I’ve been there, I guess that’s part of it, trying to control adrenaline, normalize risk, temper hunger, stymie pressure, quell fear, stave off the simple march of time that gets all jockeys in the end. 

I’ve written about their good days, their bad days, their good sides, their bad sides, all of their good rides, a few of their bad rides. I’ve written about some of their beginnings and most of their endings. I’ve written about their crescendos and their crashes, their stakes and their suicides, their favorite horses and their least favorite races.

Use It

Bill Mott doesn’t remember saying it.

It was March 1998, I was just getting started as a writer, I mean just getting started, when I asked Mott if he thought Favorite Trick could get a mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby in two months time. Bred to be a sprinter, built like a sprinter, Favorite Trick had an impossible task on his plate. Mott knew it. He paused at my question, stared blankly, to the point where I wasn’t sure he heard me, then he spoke.

“Horses give you the information and you’re expected to use it.”

It’s the best quote I’ve ever heard about training horses.

I told Mott that a few years ago, he didn’t remember saying it, which is fine because I’ve repeated it so many times, I’ve made it my own.

The Blood-Horse asked me if I could go to Payson Park and interview Mott for a feature on Favorite Trick and the Triple Crown. I was excited, strangely, not intimidated.

That didn’t last long.

The meeting was set for the afternoon. I got there early, late morning, after training hours, but I learned right then and there, that Mott doesn’t keep training hours. I barged into his tack room office, introducing myself like it was the first night of rush week. Mott looked up from his training chart, didn’t say a word, just stared at me. I bumbled out a few words, he kept staring. I guess he would have stared at me for however long I stood there, which wasn’t long, as I walked the plank out of his office. And, yes, the door did hit me in the ass.

I sat under a tree and waited like a scolded child. A while later, Mott walked out and asked what I wanted.

“Just to see some horses,” I said.

That broke the ice.   

Mott and I meandered up and down the shed rows of his two barns, he showed me horses who I had only read about – Escena, Ajina, Yagli, Elusive Quality, Favorite Trick…Mott walked up to every stall, tepidly, to see what each horse was doing naturally, he didn’t startle any of them, he was like a kid sneaking into the house after curfew. Glok, who had just won an allowance on the Gulfstream turf, had ripped his bandage off, Mott ducked under the webbing, picked up the strewn bandage and then took off the other one, just like Dad had always told me, ‘bandage both legs or no legs.’ Mott ducked back under the webbing, “Guess, he doesn’t like them.” Mott told me about every horse, just observations, like he was going through an old stamp collection or studying rings on a tree.

On a roll, I asked the question, “Do you really think Favorite Trick can get a mile and a quarter?”

That’s when Mott paused, looked down, and offered the most insightful words I’d ever heard about horses.

“Horses give you the information and you’re expected to use it.”

Mott has used the information all the way, from his $320 mare My Assets at the bush tracks in South Dakota, to a three-year stint with Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg to a Hall of Fame career that has included the greats from Cigar to Royal Delta.

Saturday, Mott won his third Alabama. Elate rounded into form just at the right time to take the Grade 1 stakes.

Talk about a horse giving you information.

The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro broke her maiden by 12 1/2 lengths at Aqueduct in November. Jockey Jose Ortiz said, “I’ve hit the jackpot.” Mott’s son/assistant Riley said, “We were all getting Oaks fever.”

Bill Mott doesn’t catch fevers.

After a brief freshening at Payson in the winter, Elate finished second in the Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs, third in the Honeybee at Oaklawn. Mott was thinking about Aug. 19.

“She just wasn’t there, and I knew it,” Mott said. “There was nothing I was going to do to make her come around any quicker.”

And that’s the key, Mott didn’t do anything more, he allowed Elate to give him the information. She pulled up in the Ashland when Ortiz thought she took a bad step, but was fine afterward. She finished second in an allowance race at Churchill Downs May 5 (Oaks Day, but a long way from the Oaks), then snapped a four-race losing streak in the Light Hearted at Delaware Park in June and just missed winning the Coaching Club American Oaks opening weekend.

“You don’t want to get them beat up if they’re not ready for it, some people believe that they run as fast as they can no matter who they’re with (in races), I think confidence helps them, I believe confidence helps them,” Mott said. “They know when they’re winning and they build off of that, since the Delaware race, she’s improved. She just started moving forward, nothing we did different. There’s no magic to it, it’s just a matter of allowing them to get there on their own.”

And using the information.

• Click here to read the entire Saratoga Special. 

Oh, Brother

Jason Servis stood along the outside rail of the Oklahoma track Thursday morning as Alabama hopeful Actress enjoyed her first morning at the Spa. Arriving earlier that day, the gray daughter of Tapit jogged the wrong way, turned around and loped easily past Servis, his wife Natalie and a few gawkers on a crisp and clear morning.

“She hits 16s like nothing, like nothing,” Servis said, referring to the seconds it takes for her to cover a furlong. “Every once in a while I’ll put my watch on her and she just hits 16s. I don’t usually get these horses.”

Big Bill

Kip Elser called John Servis about a kid who wanted to go from teaching school in South Carolina to walking horses at Delaware Park.

“Does he know anything?” Servis asked.

“Yeah, he can walk a horse.” Elser said.

“Sure, send him up, I’ll put him to work,” Servis said.

As Servis had learned, he handed the responsibility of dealing with the new hotwalker to his right-hand man, Bill Foster. Six foot, six inches, college educated, a crossword genius, a born horseman, a bust-or-boon gambler, Foster spent all