The Inside Rail

She was the star of the show. Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivering her poem, The Hill We Climb.
 
You can watch it here or slow down and read it below. 
 
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn't always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn't broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we'll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we're to live up to our own time
Then victory won't lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we've made
That is the promise to glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it's the past we step into
and how we repair it
We've seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children's birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021. 

President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. The 46th president of the United States of America.

Whether you like him or not, believe in him or not, voted for him or not, Biden represents a turning point for our country. One chapter (and that’s all it was) closes. Another one opens. 

Let’s go forward. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021.

The body. The mind. 

Ticked over 50 miles Friday on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge. A mental check. As Tom Law would say, “You are 5 percent of the way there.” The cheerleader of the team, he would never think or say, “95 percent still to go, buddy” or worse, “You’ve still got 950 miles to go there, chubby.” Nah, to be a runner, you need to be an optimist or at least think optimistically when it comes to running. 

The 50-mile barrier felt good. Then, I didn’t run Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That didn’t feel good. Like always, all the reasons, right? Too tired. Too cold. Too busy. 

Back at it yesterday, needing to get back on the wheel. Mentally, three days off is torture. Physically, it’s a blessing. The first few steps are different, a bit of a bounce, an energetic jolt, a lightness to the footfall, rather than the thud of last week. Progress, brother, progress. 

Explored a new route, left out of the driveway, left on Pot House, across Foxcroft, straight (is this still Pot House?), along the paved road (the only drawback) to Hibb’s Bridge, left, and another left on Leith Lane, back to Pot House and home. The Garmin beeps at one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and stop it seven point five. Over an hour. The mental game. The physical challenge. The body. The mind. 

Monday, January 18, 2021.

Happy Birthday, Sheila. The middle sister. The Bring-Dad-to-Saratoga sister. Delaney, her daughter, goes back to school today. Not much of a birthday present. There will be tears. 

Barn chores. Miles off from school today, slept until noon after staying up until midnight watching Black Planther. It just supplanted Cast Away at 15 on his “all-time” list. Twelve Angry Men still on top. Casablanca second. 2001 Space Odyssey third. 

I’m trying to accomplish something – anything – between morning and afternoon barn chores. Working from home, squeezing in assignments and tasks, I never feel finished, rarely feel focused. That’s how I would describe 2020. Living with constant distraction, a to-do list running the gamut from selling a share in Queens Empire to calling Sheila to reheating a story about Jonathan Sheppard to somehow penning a note to Michael Fanone of the DC Metropolitan Police. Yeah, that’s on my list. 

Need to complete a few miles on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge today. That will help clear the mind, refocus, at least check off something tangible, something real, for the day. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021. 

Completed 6 miles Friday, Training Center Route left with detour loops through Banneker Elementary to get to 50 on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge. On target. 

Finished Tom Seaver, a terrific life, by Bill Madden. Started it Saturday. Finished it Sunday. January style. Three books down. Ahead of schedule. Annie and Miles uncertain, borderline miffed, that I fell into my safe zone with a sports book. I have asked for a break. They are parsimonious with breaks. The Hobbit, next. 

Annie hunted Kissin Conquest Sunday. The 19-year-old hasn’t lost his enthusiasm. Miles hunted Jazzy, a pony of Haley Walsh’s. Fun for them. I drove the van. Eagle Poise took a nap, laughing to himself. 

No running today. 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Finished A Prayer for Owen Meany in the lonely, quiet hours of last night, this morning.

The no man’s land of life, not yesterday and not tomorrow, when everyone has gone to bed, when the TV has drifted into (more) oblivion programming, when the cat sleeps and the icemaker is the only one at work. It’s a good time to finish a book, you know that moment in a book when it switches from ‘too far away to finish’ to ‘I can get this done.’ That happened last night, this morning, somewhere along page 570 on the 617-page journey. John Irving is sparing with his chapters, only nine on the Owen Meany journey. Long chapters, on one hand, are daunting. On the other, there are no natural stopping points, no exit ramps on the highway. Once I got into the final chapter, The Shot, on page 510, there was no turning back, no reminder to go to work or go to bed. 

Two down. January 16 (or 15, depending on how you look at it). Miles is concerned about my pace. He just handed me The Hobbit. I was looking for Tom Seaver and I got Bilbo Baggins.  

Watching the fourth at Warwick. Fans lined up along the outside rail. Bundled against the cold, they look like walkers who happened upon a horse race, stopping for a moment to watch a fleet of novice hurdlers. In a time when distraction is paramount, horses running in a field will certainly suffice. 

Friday, January 15, 2021. 

No miles today. Read a few pages in Owen Meany early, 115 still to go. Miles decided on the 615-page book as my second one on the quest for 52. I need a sports book, a collection of short stories, a self-help 100-pager, next. 

Rode Eagle Poise for the last time this season. Too fresh. Too difficult. He demands attention, diligence, commitment. I can’t give him any of the three at the moment. I am reminded yet again what makes a Grade 3 stakes winner – a relentless work ethic, an unbreakable constitution. Not exactly ideal for a pleasure horse. 

Raining. Funny how rain sounds the same but feels differently. April, October, the dead of summer, like nectar to the Gods. In January, just rain, cold, unrelenting rain without purpose, without meaning. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021. 

The Pearl Izumi jacket, purchased with Rowdy Irishman’s 1997 Grand National money, a rare splurge for me back then, slides on like a worn vinyl into a paper sleeve. Over the black North Face long sleeve long underwear shirt, the one in which I ran the New York City Marathon in 1997. 

The rip on the left side, from a rogue dog on a Fair Hill trail so many years ago, catches my left thumb again. Like always. Every time. The draw string along the bottom hangs off the right side, no tension, no function. I can’t even find it on the left side, perhaps, it went the way of the dog. 

The zipper, rusted and ruined with sweat I guess, goes up but doesn’t go down, I slide the jacket above my head and shimmy into it, yanking the clutchy zipper to my chin. The curved bottom falls about an inch too short, after someone threw it in the dryer somewhere along the line. 

A nearly fluorescent orange bib and Velcro cuffs for morning and evening runs on blind roads, blind trails, from the twists and turns of the 5-mile Trail in Saratoga to the cinder tracks of the White Clay Creek Preserve in Landenberg to the flat, sand parks in Camden, S.C. It’s seen them all. Like an old friend, a comrade in arms, a layer, a protection, a barrier, a blanket. The second, third, fourth layer, always the last layer. Depending on the wind, the chill, the mood. So many miles behind it and so many miles ahead. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021.

Taking the day off from running. Ran hard yesterday. Went to bed late, got up early. Not the best equation for my stability. Climbed to page 426 on Owen Meany. I’m balancing reading and running, at least in January. The wheels tend to fly off as the months mount. A normal Saratoga – eight weeks of racing and writing – tend to knock it to the curb. Hood up. Jacked up. Red sticker in the window. Who knows if a normal Saratoga is on the ledger this year? Feels like it’s closer to the ledge. 

Trump impeached for the second time. Talk about jacked up. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021.

Watching the news, disgusted by the footage of the rioters. Shocking behavior, even for Trump’s mob. So sad to see our country in such disarray. Hard to blame the media on this one. 

Writing cutlines for the NSA book, texting and calling trainers, jockeys, owners trying to indentify men and women behind masks. Crazy year. The photos paint the picture of a bleak year, the sport still churning, offering a stand for the band while the seats stay empty. Hard to see if it's going to be a different concert in the spring.  

Down and back run tonight, past Gordie Keys, past Piedmont Kennels – hounds at attention as I passed – and to the top of the hill. I hate turning around when running but the light was leaving. A little over 6 miles. Felt OK. Not great. But OK. Thirty-nine in the books. Ahead of schedule on running. Behind schedule on reading. 

The 1,000 mile challenge has already been successful – sharing the highs and lows with friends. So important these days. 

Goodbye to Prince Khalid Abdullah, the brilliance and brains behind Juddmonte. What a legend. What a legacy. Has anybody ever done it better? Frankel, Enable, Dancing Brave, Dansili, Known Fact, Arrogate, Zafonic, Empire Maker...and so many others. I gave Eagle Poise, bred and once owned by Juddmonte, a longer pat on the neck this afternoon. 

Monday, January 11, 2021.

Banged out another 5 yesterday. Training Center Left, with a dogleg down 611. Ran fast. Felt good. Thirty-two in the books for the year. On target. 

Talked to Willie McCarthy about his upcoming adventure to Australia. A champion jockey, a veteran of many miles, rattling the bottom of his bucket. I empathize and understand his point of life. Desire still churning in his belly, disillusioned with the sport here, looking for a new challenge. I hope he finds closure. Satisfaction. 

Sunday, January 12, 2021. 

Sunday Quote of the Day:

“I like the one with the white sideburns.” 

– Miles Clancy, 12, spotting a horse with white cheek pieces at Southwell. 

Slogged another 3 miles last evening after walking 2 miles with Annie and Miles. No podcast, just the natural world. Cows asking for afternoon grub, a few errant gun shots, squirrels scampering from stone walls to trees, a couple of neighbors saying hello while getting outside, escaping the madness of the moment. 

Saturday, January 11, 2021

A relaxing morning. I guess the upside of the pandemic is the ability to slow down and enjoy mornings on the couch. Strong coffee. European racing on the tele, some free reading, a little free writing. It’s my stolen time. 

Ran 5 miles last night, Pot House Road out and back. Listening to Jerry Seinfeld podcast with Tim Ferriss. Fascinating insight into the writing process. ‘I’m going to write all day.’ ‘No, you’re not, nobody can write all day.’ Give yourself a time. One hour. Thirty minutes. Whatever you decide. Like working out, nobody is going to work out all day. Forty-five minutes. ‘OK. I can handle that.’

Plowing through A Prayer for Owen Meany. If I can offer one piece of advice as a father, it’s to create things you can share, avenues of communication, knots and branches on this tree of life. Miles is more into my “52 Book” quest than I am, it’s not even close. It’ something we can share, something we can talk about, something we can engage in as he grows up and I grow old. He checks my page count, asks me what I think, plans the next book. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be books and a ridiculous quest of reading 52 in a year – Miles hasn't said a word or asked a question about the 1,000-Mile Challenge – It can be anything. Just make sure it’s something. 

Friday, Januaray 9, 2021.

A tumultuous week comes to a close. 

An assault of the Capitol, incited by Trump. A riot. An insurection. In a four-year term of worsts, is this the worst? It's hard to rank rancor. This, like all the other stains should stand as a reminder; a testament of allowing a tyrant to run roughshod, of allowing a racist to rule the room, of allowing short term gain (hey, my 401K is up!) to overpower decency and law. 

Twitter has blocked Trump, too little, too late. Education secretary Betsy DeVos has resigned, too little, too late. Transportation secretary Elaine Chao has resigned, too little, too late. Special envoy to Northern Ireland and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has resigned, too little, too late. Lindsey Graham waves his arms and delivers an impassioned speech, too little, too late. And on and on. 

Now that the bully is busted, people stand up to him, distance themselves from him and perhaps, I’m guilty as well, I write more about it now. The damage is done. For four years, we asked, ‘What will it take for people to stand up to him?’ Well, it took a siege on the Capitol for some. Not all. 

Thursday, January 8, 2021.

I turned off the news. 

As for the 1,000-mile challenge. 

Ran 5 miles Tuesday, after skipping Sunday and Monday, the usual Training Center Loop. Left, instead of right. Left is so much easier. Hard to believe, it’s the same distance. 

Journaled for 10 minutes after listening to Dr. Jim Loehr on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, writing in cursive, I have no idea how to do a capital I in cursive. Like, it’s completely escaped me. I haven’t Googled it yet, thinking it might come to me. 

Ran another 4.19 yesterday at Hill School. The gravel road loop, around the campus twice and fast enough to make the pick-up line for Miles. One car behind me! Whew, under the tag. 

Nothing today. 19.2 miles for the first week. I’m on target. Actually just did the math, I’m 1.6 miles short of the target. I can make that up this weekend. 

Finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Book one complete. 51 to go. Easy read, obviously, but entertaining, captivating, a complete escape. Fun to share it with Miles. 

“Perhaps brooms, like horses, could tell when you were afraid.” 

Classic line. 

Now on to A Prayer for Owen Meaney, John Irving. Miles’ choice. Don’t worry, he has not read it, just thinks I should. Long. Very long. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021.

Is this the nadir?

A word I use far too often (thank you, Joe and Tom), but accurate tonight. Is this the nadir of the Donald Trump presidency? Rioters stormed the Capitol. The Capitol of the United States of America. 

One dead. 

For me, it all started in Charlottesville. Read For Heather. 

One dead. 

The body count of our democracy is far higher. 

When Trump was elected, I woke up Miles and he looked at me, hesitant, knowing it wasn't looking positive when he went to bed. I told him, had to tell him. It was a somber morning, trying to explain to my son that bullies win. 

Four years later, Trump is still bullying. Or trying to bully. He has lost. It’s as simple as that. It’s over. But, still he incites violence, spreads lies, spews hatred, damages our country yet again.  

Whether you like him or not. Voted for him or not. Support him or not. It’s over. Please let tonight be the nadir of Trump. The nadir of our country. 

We move forward. Together, we move forward. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021.

Elvis has left the building. 

Jonathan Sheppard announced his retirement. Only a few weeks after saying, “I’m not telling you I’m quitting unless they throw me out,” for a feature in Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred. I guess they threw him out. The monthly magazine is out. As a writer, I’m annoyed. As a steeplechase fan, I’m saddened. I hope he can enjoy retirement, although, it won’t come naturally to the greatest trainer our sport will ever see. Sheppard stands alone, a gamechanger, a tactician, a magician with a horse. Beyond the horses, he was able to attract a loyal, hard-working team, like a cult, they walked through fire for him. They called him Governor. Simply, Governor.  

I won two races for Sheppard. That’s all. Both on Nobelist in 1991. A catch ride, that’s all. Without a ride on the weekend of International Gold Cup and St. Louis Steeplechase, Ursula Cox, a one-horse trainer in the Midwest, called to ask if I would ride Glossy Image in a maiden claimer at St. Louis. I rarely turned down a ride, but I was turning this one down. Little form, long trip, one ride, it didn’t make any sense, I was letting her down easy when she said, “I’m just honored a jockey of your caliber would even consider riding my little filly.” “I’ll see you there,” I said, always a sucker for flattery. A jockey of my caliber? Remember, I didn’t have a ride on the weekend. Not one. I had little caliber. 

Glossy Image somehow slipped through the inside and wound up in a stalking spot as we headed down the backside, I took a look to see Benny Guessford cruising on a Sheppard freight train, then heard the noise, the chaos. I looked back and saw horses scattering and Guessford high up in the air without a horse underneath him. Glossy Image won. Guessford banged his shoulder and I had a full plate. Sheppard looked around for a jockey. There was me, there was a kid with a velvet helmet cover, a woman with a hunt saddle and an old man with his whip tucked in his boot. I slid on the chocolate and light blue silks of Powhatan, what an honor, and won a maiden claimer on Nobelist. What a thrill. To win one for Jonathan Sheppard. I rode him back two weeks later and won an allowance race at Morven Park, beat Hurler and Graham Alcock. Nobelist ran back at Fair Hill in the novice stakes on hard ground and broke down. That was it, my career for an icon. Sure, there were other rides, Yaw in the Breeders’ Cup, Guru Minister in the Dueling Grounds stakes, a few other catch rides but nothing more than riding fees and disappointments. 

As a writer, we clashed early and often. I remember typing a letter he wrote to Steeplechase Times, the words killing my keyboard and singeing my soul, “…perhaps it is time for Sean Clancy to stop bringing down the sport and leave it to others who have spent our lives building it up…” That stung. We got over it, eventually, and wound up with a shared respect for each other, or I hope so. We covered all his championships and all his stakes since we began Steeplechase Times in 1994 and all his Saratoga exploits since we started The Saratoga Special in 2001. I remember walking to the Santa Anita Track Kitchen with him after Forever Together won the Breeders' Cup in 2008, my tape recorder running. "Where does one read a chart of the race other than on that thing called the Internet." Old school in a new world. 

By the end, he trained a few horses for Riverdee, winning the Far Hills maiden with Yellow Mountain, a couple of flat races with Mythmaker, a maiden claimer with Ebullience. It was an enriching experience, a long, long way from Nobelist and even longer way from that letter he sent to the Times. 

Monday, January 4, 2021.

Barn duty.

Every Monday. There are moments when it’s comforting, therapeutic, bucolic. There are moments when it’s arduous, torturous, mind-numbingly dull. And cold. And wet. Today felt like a little of both. Many decisions. No disasters. A success in the horse business. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Sunday Long Read lands in my inbox each week. Lands and looms. Then simmers. And many times, slumbers. 

Today, editor Don Van Netta Jr. slammed the hammer down with his opening salvo, “Welcome to 2021! Bad news: you're already behind on that 'read more' resolution. Good news: We're here to help you catch up." 

This week’s Long Read includes a bucatini shortage in Grub Street to cruise ship suicides in Bloomberg Businessweek to a Pete Hamill tribute in Politico. After each one, the editors give you a sense of commitment, five minutes for Hamill, 95 minutes for Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days in Harper’s. Now, that’s a commitment. I read Dan Barry’s postscript on the incomparable Hamill, a writer’s writer, a journalist’s journalist, a New Yorker to the marrow.

It took me 3 minutes, 19 seconds. 

I’m ahead of schedule. 

Saturday, January 2, 2020.

Another five in the books.

Listened to Tim Ferriss podcast with Dr. Jim Loehr, inspiring, insightful. Dan Jansen, what a story. Journal in cursive. Eight words. Plenty to think about, plenty to learn. Warmer today. Same route, the other way, right and a bunch of lefts, tougher direction. Headwind through the last mile, uphill, legs heavy from yesterday. But it’s in the books.

In life, you simply connect with people. I connect with Tom Law. Always have. Way back when we were peers writing for different publications, all the way to now, when we write for one publication, well, one publishing company. I just like his style, his approach, his outlook on life. He works hard, but always with perspective, a laugh, a steadiness, a positiveness that many times escapes me. I guess one of the things I missed the most about 2020 was spending two months with Tom and Joe in Saratoga. 

When my 5 miles posted on Strava (which is all new to me), Lawman gave me kudos, a thumb’s up and offered a few words of encouragement. “1 percent of the way there.” 

Could that be right? Math isn’t my strength. Ten miles is 1 percent of 1,000 miles… Really? As Ray Dalio says, “Set audacious goals.” The only way way to reach an audacious goal is one step at a time. “One percent of the way there.” Sounds better than, “Ninety-nine percent to go.”

Thanks, Lawman. On our way to two percent.  

Friday, January 1, 2021. 

Happy New Year’s. 

By the Numbers. A personal By the Numbers.

1,000. Miles. That’s the goal for 2021. Run 1,000 miles. It began with Tom Law’s humble brag of completing 1,000 miles in 2020. Let’s just say I did not run 1,000 miles in 2020. One day in the books of 2021 and I’ve run 5 miles. The usual loop from the farm, left out the driveway, right, right, right, right, through Middleburg Training Center, right on St. Louis Road and right on Snake Hill. Just a shade under 5 miles so I run a short loop around the farm. Done. 995 to go. The 1,000 Mile Challenge is on – Tom Law, Joe Clancy, Jamie Potter, Brent Harris, Tim Keefe…who else is in?

52. Books. That’s the goal for 2021. Read 52 books. One a week. Disappointingly, I have not read enough books in my life. Going way back to grade school when my attitude stifled any enjoyment of Animal Farm, 1984, Romeo and Juliet, Tale of Two Cities and all the others. Since then, I’ve purchased more books than I’ve read. Started way more books than I finished. This year, that changes. 52. One a week. Miles has stacked up a pile for me. 

165. Pounds today. As Annie says, “Don’t forget, I fell in love with you when you were 138 with your tack.” I’ll try to get to 158 with my laptop.

0. Alcoholic drinks in January. An annual tradition started three or four years ago. Time to recalibrate. 

40. Watch 40 days of racing – live – at Saratoga. May the world recalibrate. 

365. Days of writing. Just write something every day. Anything. About running, reading, not drinking, watching races at Saratoga…

That’s a start.