I played tour guide more often this year. I’m not sure why. Did I miss the meeting? Just seemed like I got volunteered more this year than in past years. You always get calls when you’re in Saratoga for the summer. I’ve provided floors and couches to kings and queens, tours to friends and fools.
My sister Sheila offered a Saratoga weekend in a charity auction to benefit her friend Jim, paralyzed from the chest down while body surfing with his children. My wife gave my number to a friend from Virginia who was staying in the Adirondacks, she had been to Saratoga many times but had never seen the horses at peace. She loves trees, whew, do we have trees. I met a man who works the crisis hotline for war veterans, I knew he needed to see the horses. My wife, sister-in-law and son came to town, the women wanted to see horses, the boy wanted to see the tractors. My college roommate and his two kids drove up for an afternoon, they wanted to see horses and bet races.
Knowing I didn’t have the time but needed to take the time, I kept saying yes, kept turning on the megaphone and talking about the greatest racing town in the world. My wife likes to call me the mayor, I guess this is what mayors do.
In a way, it’s fun. Show off your sport to those who don’t know anything about it. In a way, it’s torture. Hide your sport from those who don’t know anything about it.
Auction winners Maria, Casey, Barb, and Jeff picked Travers Weekend. I texted Sheila, “I said any weekend but Travers.” They met me on Caroline Street Friday morning. Their smiles broke the ice. We toured the backstretch, saw The Chief. I called him The Giant Killer for effect, it’s better for the tourists. We enjoyed a peaceful breakfast at the Reading Room. We went in the paddock to see Dance To Bristol. They took photos. They asked questions. Lots of questions. Some I could answer, some I struggled to answer. What was the rider feeding that horse? Mints. What happens when the horses get hurt? Um, well…
Rob walked up to me after I gave my two-minute speech at the Saratoga WarHorse dinner. He was soulful as he talked about his life, his job taking calls into the night on the veteran’s crisis hotline, where a call can end with a gunshot. I introduced Orb to Rob and his wife Phyllis Tuesday morning before the Travers. When we walked up to Orb’s webbing, I said, “That’s the Derby winner.” Rob gasped. “I met Mickey Mantle when I was a kid, but this…this is the Derby winner, standing right here. I can’t believe the Derby winner is standing right here in front of me.”
Friday, Paul Wasserman and his two sons, Robbie and Nolan, came for the afternoon. Paul helped launch The Special, back in 2001. He tries to make a trip here each summer. We see each other twice a year, tops. We reminisce about old college buddies we promise we’ll look up and never do. We bet a few races. We never win. We drink one beer each, that’s all, I’m going back to write the paper, he’s driving back to his family.
Robbie and Nolan, going into first and second grade next week, are afraid of horses. I introduced them to a lead pony behind the Morning Line Kitchen. They weren’t impressed. “Can we see a real horse?” Robbie asked. It was the most words he said to me all day.
We got back in the golf cart and weaved past Jimmy Toner’s barn, then made a right just before the outside rail near the half-mile pole. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two horses grazing. I immediately turned left, wheels scraping the dirt across the macadam, and doubled back to the gap in the fence. “Boys, I’ll show you the two best horses on the grounds.” Wise Dan and Successful Dan picked up their heads for a moment. The boys didn’t say much. Charlie LoPresti and Reeve McGaughey were gracious and kind, talking a little bit about their horses, but mostly letting their horses do the talking. We stood in awe, soaking up the tranquility of the grazing horse.
Kids can only take so much tranquility, funnel cake beckoned. On the front side, we watched the second race and prepared for the third. I pumped up the boys about the showdown between Caixa Eletronica and Saginaw. I explained their records, put it into baseball terms, they’re hitting .400 for the careers. We stood by the rail and only Caixa Eletronica came past. The boys asked me where Saginaw finished. I asked them if they wanted to get some funnel cake.