Cup Of Coffee: A.M. Saratoga

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It’s the mornings. The VIP room of Saratoga. Anybody can go racing in the afternoon, it’s the mornings that make Saratoga. The furthest waking moment from deadline, it’s the only time The Special laughs, talks or is allowed to drift for a moment. Afternoons and evenings are pressure. Morning is release.

Yes, they hit quickly and mercilessly, over and over. The first 10 minutes never get any easier, like a dull knife to your senses; anything but this, anything but action, anything but movement. Just five more minutes. Just two more minutes. Make it go away.

Then reality takes over and your senses dull the knife; everything starts to come together. It’ll feel better with the first taste of tea or the first gulp of coffee, it’ll feel like home when you see the first horse of the day. If they’re up, you’re up.

The morning papers are on the porch. We are the only people in Saratoga that wake up to 1,500 morning papers. Stacked like gold bars (or flower sacks), ready for delivery. It still never ceases to amaze me when I see them printed and ready. ‘Wow, we did it again.’ Back the car up, toss them in the trunk, buckle the seatbelt behind your back and head down Lincoln on the way to the first of many stops. Jack Clancy, 14, hasn’t come to his senses yet, his hair had a party last night. He’ll come around soon.

We’re off our game on the first morning. Year 10, you’d think we’d remember. Instead we forget the paper rack at the kitchen next to Eoin Harty’s barn, then we leave too many at the clocker stand’s rack; we backtrack, drive in circles, forget a few loyal readers. We’ll be better tomorrow (today).

Todd Pletcher drives his golfcart to the backside of the main track. He seems out of place, training from the golfcart instead of the lead pony. So many horses, so little time. He can watch them better this way. Pletcher in a golfcart, doesn’t seem right. Sal Russo, agent for Channing Hill, campaigns for some out-of-town business.

Dale Romans has left Paddy O’Prado and First Dude at Churchill Downs for the summer. Asked why he’s here, he says simply, “To find the next one.” Good point.

Forever Together is in the house. She arrived late last night or early this morning. She’s had a place in the Annex longer than most, she’s reaching over her webbing, looking for action.

Doug Fout and Ben Garner hold down the southern corner of the Annex; Mike Maker  and Seth Benzel anchor the middle. Walter Blum points out Bridgetown, the great little Bridgetown, who will make his comeback this meet.

Daisy Phipps-Pulito gets her first child acquainted with early mornings at the track. Get used to them, son.

John Kimmel hurries in his golfcart, set to work Khancord Kid a half on the main track. Richard Migliore needs a ride to see Kimmel. The jockey seems out of place without his teacup helmet, blue cap and white star emblazoned on it. He weighs 124, not so gaunt. Some day, he’ll walk around here without qualms in his gut.

Afleet Express goes old school for Jimmy Jerkens, breezing 7 furlongs in 1:25.62. The horse is tuned. The trainer’s happy – or as happy as he gets. Ramon Dominguez perches motionless aboard Boys At Tosconova as they pass the quarter pole. Rick Dutrow leans on the rail and follows his pupil’s trajectory out of sight. Boy, good horses always look like they’re going slowly. Oh, he was going slowly, he went 5 furlongs in 1:05.02, just a leg-stretcher, a long way from the Hopeful.

Graham Motion’s crew scurries to find a rider to breeze Icabad Crane, in preparation for Monday’s Evan Shipman. The scheduled jockey can’t be found, nobody’s seen him. They call Julien Leparoux’s agent Steve Bass. In less than five minutes, Leparoux is adjusting his irons on the New York-bred and has a decent pickup ride for Monday’s feature.

Jimmy Toner’s gray horse drops his rider on the turf and goes on a lark, right way, wrong way of the turf. The siren blares. Toner curses. Gary Contessa sends former California stakes horse Whatsthescript through a 7-furlong turf drill. McPeek breezes two, you’d bet either one or both. Jen Patterson breezes a Shug horse, get its name.

Dallas Stewart talks about releasing Macho Again from his barn someday soon; the future stallion is on his way to Venezuela. “I don’t want to be there,” Stewart says, wistfully.
It’s raining. First day of racing. First day of rain. Hope it’s not an omen.

It’s 11 o’clock. Morning’s over. Time to get serious.