The Inside Rail

“Miles, turn on channel 9705.”

“What?”

“Turn on 9705. Watch the turf race at Belmont.”

“Why?”

“Because I need you to pick out a nice-looking horse.”

“What kind of horse?”

“One that looks like a baseball player, a shortstop or a second baseman…”

“What kind of horse, Dad?”

“A baseball player, athletic, well-balanced, light on his feet…”

Miles turns off MLB Network, puts down The Fellowship of the Ring, his third book of the week, as the turf horses mingle behind the gate. I can hear John Imbriale count down the minutes to post time. And then I can’t. 

Miles takes over the call. 

“A third baseman, that’s what I’m going for…I like 5. I can’t see 1, well they only showed half of him. He’s the favorite. The 5 is the only one I’ve seen more than half of, I’m looking at half of 1, the top half, it’s hard to judge just by the top half. Now they’re in the gate. They’re off. I do like number 1. Now that I see him. He’s nice. He’s third. Now, number 1 is fading. Number 5 is moving. Number 6 is moving. I can’t see much of them, there’s a big bush in the way. Number 3 could win. Number 5 is getting closer. They are about the same place now. Number 5 is gaining. A little bit. A little bit. Or maybe not. Number 1 is going to win it. Yup, number 1 is going to win. That’s a nice horse, number 1. And Irad was riding him which helps. Number 6 was nice too, I think. The one who finished second was nice, number 2, yeah, number 2, he could really stretch out. Number 2 really stretched out. Number 2 ran in a very efficient way, but I liked number 1 better because he’s a prettier horse and has a better build. Number 2 stretches out especially far…”

“Thanks, Miles. Good work.”

It was an easy task. Number 2 was Gauguin, a German-bred turf router, who could be George Brett. Number 5 was Personal Time, a 5-year-old Janney/Phipps homebred, full brother to Derby winner Orb, he’s Ken Griffey Jr. Number 1 was Good Governance, a 4-year-old son of Kingman. He could be Brooks Robinson. The British-bred colt was making his first start since finishing second in the Saranac at Saratoga last summer. We were there then. We aren’t now. 

Life at home. Working from home. 

I have taken over the guest bedroom downstairs, moving out of the guest bedroom/office upstairs. More space and more distance from Miles’s bedroom, where he had been doing Zoom school for the final two months of the year. Adjacent offices worked for a bit, until he had Zoom gym class while I was trying to pry out an interview with Richard Mandella. I moved downstairs that afternoon. 

It’s nothing like an office, it looks more like an interior decorator and a turf writer ran into each other, dropped what they were doing and went their separate ways. Pastel colors. Toile curtains. Monogrammed sheets. Laptop. Backpack. Bound editions of The Special. 

This is not our Saratoga office in the old feed store, next to Fasig-Tipton, on East Avenue.  The view is decent, horses, but old retirees, Linda’s Blueberry, Border Agent and Three Steps Ahead instead of turf workers ripping past the quarter pole on the Oklahoma. I time this trio in coughs and yawns. 

No snacks stacked on folding tables. No water cooler. No navy blazer on a hangar. No picture of Allen Jerkens walking up the stretch after the Prioress, his final Grade 1. No fans walking home from the races and looking for a cold IPA. No Tom Law in the corner, no interns strewn across the main office and no Joe working from the next desk over. 

There is something comforting to hear your peers clacking on keys, then hesitating when the sparks won’t ignite, walking around in circles, getting another cup of tea, another handful of trail mix, wishing for a word, then bleeding out a sentence, then two, three, four, until they have a grip of what they’re trying to say. That won’t happen this year. The reality of Saratoga, or the lack of Saratoga, has hit me in the past few days. The Saratoga Special will be published from afar, we’ll do the best we can, but it won’t be the same. 

Today and I guess for the rest of the summer, Miles is my only coworker, in the den, next door. Ravenous about books, baseball, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he finished his earlier project, a summer writing assignment and clicked on the TV, automatically switching from 9705, now on the seventh race from Belmont Park, to MLB Network where commentators dream up things to talk about as they struggle to salvage some kind of season.

“Dad, all-time best lineup. Yankees. Go.”

“Catcher, Yogi Berra…first base, Lou Gehrig…second base, Willie Randolph…”

“Dad, Tony Lazzeri…”  

We compare the merits of Randolph, Lazzeri, Robinson Cano, Joe Gordon and a couple of guys who sounded more like New York horse trainers than New York Yankees. I lose any debate when it comes to baseball, whether it’s the all-time best lineups for the Montreal Expos, the Birmingham Black Barons or the New York Yankees. We go with Lazzeri and move onto shortstop. Jeter, of course.