As usual, I spent the first two days of the meet hassling through any number of issues including – but by no means limited to – computer networks, the Internet, advertisements, articles, photography, housing, office space, bicycles, paper racks, paper boxes, a new printer.
Then came distributiongate and what now seem like days (but merely hours I guess) of telephone calls and discussions and wonder and angst. In the end, it all worked out. The computers communicated with everything. The ads showed up. We finished the first paper, we weathered a storm.
We were also awed by the support, the kind words, the push for The Special. In a word, thanks. Really. To name everybody would be absurd, but we heard from owners, trainers, jockeys, valets, exercise riders, advertisers, Kentuckians, New Yorkers, Marylanders, Virginians, a retired baker in Sweden, Englishmen and Englishwomen, Irishmen and Irishwomen, agents, relatives, journalists, children, grandparents, friends, peers, random readers who find us every year and pretty much any class of human connected to this odd mix that is Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Springs.
Mostly, we’re glad it’s over.
Midway through Thursday morning, back when none of this looked so good, I wandered toward the back of the main-track stable area. I fist-bumped a trainer, shook hands with another, nodded to a third, talked to a guy about a truck and kept walking. I stopped, read a text, thought about it all and then wandered into Barclay Tagg’s shedrow.
I didn’t really need anything, other than a minute with a horse.
Tagg’s assistant Robbin Smullen looked up from her computer and said, “I know why you’re here.” She didn’t know the half of it, but she knew who I needed to see and walked a few stalls down the path to a chestnut filly I met two summers ago. Back then, she was unraced, well-bred, a little gangly, learning and no doubt a work in progress. Tagg made me look at her. Made me walk over to her side. Made me listen when he talked about her.
Named Caroline Thomas, after owner/breeder Bonner Young’s granddaughter, the filly turned out OK. She won a Grade 2 (by disqualification) here last summer, placed in a Grade 1 last fall at Keeneland. She’s earned $356,000 with four wins in 16 starts. She’s a big price, but I swear a player, against the big names in today’s Diana.
None of that mattered to me Thursday.
I just needed to see a horse and to forget – for a minute – about everything swirling, waiting, roiling, crashing around us and this crazy newspaper.
Caroline Thomas walked over to her webbing, looked at Smullen and then turned her big white face to me. I had no mint, no carrot, no apple, not even a bit of hay. She leaned in, put her nose in my chest and let me scratch her left ear while Smullen talked about jockeys, racing luck, near-misses and how much fun the daughter of Giant’s Causeway is to ride. Caroline Thomas pretty much waits for riders to tell her what to do, which is why she’s usually last at some point in most of her races and why she lopes around in her gallops.
I’ll never ride her, but I could tell. Caroline Thomas, who never really moved her head while we talked, is pretty cool. She’s calm, placid, happy. I got the feeling she would have followed me down the shedrow if I took down the webbing and went for a walk. Just as Tagg felt two years ago, she’s OK – better than OK – on the racetrack. If Thursday was any indication, she might be even better off it.
For a moment, while I stood there scratching Caroline Thomas’ ear and listening to Smullen talk about a work and her filly’s agreeable attitude, the stress melted, the weird feeling left my brow. There was no newspaper, no five-hour drive home, no texts, no emails, no voice mails, no bills, no Time Warner modem to sort out. There was calm and peace and grace.
A horse did that, like somebody told her she was supposed to.