"Do you still write?"
That's what I was asked after the announcement of my brother's recent Joe Hirsch Award for the best article on American Pharoah's Belmont Stakes (if you're keeping score, that's two in a row for www.thisishorseracing.com).
Yes, I still write. But, Joe is writing better.
Following his David F. Woods Award, his Eclipse Award and the Charles Engelhard Award and some others, Joe's mantel is getting full. Well deserved. I like to say Joe spent so much time teaching me to write, he's now just getting back to his career (and he'd be proud to know I deleted two thats from that sentence). He'll be in Manhattan today, accepting the award.
And, yes, I'm still writing. Just without urgency, without the knife to my throat. It usually comes back at Saratoga and lasts for six weeks or so. I hope it comes back this year.
Saratoga Special graduate Quint Kessenich texted me a few weeks ago and asked me about the best preview I had ever written. I thought of Empire Maker and Frankel, the day I walked from the Oklahoma to the main track, just talking about horses. I thought of the time I sat on a picnic table with Gary Stevens, the day before he won the Travers on Point Given. I thought of the day I ran my golf cart into the telephone pole next to Bill Mott's barn, staring at a big bay horse who would have looked too perfect in a Munnings' original over a fireplace. I though it was a colt, it turned out to be Close Hatches. We walked together, same route, Oklahoma to the main track and home. She won the Personal Ensign the next day. If you read the story, you bet her in the Personal Ensign.
Those are the stories I like, when it's just me, a horse, a trainer, an exercise rider, maybe a jockey.
It won't be easy to find the solitude, the access, this week at Belmont Park. Although, it will be easier than last year when the Triple Crown hung in the balance.
I think back to my first beat, the Triple Crown in 1997, Silver Charm, Free House, Captain Bodgit and Touch Gold. It seemed like it was just me, a horse, a trainer, maybe an exercise rider. I watched Free House breeze before the Preakness, just his trainer Paco Gonzalez and I, standing along the seats, all by ourselves, near the eighth pole of an empty, cavernous Pimlico. Free House ripped furlongs like a kid rips dandelions, Paco clicked his watch as he streaked past each pole. He turned the four-letter word that starts with SH and ends in T into a 10-syallable word by the time the breeze had been completed.
He was distraught, watching his big horse go too fast. We got back to the barn and Paco's nerves settled as he watched Free House cool out like it was nothing but a jaunt.
I wrote my 800-word column for The Blood-Horse's website, unable to use the four letter word, but trying to convey it.
Of course, Joe - long before his awards but an award-winning brother - edited it.