Cup of Coffee: Loss Meter

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Cot Campbell says he gets over defeats in 90 seconds. In a minute and a half, Dogwood’s founder processes the loss, puts it away and devises a plan going forward. That’s fast. How long does it take you? I’ll admit, it takes me longer. Way longer.

I had almost forgotten what it felt like to lose at Saratoga, then we ran two horses and I was quickly reminded. One ran too freely…the other lost a shoe…losses either way. It had been 13 years since I rode here, lost here, walked home in disgust, gagging on the taste of failure. I won five races in 13 years, even if I could have limited it to Campbell’s 90-second rule, it was a lot of losses.

It was here when my future wife asked me on the morning of the New York Turf Writers Cup, “What are we going to do after the races?” I looked at her in disdain, “I don’t know what kind of day I’m going to have.” She asked, perplexed, “Why would that affect what we do tonight?” She had a point, I knew she had a point, but didn’t admit she had a point.

In today’s Whitney, one horse will win, seven will lose. Eight sets of connections will watch from their viewing spots – perhaps a box seat or the clubhouse big screen or the racing office or some private torture chamber that only they know about – seven will melt and one will rise.

It’s the trainers who take it the worst. Numbed, they walk toward the winner’s circle, not to walk in it, but to walk through it, down a step, past the scales, barely acknowledging the growing entourage to their left, the ones bouncing and clapping, chanting and regaling. Yes, those are the winners. The losers, they walk onto the dirt track, right for even numbers, left for odd and wait for their horses. Wait for an explanation. Wait for the disappointment and confusion to pass.

In the Whitney, it might go something like this…and no I don’t know who’s going to win (or lose).

Charlie LoPresti will wonder what he missed, will wonder if the patch job is finally up on the fragile but brilliant Successful Dan. He’ll shake his head and think about the two bullet breezes, the ones where the eight-time winner ran like he was let out of jail. He’ll wonder if they were too fast, wonder if the track changed, wonder if those old Forego ankles have finally pulled the curtain closed on a horse who has as much talent as any he’s ever trained.

Kathy Ritvo will take a deep breath and try to digest the five-race losing streak that Mucho Macho Man is mired in, she’ll wish Ramon Dominguez was still riding, wistfully thinking back to the three-race win streak last winter and wonder what went wrong. Just his second start off the bench, he could still improve from here. She’ll hope her best horse can still be found.

Ian Wilkes will step out of the cauldron of running the fastest two-turn horse he’s ever had, the one who burned it up on the lead. It was beautiful for a while, then the rug was pulled. He’ll wonder about the two breezes in three days. He’ll hope the nine-time winner isn’t gutted by his front-running exploits.

Todd Pletcher will walk to the winner’s circle, just as he does after winning a race. Head high, marching, unemotional, determined. He’s won more races at the meet than a lot of guys will lose, so it’s not career-changing, even day-changing, still he’ll question stretching Cross Traffic two turns, wonder if the Forego is out of the equation.

Bill Mott, knowing that anything Ron The Greek earns from here is gravy, will watcb the replay as he walks, he’ll check the time, he’ll check his program to confirm the order of finish. He’ll wonder what happened to the pace meltdown. He’ll greet Ron The Greek like a father greets his son after a long day of school.

Kiaran McLaughlin will look at his brother, Neil, and shake his head. If it was close, he’ll snap his index finger down on his middle finger and smile that racetrack smile; outwardly, he’s OK with the losses. If it’s not close, he’ll wonder if the Alpha from last year will ever come back or if he simply disappeared in the desert.

Phil Gleaves, watching from the big screen, will kick himself for calling an audible after Csaba’s intended race didn’t go. He’ll be upbeat as always, at least on the surface, knowing that losing at Saratoga beats losing at Calder. Still, he’ll question why he took a shot with his overachieving 4-year-old.

Nick Zito, watching with his people somewhere in the scrum of a Saturday crowd, will walk dejectedly. Unable to look up, he’ll shake his head and banter with himself, like he’s got good self on one shoulder, bad self on the other. He’ll wonder if Fast Falcon’s day will ever come.

Perhaps, it’ll be 90 seconds, perhaps more, but quickly the trainers will climb out of their heads, file away the loss and move on, searching for their next win and stifling their latest loss.