Cup of Coffee: Last Walk

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“Should we walk back?”

And so this column begins the way yesterday’s ended. Charlie LoPresti asking if I wanted to walk back to the barn to see Wise Dan.

The two-time Horse of the Year returned from colic surgery and nearly four months on the bench to do what he does best – win. Reeve McGaughey, Kelly Wheeler, Damien Rock and LoPresti’s team had walked Wise Dan back to the test barn while LoPresti waited to saddle Shift Colors two races later. The filly finished seventh, LoPresti talked to jockey Jose Lezcano, declined a champagne toast and then asked the question.

“Should we walk back?”

LoPresti and I began to weave our way through the food trucks, past strollers, in between bettors and onto the dusty horse path between Union Avenue and the main track.  

“Guess I can take this thing off,” LoPresti said, loosening the knot from his red tie and rolling it into a ball like it was a dirty tongue tie.

With the Prioress, the Forego and the Woodward still to go, I knew my tie needed to stay on, as much as I wanted to take it off.

In five years, LoPresti has gone from a stranger shipping one horse to Saratoga to a friend with a barn full of horses at Saratoga. The first year, we introduced ourselves to LoPresti as he sat on a tack trunk at the end of Tom Albertrani’s barn, he was talking to his mother, put his phone down and talked to us about Here Comes Ben. The next day, he won the Grade 1 Forego. The next year, Turallure won the Fourstardave. The next year, Wise Dan won the Fourstardave. A year later, Wise Dan did it again. This year, he skipped the Fourstardave and won the Bernard Baruch. I’ve watched Wise Dan’s three wins with LoPresti, in front of the big screen, then we’ve walked back to the test barn.

Five years, five graded stakes wins. LoPresti has gone from an unknown to a mainstay. From a guy we covered because we had never heard of him to a guy who we cover because we know we need to hear from him.  

“Five years, a graded stake every year. I can’t believe it,” LoPresti said. “I was thinking last night, ‘Man, Charlie, your luck might be running out.’ You come here to run in good races, you come here to run with the best. You know that coming up here, but this meet has been the toughest.”

LoPresti entered Saturday’s card at 0-for-13. He finished it 2-for-16 after Set The Sail was put up in the third and Wise Dan won the Baruch. The meet was made.

In this game, each win is as much about relief as it is elation. As elated as LoPresti was about getting Wise Dan back to the races – back to the winner’s circle – he couldn’t help but think about May 16 when the earth stopped spinning.

 “To see this horse like that, in distress…” LoPresti said of the day Wise Dan went to the clinic. “When they took that horse away from Reeve, put him in the stall and knocked him down for the surgery, Reeve had tears running down his face. Amy started crying, I started crying. He said, ‘I’m OK, I just can’t stand to see him this weak.’ It was bad, really bad. We try to tell Reeve, it could all end tomorrow, it puts perspective to it.”

Wise Dan added his own perspective, rebounding in days, back in training in weeks and winning again in months.

As I write for a living, I get further removed from the horses. I haven’t ridden a horse this meet. I’ve pet a few, not enough. I walked into a few stalls, not many. Tonight, I walked into Wise Dan’s stall, leaned on his wall and watched as the big, long train decompressed from winning the Bernard Baruch.

At 5:24, two hours and three minutes after winning, a full feed tub was placed in the corner of Wise Dan’s stall. The champ thrust his head into the tub, turning his right hip across the front of his stall door. It was his goodbye.

LoPresti and Wheeler offered me rides back to the paddock, I declined, knowing and needing a final walk before the final deadline.

Turf fillies sprinted past on the Mellon Turf, their hoof beats peppering into the distance, the crowd roared, waves up and then down as the horses passed each section of the grandstand. It had to be a photo.

The horses for the Forego rounded their way out of the holding barn and onto the horse path. I walked with Capo Bastone, then slipped to Big Business, then Vyjack, Zee Bros, Sensational Slam, Palace, favorite Clearly Now, Weekend Hideaway and all the way back to Confrontation. Effortlessly, they strode ahead. A man walking a horse always walks faster than a man thinking about a horse.

We reached the paddock. The end of the walk. The end of the meet.