It’s about 4:40 in the afternoon Travers Day and the field is heading from the paddock to the track for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. I’m covering the race for The Saratoga Special and I’m fixated on the Aiden O’Brien runner Idaho.
I watched him walk into the paddock and saddle. The horse was full of himself, walking with his neck bowed and occasionally throwing his head around. His dark mane draped over the left side of his neck and his tail was cut neatly at the bottom. His coat on his hindquarters had a pattern combed into it. He bounced around the paddock and started to sweat, but he looked exactly like a European shipper should look before a $1 million race.
I followed Idaho out of the paddock down the path toward the track. Idaho had a pony in front of him while his groom and Aiden O’Brien assistant trainer T.J. Comerford led him. An outrider followed them up and I walked to his left. I watched as the Travers Day crowd took notice of jockey Ryan Moore. They were excited to see one of the best riders in the world and they let him know it. Shouts emanated from the fans lining the fences, offering welcoming messages, drinks later that night, and demands he win the race for them.
About halfway to the main track, I started shaking my head and laughing at the absurdity of it all. Here I am, walking behind a multi-million-dollar horse, through a crowd of thousands of people on the biggest day of the meet at this historic venue. Me. Some guy who was on the other side of the fence just a few years ago.
“This is an amazing thing I get to do,” I thought and couldn’t help but smile.
As we made it closer to the track, I just kept thinking about how lucky I am to be able to do what I do here for The Special. I’m not the story, but I get to tell amazing stories about these horses, these people and this place. I don’t think of myself as a journalist or a reporter, I’m a storyteller.
I didn’t get to write about Idaho that day, but I did get to write about Sadler’s Joy, who became the first Grade 1 winner for Woodslane Farm’s Rene and Lauren Woolcott and got trainer Tom Albertrani off the duck at the meet.
Throughout the meet, I’ve told a host of other great stories.
I wrote about Bit Of A Legend, who won the $260,000 Joe Gerrity Jr. Memorial Pace at the harness track July 22. His trainer, Pete Tritton, shipped up for the race with no groom and no assistant. He didn’t have time for an interview in the winner’s circle, he had to go get the horse off the track. He invited me back to the paddock and we talked about his $1.7 million earner as the horse stood quietly in a stall gulping down a bucket of water.
I wrote about Voodoo Song, who won a claimer the first Saturday of the meet after setting a torrid early pace. He came back to win an allowance four days later in similar style and won again in allowance-optional company, setting all the fractions Aug. 23. He earned a shot to run in the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes the final Saturday and won that race, too, and again I was on the story.
I wrote about Miss Ella again winning the Caress Stakes for Graham Motion. She did it on a sloppy main track last year and a wet turf course this year.
I wrote about Coal Front, who stunned onlookers with his morning moves here last summer, but suffered a life-threatening injury before he made it to the races. Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Robert LaPenta gave the colt all the time he needed and Coal Front rewarded them with three straight wins to start his career, culminating in a victory in the Grade 2 Amsterdam July 29. Coal Front came back to finish fifth in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens on Travers Day.
I wrote about Paid Up Subscriber crushing her two rivals in the Grade 3 Shuvee Stakes by 32 1/2 lengths.
I wrote about racecar driver Steve Gasparrelli winning the Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya Stakes and a heat of the top alcohol funny car Northwest Nationals in the same day. It was his first at Saratoga as an owner. It wasn’t his first win behind the wheel.
I wrote about Green Mask blitzing his rivals in the 5 1/2-furlong Troy Stakes, winning in 1:00.49. He became the first Saratoga stakes winner for trainer Brad Cox.
I wrote about owner Alistair Fyfe getting his first Saratoga win with 2-year-old filly Romantic Babe. “This is it. This is all I care about. I’m so happy,” is how he put it.
I wrote about Randy Gullatt and Twin Creeks Racing winning the Grade 2 Adirondack with a daughter of their stallion Mission Impazible and a mare Gullatt trained, La Paz.
I wrote about Steve Asmussen’s Copper Bullet putting on a show in the paddock before dominating the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes. We called him, “The Boss,” in the headline. He earned that.
I wrote about Barclay Tagg schooling a maiden in the paddock of the Summer Colony Stakes.
I wrote about Barclay Tagg winning the Summer Colony Stakes with Verve’s Tale.
I wrote about Al Gold being the most popular man at the track after Aveenu Malcainu won the Funny Cide Stakes on Saratoga Showcase Day.
I did a stable tour with Ray Handal, who decided he wanted to be a trainer at age 10 and left home as soon as he was old enough on a quest to fulfill his dream. He had never touched a horse in his life when he rolled up to Jonathan Sheppard’s farm and starting learning from scratch. This year, he has over 20 horses at the Spa in just his second year out on his own.
I wrote about Ginger N Rye beating Miss Ella in the Smart N Fancy Stakes after taking an allowance earlier at the meet. She only started in the race because a Travers Day allowance didn’t fill. A year ago, I wrote about Fair Point beating Miss Ella in the Smart N Fancy Stakes after taking an allowance earlier at the meet. She only started in the race because a Travers Day allowance didn’t fill.
I wrote about how Francis Paolangeli’s simplistic approach to breeding has earned him three wins from nine starts at the meet. “Getting in the winner’s circle at Saratoga is an honor. Not everybody can do that and I’m really humbled by it,” he said.
I wrote about New York’s Finest earning his third win at the meet after breaking through the starting gate and breaking his bridle. The gate crew pulled a spare out of a box on the gate (wonder how long that had been waiting there unused?), rigged the gelding up after they put him back in the starting stall, and the 3-year-old streaked to another Spa win.
And I wrote this column. And that wraps my third year writing for The Special. Wonder what I’ll get to write about next year?