Cup of Coffee: Winding Down

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Trainers flee like thieves in the night, no goodbyes, barns simply empty from one morning to the next.

I throw three copies of The Special on a wooden shelf, then look up and realize it’s the only thing around, “Whoa, I guess they shipped out.”

Broken straw bales scattered like tumbleweeds. The hanging flowers, drying and wilting, left behind like a hitchhiker at a crossroads. Baling twine hangs loose, blowing in the wind. A rub rag hangs from the wooden rail around the wash rack, too dirty to ship, it’ll be there next year.

Phone numbers, scrawled on the wooden door of the tack room have already begun to fade. The kids are back in school, trying to adjust to watching a clock again, instructions for their long-forgotten paper route is all that is left behind. An auburn-colored leaf fell from the maple tree hanging over Graham Motion’s barn and landed in my golf cart Friday morning.

It is time to go. As excited as we are to get here, we are just as excited to leave. As excited as the locals are to see us, they are just as excited to see us go. That’s Saratoga. That’s Life.

And, yes, this is part of my long goodbye.

One issue to go. Three cards to go. Enough races, opportunities and chances to get out – or get deeper. Be careful. Bettors, manage your money as you have all meet, don’t try to correct your mistakes simply because the clock has just about ticked. Trainers, take the losses just like you’ve learned. Jockeys, wait for the hole to open, it always does.

Four stakes today, two Sunday and another two Monday. Now, that’s a crescendo.

Bursting at the seams, Wise Dan finally gets to run, returning in the Bernard Baruch, a Grade 2 stakes scheduled as the fifth race on the 12-race card. The two-time Horse of the Year has come around in the past few weeks.

So around, trainer Charlie LoPresti thought about training him on Clare Court the other day, just to try to keep the lid on the pot. All trainers worry about their moves, LoPresti has anguished this meet, trying to make the right decisions for Wise Dan. After colic surgery this spring – and 21 wins and $6.8 million before that – Wise Dan owes us nothing. If he wins, it’ll be like he’s never left. If he loses, it’ll be like watching your little brother get bullied.

Miss Behavior will try to wipe away Phil Schoenthal’s tears from the Test. Oh, who are we kidding, he’ll be crying again if she wins the Prioress. The Maryland-based trainer’s best horse stretched to 7 furlongs in the Test, succumbing to Sweet Reason’s long, steady rally to finish second.

A month later, Miss Behaviour returns, a furlong shorter and without Sweet Reason. Friday morning, Schoenthal stood outside Wayne Catalano’s barn, watching Miss Behaviour, “I’m not trying to be a downer, but the reality is, by the odds, I’ll probably never have a horse as good as her ever again. It’s almost bittersweet, to think you’re at the pinnacle of your career.” Guess we know why he was crying after the Test.

Brian Lynch re-crosses the border with Clearly Now. The Woodbine-based trainer has plucked purses all meet, but don’t think he’s confused about what lies in wait for his Belmont track record holder, “Certainly, there’s a few Grade 1 winners in there and with a big field like that at Saratoga, you’ve got to respect everyone.” It’s called the Northway, not the freeway.

Moreno and Itsmyluckyday clash again in the Woodward. Trainers Eric Guillot and Eddie Plesa don’t have better players in their barns. Now or ever. Just like LoPresti, Schoenthal and Lynch, the two trainers send out their best. Friday morning, Guillot hosted a gumbo lunch at his barn, it’s his way of dealing with the nerves. Writers, grooms, van agents, vets, hotwalkers – every patch on this crazy quilt – stood in line for a ladle full of the Louisiana soup (“It’s not stew,” Guillot kept telling us). The gumbo is delicious, the hospitality even better. Saratoga survives on the afternoons, but it’s the mornings I’ll miss.

Sunday, Cat’s Claw goes for her second stakes of the meet in the Glens Falls. Maiden winners try to become stakes winners in the Spinaway. Tom Durkin will throw his last pitch. Goodbye, maestro.

Monday, I Spent It and Competitive Edge settle who’s the best juvenile of Saratoga while Storm and Beyond Smart put three-race win streaks on the line in the Saranac.

Sixteen thousand dollar claimers going 7 furlongs will pull the curtain Monday evening as the sun sets on another Saratoga race meet. 

Lopresti yearns to finish it off strongly.

“I sure hope you walk back to the test barn with me like you’ve done all those other times,” LoPresti said to me last week.

That’s about all there is left to do, Charlie.