Morning Work

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We went to see Orb train. We got a whole lot more, on an early morning by the rail at Oklahoma Thursday. 

“Did we bring the camera?” my 12-year-old companion asks. 

“No,” I answer. “It’s at home.”

“That’s OK, it might not work very well anyway. It’s pretty dark. And the flash would be bad form and spook the horses.”

Riley Mott stands down a ways on the turn, hat on backward. A horse moves past on the track, sideways and a little out of control. The ever-observant 12-year-old chimes in again: “Does that have a name when horses run sideways? Like trot, canter, gallop, something?”

“No, but it ought to.”

Hearing riders talk to their horses is soothing. “Easy Papa, easy my boy.” 

The mist clings low to the grass. It’s cool enough for a sweatshirt and a jacket. The grass is wet. Ever so gradually, the sky lightens – gray, orange, pink. Shug McGaughey walks out to take a look at the track. Mott greets a bay horse at the gap and, with three pats on the neck, snaps a shank to the bit and heads for home.

A strong Jimmy Jerkens horse barrels past. Christophe Clement drives in the gate at 5:50. Dominic Galluscio and Wayne Lukas are aboard their ponies, doing the back-and-forth shuffle from barn to track. The McGaughey horses are on the walking ring. There goes one for George Weaver, two from Niall Saville. At 5:54, the geese lift off from the infield turf, and land again in a new spot.

“Hey good morning,” comes from a guy on a borderline runaway. Three Chad Brown horses walk across Fifth Avenue. At 5:56, McGaughey’s first set steps out of the barn and stands. “Is that a runoff or a gallop?” the Hall of Fame trainer asks as a horse flies around the turn.

Willie McCarthy walks up to watch a set train for Michael Matz. The jump jockey is just watching, for now. “Hotwalking and rolling bandages,” he says of his Saratoga schedule. Yeah, right. He thinks he’ll ride in the beach races proposed for Atlantic City this fall. The McGaughey set moves off at 6. Part of it anyway. McCauley Kinnamon steers the lead pony along with two others. Two Mike Maker gallopers arrive, one with a hump in its back. The first quarter sheet belongs to Weaver, then gets trumped by six from Clement.

A chestnut from Mike Trombetta rumbles past. A bolter and a bucker nearly collide. 

At 6:07, another McGaughey horse moves off (leaving one to wait). Three James Bond horses gallop past in formation, two in front and one behind. The 12-year-old wonders if we brought gloves. 

One walker, one jogger go by without stirrups. Draw reins really work, especially on that good-looking horse belonging to Jerkens, who stands by the rail in a sweater after driving up in a Jeep. 

At 6:13, the last McGaughey trainee moves off to train.

A breeze ends with some noise. A horse ducks  at a video camera. A set of five arrives from Bill Mott. Jena “Three Wins” Antonucci follows a set to the track, accepts congratulations and passes along some credit, “It was the press.” 

A Leo O’Brien horse arrives. Clement’s horses get led off the track. 

At 6:22, Jerkens hops back in the Jeep and starts his return trip to the barn. He makes it about 10 feet as the tires spin in a mud puddle. He backs up, tries again. No good. Gives it one more try. Nothing doing.Help scatters. “I don’t speak English,” Clement says. Jerkens gets out, shrugs and quips “I’ll get it later.” The Jeep stays put, for now.

The sun is on the turf at 6:28, and long rays start peeking through the Phipps barn trees. Catlyn Spivey eases past with The Special, Annex bound. At 6:30, the siren wails, the lights spin and a loose horse speeds past on the rail. The blinkers produce plenty of speed. Warnings get shouted, riders move away, horses instantly go to the edge. In a minute, all is back to normal.

A Gary Contessa rider pulls up and flexes his hands after a strong one. A stirrup clangs on the rail. The mist is gone. Steve Asmussen rides by on a pony, so does Scott Blasi. At 6:45, a guy in a coat, tie and sunglasses walks up the road. His loafers crunch on the sand grains. His cigar leaves a contrail. P.J. Campo rides past in a golf cart, taking inventory. 

At 6:48, McGaughey’s second set steps from the barn. There’s Orb. 

Two minutes later he’s on the track Another horse on another morning at Saratoga.