You know it’s time to go when you pick up your dry cleaning without dropping any off. You know it’s time to go when you see NYRA crates stacked at the doorways. You know it’s time to go when your brother buys the half-priced donuts from Stewart’s. You know it’s time to go when the people you like start bothering you. You know it’s time to go when they’re raking leaves into piles at Bill Mott’s barn.
Yes, it’s time, Saratoga is not the September Place to Be (it’s not the July Place to Be either, but that’s another story for another day).
It’s definitely time to go.
It’s a battle, the drive south on the Northway is exactly how it sounds, a clash of directions, of emotions. Another season in the books, another year older, the accomplishments and the failures raging a mental war. The pending re-entry, as always, a daunting task. Like coming home from war, jail, the circus, school. It feels like all four – even though we don't consider ourselves warriors or prisoners (clowns and students, maybe).
Where do you put your stuff? What happened to all the conversations? Where did all my friends go? How do I replace the daily rush? Do the dishes? Take out the trash? Pay the bills? Really?
Like every year, I try to concentrate on what we did do rather than dwelling on what we didn’t do. I try to relish the big moments and make peace with the bad. It’s the only way to survive this game, somehow neutralizing the highs and lows into a semblance of order. I learned long ago, don’t fight the highs and lows, accept them, learn to ride with them rather than against them, and accept the need for them. Well, I’ve tried to learn that concept anyway.
Saratoga serves highs and lows with intensity and alacrity.
The highs are easy. John Velazquez became the all-time leader in Saratoga wins, a legend among us. Ken Ramsey predicted a record and achieved a record for the most wins at a meet. Royal Delta was iconic in the morning and melodic in the afternoon. Wise Dan was Wise Dan. Dance To Bristol won twice, so did Princess Of Sylmar.
Jonathan Sheppard, of course, dominated the jumpers. Todd Pletcher was at his robotic best. The Chief won the Saratoga Dew. Alpha returned to his finest hour. The Special was the best it’s ever been, thanks to Tom Law and the rest of the team. Apse won for me and my team, that was sweet, I’ll cherish the win picture. I saw lots of old friends, made some new ones, shared a lot of laughs, told a lot of stories, wrote a lot of words.
As for the bad, they’re tough. Saginaw won’t ever go away. Neither will Kris Royal, Sarava’s Dancer, Charmed Hour and the others who left us all too soon. Jose Espinoza, Jose Lezcano and Joel Rosario were unlucky and lucky all at the same time. I didn’t spend enough time with The Chief. Leah didn’t have her annual dinner. I chased too many tips instead of backing my own opinions. Didn’t exercise enough – at all. Got a bad haircut.
Dave Grening scooped us consistently. We left money on the table. We missed most of the parties. Our wives ate too many meals alone. I never made it to the Embrace the Race store. There were way too many races. The meet was too long. The sport gets dragged through the mud again with accusations over the Travers, another nadir, only in horse racing. We made lots of mistakes, typos and gaffes. We taught a new batch of writers, just at the time they’re getting good, it’s over.
A few years ago, I said to Joe, “Let’s try to enjoy this. I know it’s stressful and frustrating but we should try to enjoy it. One day, we’ll look back and laugh about that paper we used to publish at Saratoga. We’ve tried to enjoy the trip, tried to bring the enjoyment to the readers.
Imagine Joe and I have never walked up to the paper rack at the Morning Line Kitchen and opened a fresh Special. It seems so strange, we love the game, love to read, love the horses, and we’ve never had the experience of picking up the paper and wondering what’s inside.
Not saying it’s good or bad, just wondering what it would be like. One day, I’d like to sit down on a bench and read it as a reader.
You know it’s over when you start thinking random thoughts, actually writing random thoughts in the middle of your column.
It’s late. I’m out of words. Tomorrow, I’ll watch races, my recorder will be off, my mind will be free, I’ll be a racing fan again. By Tuesday, I’ll be a husband and father again.
Jack Clancy just sent a text to Tom, Joe and me. “Finish up guys! You got it. Wrap up an amazing year.”