Cup of Coffee: A Very Good Day

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Been here before. Blank page. The last page for the next 10 1/2 months. So much pressure on 800 words, hard to get started.

Saratoga 2009 is over. I feel a year older. The great passage of time.

Birthdays don’t mean anything. Christmas is a one-off. Then Saratoga winds to a close and a year of your life has suddenly come and gone. Wistful and a little depressing, surreal and hard to process. Time to pack the clothes you never wore (remind me to leave my tuxedo, my pink dress shirt and the extra T-shirts at home next summer), do a once-over of the rental to see if you can expect your security deposit returned, stop at Uncommon Grounds for an iced coffee and a scone and hit the Northway. Fill up the tank, check the phone and take a good long look in the rearview mirror, it’s all behind us now.

The circus has left town.

Saratogians, we return your town. Thanks for letting us borrow it. Another six weeks of madness, pressure and achievement. Another six weeks to celebrate the horse. On one hand, it’s flown past. On the other, it seems like a long, long time ago when Hot Dixie Chick dominated the Schuylerville.

My grandmother used to say, “When I was a child, the days seemed so short and the years seemed so long. As I’ve gotten older, the days seem so long and the years seem so short.”

At Saratoga, the days seem so long and the meet seems so short. Or is it the other way around?

I used to get on the Northway after six weeks of being a jump jockey and the depression would envelop me; no money, no job, no future. I had hit the ground a couple of times, hit the bar way too many times and hit the ATM machine far too often. I had nothing to show for it.

Now, I’m more tired. But, way more satisfied. The Saratoga Special, nine years complete. Imagine, next year we’ll celebrate (look out, town) our 10th anniversary. I knew we’d make it, but I will admit when we produced eight-page newspapers the first year it wasn’t looking too positive.

We’re proud of our product and we’re glad you’ve accepted us as part of the Saratoga scene. Life isn’t that complicated – you want to be remembered, instead of recalled.

As I walked into the races Saturday, I passed a group of fans in the corner of the picnic area, a man read The Special with Rachel Alexandra rearing on the cover. His friend asked to see the paper and he hesitated.

“It’s the only one I’ve got,” he said.

I wanted to tell him, “I’ve got 50 in my car, just around the bend near the Reading Room. And if you want yesterday’s, it’s there too, and the day before . . . and the Point Given Travers Issue from 2001.”

My brother Joe is the glue to this operation, and probably the only one that’s a journalist first, racing fan second (he’s a rabid racing fan, that’s how serious he takes the journalism). The rest of us have tried to find a way to make a living doing something we love. We’re probably fans first and journalists second, but they’ve gotten closer and closer as the years have passed. I don’t ask where Rachel Alexanda’s going next, because I don’t care, I just watched excellence and I think I’ll bathe in it for a day or two. When I show the cup of dirt I scooped up from the finish line after the Woodward, The Special’s Ben Meyers shows me his press pass with a handful of dirt at the bottom of the plastic slip.

I like the stories. Standing around the Morning Line; talking old school, talking shop, talking smack, talking about old friends and talking about new hopes. Knowing you have so much to do and there’s nowhere you’d rather be.

The individual performances – collectively – this year were better than any year I’ve seen. Backtalk rallying to win the Sanford. Forever Together defending her crown in the Diana. Fabulous Strike laying it down again. Justenuffhumor doing his Rachel impersonation by winning two stakes. Careless Jewel tossing Robert Landry – twice – then making up for it with an effortless Alabama. Summer Bird flying free in the Travers. Pyro, Music Note, Flashing, Better Talk Now, Bullsbay, Icon Project . . . the stars of the show.

When the Woodward field took a full turn of the paddock; it felt like the old days. The crowd noticed it and appreciated it. Tell the grandkids we lived in the Rachel Alexandra era. You were there when the filly beat older horses at Saratoga, when the grandstand rocked. Someday, they’ll change the name from Graveyard of Favorites.

Now, it’s time to shut the book. I’ve gone through three bottles of Tums, a pair of loafers, ovens of pizzas and as much brain wracking as I can do to come up with new words to describe an old place.

Like I tell Jane Motion every morning, “These are the good old days.”