Cup of Coffee: The Stroll

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Time for a walk.

With a stiff neck, no afternoon races and an off-in-the-distance deadline, I go for a walk Tuesday morning. For six weeks, my exercise has consisted of reaching down and turning the key to the golf cart, moving papers from cart to rack and walking across the street to pick up dinner at Spring Street.

I needed the walk.

Across Caroline Street, past Chad Brown’s crew and through the gap into the Annex. Jack Doyle, less than a day after falling from Makari, jogs one around the ring. Elizabeth Voss, coffee in hand, watches, going to work like her dad taught her.

Across Fifth Avenue, past the security guards to the gap at the Oklahoma. It’s 8 o’clock, time for the infield turf. Kisser N Run and Cat Feathers, 1-2 in the Phipps and first and second favorites in the Jeffords walk across the Oklahoma, past Paul who eyes the gallopers on the dirt. Two horses from two trainers, rivals Thursday, work together for their final touch. Bernie Dalton and Robbie Walsh 1-3 Monday, work together. Funny game we play. Allies and enemies, friends and foes.

I don’t stay long, turning to walk along the horse path, past Mitch Friedman, “Where’s The Special today?” “Mitch, it’s Tuesday.” “What’s that got to do with it?” “Tomorrow, Mitch.” “Hurry up.” The racetrack, the more grief you get, the more you know they like you.

I walk around the turn, along the outside rail, past the clocker’s stand, quiet on a Tuesday, the track about to be harrowed. Past a clocker’s car, a gallon of windshield washing fluid sitting on the top of the trunk. I wonder why.

Left through the trees, around the corner of Leo O’Brien’s barn, the place where I spent so many summers, galloping the likes of Amarettitorun and Tiffany’s Taylor. I think about the old days.

Around the corner, past Gary Sciacca’s barn, through the wash rack, past the kitchen, over the pony track and across the grass parking lot. Across Union Avenue, an exercise rider sings a song in Spanish, I wouldn’t have heard it above the golf cart’s noise. A mother and a son play under the trees by the soccer field, worn to dirt after a long summer

Around the turn of the main track, I spot the horse I like. The one I’ve watched all meet, the one who hasn’t run. His exercise rider knows I’m watching, I look and smile. She smiles. “He won’t run until Belmont,” she says. “That’s fine, I’ll need the money then, too.”

Down the long road along the backstretch, past the empty soda bottles, the egg sandwich smashed on the road, past Charlie LoPresti leaning on the rail, relaxed. Amazing what a horse doing well again will do for a trainer.

Rodney Paine jogs one the wrong way, “We need to decide about the Hopeful for that colt,” Paine says. I stare, disdainfully, thinking Upstart wheeling back in another eight days. He laughs. My sense of irony and humor not at its best. 

I check my phone, then force it back in my pocket, the walk is meant to be an escape.

Rick Violette, Melissa Cohen, Tracy Attfield stand at the corner in front of the Morning Line. I stop, we chat, they wonder why I’m leaning. I didn’t think I was, as I straighten.

Around the bend, past Clare Court, a nervous bay filly dances to the track. Al Stall’s equipment piles up, going home so soon.

Around the elbow, through the Hennig/Tagg/Catalano/Bush serpentine and back across the road to Toner’s barn and back to the road along the main track. Cyril Murphy leans on the rail, watching horses go past. Disappointed with yesterday’s results, Murphy seems to be standing for the same reason I’m walking. We talk, accomplishing nothing.

Back down the road, past the security guard sitting on a park bench near Phil Serpe’s barn, the Doors’ “Break on Through” plays on what looks like a transistor radio. I definitely wouldn’t have heard Jim Morrison from the golf cart.

Back around the three-eighths pole, across Union Avenue, down through the trees and through Chad Brown’s courtyard, around the bend, past Bruce Brown’s, George Weaver’s, past Bruce Levine’s bay horse in the second stall, destroying the wooden door on the first stall.

Around the turn of the Oklahoma, Close Hatches stands for the final touches of her bath. Breeders’ Cup Distaff cooler deflecting the sun. The Personal Ensign winner flutters her eyes and drifts as her groom dries her legs and her hotwalker rests his head between her eyes.

Back across Fifth Avenue, around the corner of the Annex, Todd Wyatt finishes grooming Duke Of Perth. We make a plan for September, discuss strategy for tomorrow. I take a few steps past an empty stall, a rake resting on the wooden door. Makari’s photo finish win in A.P. Smithwick hangs on the wall next to the tack room. I whisper a goodbye and head for home.