Cup of Coffee: In Training

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I’m asked all the time, why don’t you train horses? My dad trained horses, my friends train horses, most of the jockeys I rode against are training horses. It makes sense. Ride races, then train horses. Allen Jerkens, Barclay Tagg, Leo O’Brien, to name a few, rode jumpers and made it big training flat horses.

I like the concept. Just not the execution of the concept. My favorite thing to do with a horse? Give them the day off.

The best work I ever did was with race pony, Red Raven, like training rain to fall, he went 10-for-14 from 1993-95. Of course, Dad oversaw it and he was a Thoroughbred twin running against Shetlands and Pintos. I won a race at the Iroquois Steeplechase when I was the only one using English tack, my competitors lost their cowboy hats and slapped their horses John Wayne style, left/right, left/right as I perched atop Red Raven, thinking I looked like Cauthen.

I tried training a few times but they were half-hearted, aborted attempts with the likes of Land On Go, Set Adrift, Succeed and Under Shirt. But no, training horses was never for me. I liked going home and writing about how I trained them more than how I trained them. I like the barn, but I love leaving the barn.

So publishing called, first with Steeplechase Times in 1994 and then The Saratoga Special in 2001.

In a way, it’s just like training horses.

A demand for results. Write a good column, train a big winner and it’s gone tomorrow. When we first started publishing Steeplechase Times in 1994, we’d bring the paper to the races in the morning, by afternoon it was poultice paper, sticking out of the top of the bandages on 12-year-old timber horses. We’d spend two weeks writing it and in two hours it was poultice paper. You’re only as good as today.

It’s all about space. Every owner wants his horse in the first stall next to the tack room in Saratoga. Every advertiser wants the back cover, the inside front cover or page 3. Oh, if we could invent a publication with a front cover, a back cover and page threes in between.

The billing is flawed. Pay staff, rent, print bill, hay man, feed man, blacksmith…and send an invoice at the end of the month. Then 30 days later, you start to see who’s leaning the wrong way and send another round of bills, 60 days later, you send another. Trainers and publishers should charge security deposits. Can’t rent a house without a security deposit, can’t run an ad or own a horse without providing a security deposit.

Everybody wants an answer. Advertiser, “Why didn’t I get any response from my ad?” Owner, “Why didn’t she run better?” I saw an ad on TV the other day, at the bottom of the screen it said, “Not normal results.” I loved that.

Mistakes are public. In Saturday’s paper, we printed page 31 twice or maybe it was page 33 twice. Either way, Harvey’s Restaurant & Bar, Maestro’s and Bona Venture Stables wound up with two ads apiece. Joe’s column on page 32 ended in mid-sentence, as his youngest son Nolan said, “I’m on the edge of my seat and then nothing…” People make mistakes all the time, trainers and publisher’s mistakes are made public instantly and forever. Well, with the Internet, we’ve been known to tweak a few after the fact. Everyone sees the mistakes and reminds you of them, just in case you forgot. Like you would forget. Don’t ever tell a bald man he’s going bald, because he knows. The trainer knows before you know and so does the writer.

Everybody wants a deal. Advertiser, “Can I get a deal on that ad?” Owner, “Can I get a deal on my day rate?”

Ultimately, it’s out of your hands. In publishing, you plan, guide, teach, advise and then throw the ball in the air, hoping your writers, your editors and your designers catch it and make it work. The ad looks good on the computer, fuzzy in print. Training horses is similar. The horse looks professional in the morning, amateurish in the afternoon. Trainers are in charge of every decision, every move and then when the deal is on the table, they walk away and hand it to a jockey. You go from expecting to hoping with one simple action of lifting a jockey into the air.

It’s as much about reparation as preparation. For readers, it’s over when the article finishes. For fans, it’s over when the winner crosses the wire. Win or lose, it’s on to the next. Publishing, you wait for the fires to start. Training, you start putting them out.