Springtime Slowdown

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Dave Lynett didn’t need an alarm clock Wednesday morning and he followed much of his usual springtime routine even though the coronavirus crisis put a significant crimp on the biggest part.

Lynett normally would be up early come April 15, like it’s-still-dark early, before stopping at a local convenience store to pick up a few newspapers. He’d head to the Oklahoma Training Track from there and set up shop in the clocker’s stand, where he’d be every day until mid-November.

“The only place I really go is run to the Stewart’s, got to go get my papers,” said Lynett, who works as a clocker for the New York Racing Association during off- and in-season at Saratoga. “Then to the laundry. Mondays, drop off. Tuesdays, pick up. Go to the bank and Price Chopper. That’s about it these days.”

Lynett’s spring went out of whack last week when NYRA announced it wouldn’t open the Oklahoma per usual in mid-April. He saw it coming, with coronavirus cases by the thousands in New York and racing shut down in the state since early March.

“It’s like a tradition you know, April 15 is when you get to see the outriders you haven’t seen since last November,” Lynett said. “You see some trainers come in that you know and you haven’t seen them since they left, whether it was early in the fall or at the end. Plus the exercise riders, I know a bunch of them. Security guards, like Teddy that’s on the gate all the time. All your friends.”

Traffic runs pretty light in the early weeks of spring training at the Oklahoma with the horse population sometimes even less than the human. It allows for a lot of those reunions and face-to-face conversations that aren’t rushed by the typical flow of the morning on the backstretch.

Lynett said there aren’t many works to clock the first few weeks of the Oklahoma, but he’s still there every day from the wee hours before most are up and sometimes until late morning when others are contemplating lunch.

“Usually this time of year I go up a couple days ahead of time, pick up the radios from the maintenance building and stuff we need that’s stored there,” Lynett said Wednesday after one of those mid-morning runs to the grocery. “Then I go up (to the clocker’s stand), set them up and have them ready so when we go in there on Opening Day the radios are all charged and everything.

“There’s really no works then but you need them in case somebody is out there with a loose horse, you have to call the outrider and let them know which way they’re going, if the rider is up and walking or if he is hurt. Call the ambulance to go over, that sort of thing.”

Lynett doesn’t see himself doing that anytime soon even with some positive signs coming out of New York.

The pluses – essentially signs that the flattening of the curve of the number of positive cases of coronavirus has begun – still can’t outweigh the minuses when it comes to the news. Deaths continue to add up – in the hundreds each day – in New York and primarily in the New York City area.

A majority of the horsemen who frequent the Oklahoma during the spring and into the early part of the summer – trainers such as Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Bill Mott, Christophe Clement, Jim Bond and George Weaver – are still with the majority of their horses in Florida. They’re not expected back anytime soon, especially with the Oklahoma most likely not opening until mid-May or even June in the best-case scenario depending on who you ask.

Racing continues at Gulfstream Park in Florida, one of a few states that still allows the sport to go on albeit without fans. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska are also running races, providing at least something for sports fans like Lynett to help kill time until everything returns to “normal.”

“I’m pretty bored to you know what,” Lynett said. “I’m trying to find something to watch on TV. There’s no sports on. At least there’s racing Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday now, so at least there’s something to watch.”

And he’s still got the papers.

“That’s right, it gives me something to do,” Lynett said, acknowledging the need for everyone to stay the course. “You’ve got to do what you have to do with this thing.

“It looks like that curve is going down and everything. Most of the deaths are down in New York City, that area. But who knows. There are some counties around here that only have 25, 35, 40 cases. If we can get over that soon then I think we’ll be back in business definitely in May, but you really never know. You never can tell.”