Never tell a bald man he’s going bald. He already knows.
Dallas Stewart knew he hadn’t won a stakes at Saratoga. For 11 years, he knew it on the drive from Louisville to Saratoga Springs and he knew it on the long drive home. Stewart has a Breeders’ Cup victory with Unbridled Elaine, a Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever, a Keeneland training title and he’s won plenty of races at Saratoga. But races are races. Stakes at Saratoga, now they’re special. And for Stewart, elusive. He never told anybody, only a few people knew he was stakeless in Saratoga.
Stewart’s wife, Yvette, knew.
“Every year I’d leave out of here and say, ‘damn, another year,’ ” Stewart said Monday morning. “My wife would be like, ‘Another year and you didn’t win a stake up there.’ I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that.’ ”
Stewart, 48, broke his stakes maiden at Saratoga when Macho Again bumped and bruised his way to upset Sunday’s Jim Dandy.
“Yvette, I won the stake.”
Stewart, in shorts and sneakers, bounced down the horsepath the day after the Jim Dandy. His phone rang nonstop. A Storm Cat filly galloped like a train on the Oklahoma. Randy Romero (4,294 career victories) and Kenny Bourque (2,467) had his sets ticking along. Life was good.
“My first stakes winner here. I never told anybody that. Nobody ever asked,” Stewart said. “I had a filly run second in the Spinaway, third in the Test, Dollar Bill was third in the Travers. Finished third in the Alabama, Silverfoot ran well in the Sword Dancer, just not good enough. You just run into some good horses.”
It took a scrappy gray colt who finds trouble quicker than an idle teenager to break Stewart’s drought in added-money events. Stewart put the heat on Macho Again this spring. The late-developing colt won the Derby Trial, then ran down everybody not named Big Brown in the Preakness before finding 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes non-palatable. Three hard races in six weeks convinced Stewart to keep it on the light side leading to the Jim Dandy. Macho Again worked three times at Churchill Downs and came to town looking for a scrap.
“That was probably the best I’ve ever had a horse run for me,” Stewart said. “It’s up there with Unbridled Elaine, Lemons Forever. He was going to find a way to win, it didn’t matter. He beat some good horses, anybody would love to train any of those horses in there.”
Sure, Stewart conditioned the horse and Julien Leparoux juked and jived Macho Again to victory Sunday, but they couldn’t have done it without a man whose job involves horsepower of a different sort.
Give the save to Vinny Petrillo, a NYRA parking attendant normally stationed at the at the clubhouse entrance by Clark’s Cottage.
On Aug. 2 of last year, Petrillo stopped to talk to some friends before making his way to his station, when he heard clattering and then saw scattering.
A gray 2-year-old colt, blinkers on, dumped his rider, ran through the paddock, through the turnstiles, got cut off by a car and then galloped at Petrillo. Like a lone safety faced with Jerome Bettis busting into the open field, Petrillo was the only man between the runaway and Union Avenue.
He raised his arms and waved like a catcher after a foul ball. Macho Again skidded to a stop in front of Petrillo, who reached out and grabbed the dangling reins.
Your horse, sir.
“I wasn’t paying any attention, I was over at the owner/trainer lot talking to some friends when I saw the horse coming down the road. I put up my arms and he slowed down and I grabbed him and that was it,” Petrillo said. “I didn’t know it was Macho Again until Dallas told me when I saw him at Belmont. Everybody said I was nuts, that I could have been killed, for doing it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. Parking cars is about it, parking cars. It’s the first horse I ever caught.”
Stewart remembers it as well as the stretch run of the Jim Dandy.
All the trainer could think about that day was the call he’d have to make to owner Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds.
“I’m riding my pony, thinking he’s out on Union Avenue in those blinkers,” Stewart said. “I’m thinking how I’m going to call Terry. ‘Terry, we had a bad day here . . . ’ The horse never got a scratch on him. Never got a scratch. He was flying through there. Then he hit his brakes and jogged back through the parking lot and your boy grabs him. He said, ‘What do I do with him?’ I said, ‘Just hold him, don’t turn him loose.’ He had never touched a horse in his life. He loves him. He saved his life.”