Cup of Coffee: Long Walk

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Leah Gyarmati sat on Thunder Chief, her racehorse turned lead pony, outside her barn deep in the corner of Clare Court and Greentree Thursday morning. Exercise rider Jorge Sanchez jumped in his car for a bathroom break. Former jockey Noel Wynter stood and waited for another set. Assistant Herbie Castillo organized the state vet to look at a main-track only entry later in the day. Gyarmati talked a little and thought a lot.

Acorn winner Sweet Reason, under a shadow roll, fiddling with a tongue tie and an eggbut snaffle bit walked the shedrow. Gyarmati ruminated about what to do with the 3-year-old filly, morning line favorite for today’s Grade 1 stakes.

“Stand her in the gate… jog her once around…go for a walk…”

After going an easy 3 furlongs in 36 and 2/5 the day before, Sweet Reason didn’t need to do much.

“I wonder what the Chief would do?” Gyarmati asked, referring to Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens who tutored Gyarmati and Wynter over the years.

The question was as much to herself as anybody else.

“Oh, you’d never know what the Chief would do,” Wynter said, shaking his head. “You might walk up there ready to breeze one, get to the gap and he’d look at you and say, ‘Go on back there and turn her out in the pen.’ You’d get back to the barn and the groom would get so mad.”

“Yeah, he did that to me a few times,” Gyarmati said. “He figured it was like a breeze, the horse would get all jazzed up and then go home.”

Sanchez returned and got a leg up aboard the daughter of Street Sense.

“I’ll meet you on the corner,” Gyarmati said, easing Chief (the pony) into a walk and meeting Sweet Reason at the corner of the barn. Gyarmati looped a leather a pony strap through the bit, Sweet Reason pinned her ears, Gyarmati laughed, they ambled.  

With 19 horses at Saratoga and four at Belmont, Gyarmati has returned to prominence among New York-based conditioners. The 49-year-old former jockey has won 12 races from 66 starters for over $1 million this year, including the Grade 1 Acorn with Sweet Reason and the Lynbrook, a New York-bred stakes with first-time starter Wonder Gal. Both are owned by Jeff Treadway’s Treadway Racing Stable.

Introduced to Gyarmati by Sea Horse Stable’s Felice Busto, Treadway started small and has gotten big, presently owning 12 horses with Gyarmati.

“He was involved with some horses with Felice who had one New York-bred with me. When he wanted to get horses in New York she introduced him to me,” Gyarmati said, as Chief and Sweet Reason snaked their way past Mark Hennig’s barn. “And that was it. We started little by little, just picking out one or two horses. It’s been great. I should send her a bottle of champagne. Maybe a case.”

Treadway changed everything, pushing Gyarmati’s stable past the $1 million in earnings last year, the first time since 2007.

“It comes out of nowhere. Things were not going well when he came around,” Gyarmati said. “You just never know, I was listening for any other possibilities to do something else – on-track, off-track, didn’t matter. It was a bad time to be looking for a job. Anything. I didn’t know. I was brainstorming, dog grooming, manicurist, cleaning houses, going back to school but that takes money, anything. Then all of a sudden, you never know where it’s going to come from and when it’s going to happen.”

A graduate of Samford University, Gyarmati looked at Sweet Reason as eight hooves on macadam drowned out her voice. Last summer, Sweet Reason won the Spinaway, giving Gyarmati her first Grade I stakes score. This year, she made it two winning the Acorn on Belmont Stakes day.

Sweet Reason and Chief entered the main track at the Morning Line Kitchen gap, walking five panels down the track, turned to face the infield as Gyarmati scanned for traffic at the gate.

“It looks busy down there,” Gyarmati said. “Maybe she should just jog.”

Then she looked at Sweet Reason, then turned back toward the gate.

“I don’t know maybe she should stand,” Gyarmati said.

Then she looked again.

“No, just jog her once around and I’ll meet you at the other gap, then we’ll go for a long walk home,” Gyarmati said.

Sanchez squeezed Sweet Reason into a rounded trot. Gyarmati turned Chief the other direction and walked toward the half-mile gap.

Minutes later, Sweet Reason eased to a walk at Gyarmati’s knee, she looped the leather strap back through the bit and they strolled off the track. Perfect.

Gyarmati smiled at the best horse she’s ever trained, “Let’s take a long walk home.”