Cup of Coffee: Talking Race

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Travers Day has come and gone. Afleet Express emerged as the best new recruit to the 3-year-old class. Owned by Gainesway Farm and Martin Cherry, the Afleet Alex colt put it together when he needed it most. 

Afleet Express’ connections climbed the mountain. Jimmy Jerkens, who lost Quality Road last year, won the big one. Jockey Javier Castellano continued a breakout summer. Gainesway Farm, in the business of selling horses, kept one for a change and was rewarded.

Others slid down the mountain. I felt bad for Leon Blusiewicz when Admiral Alex trailed, at least he had a dream, even if it a was a crazy one. I felt bad for Super Saver, a Derby winner beating just one. I felt bad for Nick Zito, an inch away from salvaging a tough meet.

The Travers, like always, produced storylines of effort, frustration, risk, commitment, dedication, luck and decisions. For a writer, the $1 million stakes produced quotes. So many quotes, those moments in time when a horseman says something that makes my digital voice recorder rattle in my grip.


“That guy over there is a sacrificial lamb. That’s what happens to you when you try to tell them what to do. He proved that you’re better off doing whatever they want.”

A trainer, who was forced to run a horse in a spot picked by an owner, pointing to Jimmy Jerkens,

who lost Quality Road and others last year

“Bob McMillin, who’s now passed on, bred his mare Expanse who he had in partnership with James Devaney. It was a big move, Bob was not entirely comfortable with the $40,000 stud fee but it came to fruition and this is the colt. We sold the colt for him at Keeneland January as a short yearling and he was bought to pinhook by my good friend Brian Graves at $245,000. He came back in September and was an RNA as a yearling. He put him in training with Niall Brennan, he always told us he could run, he went to the 2-year-old sale in Keeneland and it didn’t happen. And, here we are. What a great job by Jimmy Jerkens and what a terrific ride. All credit to the horse, he really matured and grew up today. It’s a huge win for the farm, for the syndicate and I’m sure Mr. Graham Beck is looking down right now, smiling at this outcome.”

Gainesway Farm’s Michael Hernon


“Who was tougher than his sire? He was like one of the old-timers, he came running down the stretch in the Belmont; I hadn’t seen a horse do that since I’ve been alive, in the Belmont, it’s usually who out-staggers the others. That’s what Damascus and those horses would do when I was watching them on TV as a kid.”

Jerkens, about Afleet Express’ sire Afleet Alex


“It took awhile to slow him down, the kid who gets on him does a great job, he’s been with me a long time, he’s gotten on all my better horses. You need the good exercise riders to win races like this.”

Jerkens about exercise rider Kelvin Pahal


“He would say, ‘What the hell are you asking me for, I never win?’ “

Jerkens, about asking his father Allen for advice

“In any race, you’re always looking for something different. I did everything, I used all my jockey ability. I cut the corner, I saved all the ground and gave him the opportunity. At the sixteenth pole, I switch my stick to my left hand. In the last couple of yards, I think ‘if you hit him or don’t him, it’s not going to make a difference.’ You have to push in the same balance, the same rhythm, hopefully you get it. Go with the flow, you know?”

Javier Castellano

about winning the photo finish in the Travers


“This game is very tough, sometimes you’re at the top, sometimes you’re at the bottom. I learned from my dad, he was a jockey, I see my dad have a lot of success but I see my dad make a lot of sacrifices to win a race. You have to appreciate everything you have and be thankful.”

Castellano, after winning his second Travers


“That was a good nostril. Unearthly feeling. We had the most wonderful trainer, the most wonderful jockey and a really great stallion on the farm. It’s huge, absolutely huge. Last year he had the Hopeful winner at Saratoga and now he has the Travers winner at Saratoga. My father would be really, really happy. It’s a pity he didn’t hang around a little longer.”

Gainesway Farm’s Antony Beck, after winning

the Travers. His father, Graham Beck, died in July


“He was perfect in the paddock. Everything’s got to go perfect to win one of these. It has to go perfect.”

Jerkens, on his way back to the barn