They called it the Annex.
Horses, kids, ponies, doughnuts, mud, bicycles, betting, red metal barrels boiling water, corn on the cob, Scotty’s Coffee Stand, cookouts, schooling in the morning, racing in the afternoon, Bubba, Jerome, Jimmy, Steeplechase Day, Saratoga Lake on off days, the quarry, the Rafters for those in the know . . .
Tom Voss ruled one corner. Mikey Smithwick along a row of stalls in the middle. Jonathan Sheppard, of course, reigned down one long line looking into the center. Burley Cocks set the example across the courtyard. Charlie Fenwick manned about six stalls. Dr. John Fisher split his stable flat and jumps. Paul Fout tried to train his horses and his son. Mickey Walsh had the shady side.
The heroes walked with four legs. Martie’s Anger. Zaccio. Red Brick House. Crag’s Corner. Running Comment. Flatterer. Happy Intellectual. Wild Sir. Blue Nearco. Double Reefed. Cookie. Bupersrose. Coconut Creek. Kingussie. Pala Mountain. Odd Man. Salvo.
I remember an adult forcing us to put six-foot orange flags on our bicycles. I snapped mine the first time I kicked my leg over the seat. My buddy Chip ran his bike into a parked car while whipping the fender, the flag wasn’t going to help him.
We’d make a few dollars walking hots, then see who could spend it the fastest.
We ran roughshod over the Annex and all of Saratoga for the month. Millers. Clancys. Fenwicks. Smalls. Fouts. Vosses. Sheppards. Walshes. Yeah, just a month back then. The good old days.
It was a great place to grow up. Generations and generations of horsemen.
Now, I drive my golf cart through the Annex and wonder where the next generation will come from, there are no kids there. Nah, just a few jumping people holding on to the tradition and the rest are flat stables, speaking more Spanish than English. I wonder where tomorrow’s riders will come from, where tomorrow’s trainers are today.
Who’s paying a 10-year-old kid a dollar to hold Hamid in a whirlpool like Mikey Smithwick did with me? Who’s carrying the buckets to the test barn, just in case. Where have all the kids gone?
• • •
Mike Ryan makes sure his children stay in the sport. He dangles horses in front of them. Sarah, Emily, Allaire and Sean will stay. That’s what happens when Dad picks out a horse for you and she wins the Adirondack at Saratoga.
Ryan and his business partner Niall Brennan selected Mani Bhavan at Keeneland September 2007. The Storm Boot filly cost $30,000 and she became the house horse. The idea was to buy her, train her, sell her, make a few dollars for the kids. She didn’t sell at two sales, so the kids became racehorse owners.
“We try to buy one every year as an investment. Try to spend between $30,000 and $50,000. We bought an Awesome Again colt a couple of years ago, we ended up running him, won a few races,” Ryan said. “We try to encourage their interest. Not that they need it, Allaire works for Kitty Taylor, Sarah works for Chase Bank doing equine financing, Sean’s been up here working for Fasig-Tipton, he says he wants to be a vet but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Sean and Allaire (named after Allaire du Pont) stood in for their sisters at Saratoga Wednesday. Allaire nearly cried. Sean was simply awestruck. The University of Kentucky junior had spent the last two weeks working on the Fasig-Tipton grounds crew. There are plenty of graduates from the grounds crew to win stakes at Saratoga. None while they were on the grounds crew.
“It’s an amazing feeling, that’s the only way to put it. I’m still shocked. I never thought this would happen,” Sean Ryan said, on his way back to the Fasig-Tipton dorm. “It’s only the fourth time I’ve been to the races here, not just a race, but a Grade II stakes.”
After the Grade II stakes, Mike Ryan celebrated in the Trustees’ Room with Niall and Stephanie Brennan, his wife Mary, his 2-year-old daughter Amelia (who celebrated with the salt and pepper shakers) and his co-owners Sean and Allaire.
“This is a great story, now, we’ve got to go find another one,” Mike Ryan said. “We’re working people, they don’t all turn out like this, when you get an opportunity like this, you’ve got to capitalize on it. I don’t know how the kids feel, but I’d like to cash in and put some money in the bank.”
Dad taught his son well.
“I think we all want to sell, turn it over and start something new,” Ryan said. “It would be awesome to keep running her but realistically we should sell. Dad taught us that.”