The tone blares like it always does from the Verizon BlackBerry World Edition – Alarm_Antelope, medium, two beeps, 10 minute snooze. Time to make the doughnuts. The Travers edition seems like it just went to the printer, it was raining then. It’s raining now, 5:10 a.m. There she is on the porch, Quality Road on the cover, stacked and ready for Travers Day.
The crowd lingers at the front gate on Union Avenue, smaller – and wetter – than usual.
Somebody turn on the lights, the place lies in wait; dark, rain pelting down on the sealed main track. My Pinkerton friend announces that the main track is closed. Lucy and the Morning Line Kitchen girls make my tea without asking.
It’s Travers Morning. But it feels like Tuesday morning after the meet. There are no tourists, no jockeys, no agents, no buzz. Rain is a powerful thing.
Throwback trainer Harvey Vanier believes, “This is the day we get fitter than everybody else.” Vanier then breezes everything in his barn on a sloppy racetrack while the rest of the world walks the shedrow. Not sure it works or not, but that’s his theory and he’s been around a long time.
Saturday morning feels like a Harvey Vanier morning. I’m expecting Play Fellow to come around the bend at any moment.
Rain lashed down all night. Turf racing is long gone, except for a couple of stakes. Travers handicappers switch to trying to find who will like the slop rather than who’s the best horse.
Bill Mott sees The Saratoga Special golf cart, one of the few on the roads on a dark, dank morning at the track.
“Out here, getting some scoop?” Mott said, tying his pony to the wall of an open-air stall near his barn.
Scoop or the flu, one or the other.
Bruce Levine hides under the tree at the seven-eighths pole gap, trying to stay dry, unreliable shelter.
“Where’s are all your help? Scratches. I didn’t think we’d get scratches until tomorrow morning,” Levine says.
All the tourists sleep in on Saturday morning, half the exercise riders will sleep in Sunday morning.
Doc Danner stands guard outside Mott’s barn. Cold, rain falling in intermittent blankets, a condition book without any new ink. Asked what he’s doing out there, Danner tells the truth (see, agents can tell the truth).
“Just a way of life, wouldn’t know what else to do,” Danner said. “And you know, I don’t want them to say they don’t ride me because they don’t see me.”
Not sure Danner hustled any new business, but at least he tried.
Rolling past the far corner of the stable area near East Avenue, the whiff of marijuana from outside the gate reminds me of my first concert; Crosby, Stills and Nash at the Spectrum, early 80s. They were old then.
Indian Charlie gets out of his car with a new box of sheets and pops open a Gulfstream Park umbrella. Then decides he’s not an umbrella kind of guy. Puts it back in the car and braces for the rain. Good thing he didn’t see a Blood-Horse reporter park his car in the middle of the horse path five minutes later.
Horse Racing Radio Network sets up outside the racing office, the $9 awning comes in handy.
Joe and I butler 2,000 newspapers into the racetrack. A fan wanders through the grandstand and asks if they’re serving coffee anywhere. We’re not sure, if we knew, we’d have cups in our hands.
We deliver the paper and debate on a pint of Guinness, that’s what we did last year on Travers Morning. Was it raining last year? We wait, get knocked around trying to figure out if they’re going to open. So much for a tradition, we didn’t like the vibe.
Back on the main track side, Brian Ange stands outside the holding barn, rain coming down and trying to arrange a scratch.
“We’ve got a million-dollar filly here,” Ange said.
They scratch her.
Mark Hennig waits out the turf decisions; he’ll leave Barcola in the holding barn and bring another one home.
Kiaran McLaughlin asks for help writing a letter to an owner.
The OTB show is cut to a half-hour. I get asked to handicap the card – that’s funny. I hope I don’t affect anybody’s opinions.
I deliver the paper to the Horse Shoe, there’s half the exercise riders who won’t show up tomorrow.
My last stop is the Stakes Barn where I deliver papers; hand one to Tim Ice, David Fawkes and Murray Johnson. Ice looks at the cover, the one with Quality Road on it.
I beat him to the punch.
“It’s tomorrow’s cover that matters.”