Got a half-hour? Park your car, decline a golf-cart ride, walk a bit, then find a fence to lean on beside a maple tree. It's 6:09 in the morning and a cool breeze puffs under that maple tree next to that fence.
On the horsepath, road and racetrack shaded by that tree a morning unfolds.
"Morning sir." "How you doing?" "Tired already."
A worker from Eric Guillot's barn revs into gear approaching the pole. A minute or so later, Guillot's rider pulls up with a "Whew."
Mel Williams works on a lead change with a Tom Proctor horse.
Lorna Chavez, recovering from an injury, walks by on Lance the Pony. She's smiling, as ever, and offers a "Hey, it's a start." Was she with Songbird earlier?
A Tom Albertrani rider adjusts a stirrup at a walk. That can be an awful task on the wrong horse.
Jockey Manny Franco cuts the corner in his golf cart, headed to another horse in another barn.
Three Thoroughbreds hobby-horse the wrong way.
Two from Mike Maker's barn blaze along the rail, most likely from the gate.
A stabby chestnut warms out of the stiffness.
One from Keith Desormeaux's string pulls up after a gallop, no noseband, rider riding long.
Eight horseshoes create a beat, a rhythm, on asphalt.
Twenty-three horses occupy about a furlong of space on the backside.
Nancy the Paper Lady rolls by, working on her third hundred. Her next trip out of the van with a paper or a dozen will be her 82nd of the morning.
A sweaty Maker horse heads back to the barn.
Having deposited Lance back at his home with Graham Motion's string, Chavez glides by in her Jeep. It should be pink.
In a scene from any year over the past three decades, a resolute galloper - bay of course - from Bill Mott's barn chugs past.
Irad Ortiz Jr., your leading jockey, goes past in a cart.
The accents are Jamaican, Spanish and three types of English (American, proper English, Irish).
A big, stout bay from John Kimmel's barn walks past.
Linda Rice's riders wear neon. Workers.
Out on the track, a rider hollers "coming by" to another.
Chaplain Humberto, on the go as always, leaves with "Anything, give me a holler." He means it.
An assistant trainer offers an opinion on a horse, or perhaps a person, "He's always been squirrely."
The breeze picks up. How is it almost chilly after all that heat? The tree provided respite to Wise Dan, Havre de Grace and surely some legends from way back. Spanish Riddle could have picked grass under that tree. Same with Discovery, Equipoise, Jaipur, Lamb Chop, Open Fire, What A Summer. How old is a tree? How can you tell, without counting rings?
A long-backed trotter steps out.
Brian Lynch's kangaroo saddle pad flashes past.
The laundry truck - so many decals - heads to another customer.
Jimmy Toner's orange, a Motion horse uses its knee as a scratching post.
Some horses make it look easy, others work and work at it. No two breaths are quite the same.
"You waitin' for a bus?" Nope, just standin' here.
Tom Bush gets tall on the back of his cart to watch a worker, binoculars up.
Then there's a lull. Eleven horses, with lots of room. Space on the track, gaps in the beat. A single galloper . . . 35 seconds . . . then another horse . . . 15 seconds . . . then another . . . 51 seconds. Got a problem horse? Train at 6:32.
A bird screeches, not the hawk. More like a gull.
"Hiya, Lubo," someone says.
"Good girl," someone else says, while pulling up.
Two from the NC barn, in red and white, looking sharp, gallop together, in-step.
Chad Brown trainees, smooth, steady and in single file - 1 and 1A.
Roger Horgan and a McLaughlin horse float past. There's hardly a sound.
A restless horse bolts off the gap, across the road and up the path. He's agile anyway.
The leaves rustle again. Where is this breeze in town?
Another screech from above, that's the hawk for sure.
And the end of your half-hour.