Cup of Coffee: Fan of the Day

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A day at the races. It’s rare I get to the races for the whole card. Usually, it’s office all afternoon, scamper over for the stakes and the nightcap, rush back to give words to horses.

 Thursday, heeding my advice to stick around, I arrived at paddock time for the first and stayed all day.

Wow, this racing game is fun.

Old friends. New friends. Reacquainted with the once-a-year friends I’ve met over the years at Saratoga. I don’t know many of their names, but know their faces; we talk about the old days, the dreams, the fallen comrades, the ones who got away, we slip into a Springsteen song.

The first is named for a friend who we’d give anything to see again. Jonathan Kiser, a 22-year-old phenom, died too young, back in 2000. His race makes you think of him again. He burned rubber all over this town and would have won Thursday’s Jonathan Kiser on any of about five runners. He was that good. I see his family; sisters who look just like him, enjoying a bittersweet day in Saratoga. Jonathan Sheppard sends out three runners for the Kiser, he goes 1, 3, 4 and wins it with the longest shot of them all. We picked Sermon Of Love in the Turf Writers a year ago, we ignore him in an allowance race a year later. Lose $38 on the race.

Ron Anderson watched the jumpers. Think he’s not a student of the game? He asks me about ‘that rider who saved ground the whole way, stayed on at the last when he almost tipped over, he could ride.’ Yeah, that’s defending champion and clubhouse leader Paddy Young, the Garrett Gomez of jump racing.

I walk out of the paddock for the second and am asked to sign an autograph book for my friend Miriam. That makes me laugh.

Get a tip on Roy Lerman’s first-time starter in the second. I ignore it. Pletcher and Velazquez dominate. Lerman’s Better Safe beats one.

Look for jumper prospects in the third. Watch the race from the box seats near the sixteenth pole. Wow, $20,000 maiden claimers plod home after 9 furlongs, six seconds slower than the track record. Chad Brown drops another one, wins with High Stakes Player who’s now with Chris Englehart and Purple Haze Stable.

Bill Mott, typically, wins one on his birthday when Devil By Design takes the Lucy Scribner. I wonder about Lucy Scribner. Looking for any angle other than Mott’s birthday, I meet Tanya Gunther, who owns part of the filly with her dad and another partner. She’s a breath of fresh air, following her dad’s lead in the Sport of Kings. I ask her when she got hooked.

“Since I was small, I used to go watch the horses gallop with my dad and go through the pedigree books before I knew what I was reading,” she said. “I took a hiatus for a while, I was trying to be a career girl, but then I came back.”

Right to Saratoga.

Dyani, a stamina machine, wins the 11-furlong turf maiden while I’m trying to interview Mott in the racing office. D’bigcat wins a $10,000 claimer, first off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez who used to putter around the jocks’ room when I was riding. A Saratoga rookie, he improves his 36-percent strike rate.

Jorge Chavez wanders through the clubhouse, asks Jason Blewitt how to get to the box seats. The jockey looks lost, out of the confines of the jocks’ room.

Two-year-old turf horses take over for the seventh. My nephew Ryan likes Peb Hughes, I like Peb Hughes, everybody likes Peb Hughes. We lose our money as he fades to fourth. The pick of the paddock, Br. Alexander, runs second in his debut, returning $8.10 for the place. Damn, it’s costly to stay at the races all day.

I’m introduced to Chris Clayton, sister to the late Marjorie Cordero. Chris galloped Quick Call for Sidney Watters. She cared for the icon of Saratoga for years after his career. Her eyes light up when she talks about the horse, the trainer, the racetrack.

Walk in the paddock for the Quick Call and any handicapping I did on paper goes out the window when I see Barclay Tagg’s Beau Choix. He’s a rock. Then a harmonica breaks any concentration. Tom Proctor’s Our Douglas walks into the paddock with his own fight song, humming next to him. Proctor’s hotwalker blows out a tune as Our Douglas circles the tree. Proctor just laughs. I’ve seen it all.

Longshot Lighthouse Sound has been on my jumper radar for months, he runs huge to be third, he’s the one who got away.

Two Irishman sit on a bench in the clubhouse. Leo O’Brien and Benny Connaughton give me tips. Derek Ryan’s horse in the ninth. Leo’s horse in the 10th. Ryan’s horse wins, pays $6.10. O’Brien’s Pretty Boy Freud finishes second, pays $13 to place. I know better than to listen to two Irishmen at the races.

My favorite horse on the grounds, Cherokee Speed, runs in the last. He winds up fifth, after a tough trip. I want to hug him too.

I head home, a day at the races complete.