The Inside Rail

Contributions from TIHR co-founder, editor and writer Sean Clancy.

Hot Stuff and then Some

Mr. Hot Stuff. Once called the Paris Hilton of horse racing, you know, famous for being famous, he’s still the most famous horse in steeplechasing. Veteran seems to have lost a step with four subpar efforts this year, although he was only beaten 5 ¼ lengths in the Lonesome Glory. Is there any magic left?

I wrote that paragraph from a hotel room, a few miles from Far Hills Race Course, Friday night while analyzing the field for the Grade 1 Grand National. By Saturday afternoon, we learned that there was so much magic left.

Check Lists

Passes. Pin. Form. Sport coat. Cords. Boots. Tie. Dress shirt. Socks. Form. Binoculars. Laptop. Ipad. Voice recorder. Pen. Another pen. Mints. Sunscreen. Phone.

My Summer Rental with Penny Chenery

Four boys rented a top floor apartment on Circular Street in Saratoga Springs in the summer of 1994. Three future champion jockeys and an assistant trainer of the stars reserved the top floor in a white column mansion. You know the ones, porches, flowers, a mix of Victorian/Roman beauty and excess. Up a fire escape, along a set of stairs in the back, through a kitchen and finally up another steep set of hidden stairs, we were in the attic, at home, walking distance to the Parting Glass, cheap rent. It was sweet.

Goodbye

You’d think this would be the easy one. I’ve written this one every year since 2001, the final blank page, the final goodbye. The old feel-good, get-out-of-town farewell, the last swipe across the canvas, push back the chair, marvel for a moment and turn off the lights. As my Uncle Lew always said, “When you get up to go. Go.”

I’m going.

Missing You

It’s that time of year. Time for the annual ‘I’ll miss, I won’t miss.’

I’ll miss seeing The Special at the Morning Line Kitchen. I won’t miss The Special blowing off the tables at the Morning Line Kitchen.

I’ll miss Joe and Tom’s enthusiasm and respect for the craft. I won’t miss Joe and Tom walking around the office at midnight saying, “…only Sean’s column left.”

For the Moment

Aron Wellman lobbied hard. “That’s got to be the moment of the meet. Come on…it is for me.”

It was minutes after Catholic Boy provided Jonathan Thomas with his first win at Saratoga, in the Grade 3 With Anticipation no less. Your first win and your first stakes win at Saratoga, that’s a hell of a moment. Wellman, a client and a friend (perhaps not in that order) of Thomas’, helped to convince the 37-year-old to run a few horses off his Bridlewood base, the plan percolated, crawled and burgeoned with a stakes win at Saratoga.

Running

I started running again in Saratoga this summer. Well, running might be overstating it. More like slogging, plodding, bumbling.

Joe and Tom revved me up the first Sunday, three papers down, our first night off, we hit the 5-mile trail at the state park. Not having run in months, I pleaded for them to slow down (they didn’t) as I took short cuts through the woods, turning squares into bends, walking for moments when I was out of sight, trying to quiet the pain of my old friends. Spiral fracture in my right ankle, plate, seven screws – Beetleman, Saratoga, 2000. Torn lateral collateral ligament in my right knee – Abacus, Morven Park, 1992. And other ailments. I know how old horses feel, the injuries never go away, they are the first things to nag. I survived that first run, that’s all, just survived. There was no runner’s high.

Obscurity

Quint Kessenich coined the phrase back in 2002 when we would send the all-American-lacrosse-goalie-turned-cub-reporter loose on Saratoga.

“Do you know what you’re doing?” we asked.

“Root for obscurity,” Kessenich said, as he ran out the door, waving folded-up paper and a pen (he refused to use a tape recorder).

53 and Counting

I love the emails. The tips, the touts, the rants, the “I’ve got an idea for you…” notes that come across my screen. Once in a while they are mean-spirited, but most are good-natured, a suggestion, a thought, a story, a shared laugh, a shared anecdote. I received one from Kate and Jeff Harris about a decade ago, hell, maybe longer, about a woman who had been coming to Saratoga since the 60s. I jumped on it and met her. It filled a page.

I got another email last week, this one, from Jim Schaefer, a retired Ph.D who works mutuel window 1526. It was about a woman who had been coming to Saratoga since the 60s, he included a scanned copy of her hand-written letter about her upcoming trip to Saratoga.

Writer's Up

The jockeys have always intrigued me the most. Flat or jump, doesn’t matter. I’ve been there, I guess that’s part of it, trying to control adrenaline, normalize risk, temper hunger, stymie pressure, quell fear, stave off the simple march of time that gets all jockeys in the end. 

I’ve written about their good days, their bad days, their good sides, their bad sides, all of their good rides, a few of their bad rides. I’ve written about some of their beginnings and most of their endings. I’ve written about their crescendos and their crashes, their stakes and their suicides, their favorite horses and their least favorite races.