They say the little things matter, right? I hope so, because the big things can be pretty heavy to carry around. Work, school, stress, money, life, time, age . . . you know the stuff. I’ve been in Saratoga about 10 days, and a handful of little things are way up on my list of highlights (including a hilarious trip to see Minions Tuesday night). A whole lot of big things are at the other end of the list.
– Trainer Todd Pletcher won a Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga, hustled to the paddock to saddle a runner in the next race and walked to the clubhouse to watch when a young girl approached.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“Yes,” Pletcher replied.
“You’re Todd Pletcher, right?”
“I know you’re not a jockey, but could you sign my autograph book?”
Pletcher signed the girl’s book, and those of her two pals. One tried to leave without his pen. Pletcher stopped him with a “Hey buddy…,” chatted with them all and helped make the days of three racing fans. When they left, he said he’d once been them.
“I used to have a book like that,” he said, then went into a short story about a winner’s circle photo from many years ago. Pletcher was the groom. Hall of Famer Charlie Whittingham was the trainer. Hall of Famer Willie Shoemaker was the jockey.
“I wish I’d gotten them to sign it,” he said.
– Jeremy Wood and Mike Desourdy had parked their white NYRA work truck in the middle of the two-lane road that splits the Oklahoma stable area. Cars, trucks, horses and people zipped by in both directions but the two men kept working.
“We’ve got two more to do and then we’re off to other projects,” said Desourdy as he tightened a nut.
“It would have been better if we’d done this two weeks ago, but here we are,” said Wood. “That’s how things get done sometimes.”
Together, they were putting the finishing touches on new signs honoring Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown winners that line the grass median. The signs used to be wooden, and hand-painted, and once ran chronologically (Sir Barton to Affirmed) from East Avenue to Henning Road.
When American Pharoah halted a 37-year drought to become the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner this spring, Wood and Desourdy hatched a new plan.
“The old way, American Pharoah would have been all the way out by the back entrance and that didn’t seem right,” said Wood. So the signs now start with the 2015 hero just off East Avenue and work their way through Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Citation, Assault, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, War Admiral, Omaha, Gallant Fox and Sir Barton to Henning Road.
Wood and Desourdy take down the signs every year for storage through the winter, and put them back every summer.
This year, the wooden classics stayed in storage as NYRA unveiled new metal signs. The moment was not lost on the two men, both roughly 10-year employees.
“This is the first time we’ve had to think about it,” Wood said of the ordering and making space for a new sign. “It’s an honor, really. We’ve had some great comments already today. One guy pulled up and told us he’d been waiting 37 years to see another one of these signs.”
– Class ruled after the Coaching Club American Oaks Sunday, when the winning and losing connections met just outside the winner’s circle. I’m A Chatterbox won by a nose on the track, but was disqualified in favor of Curalina after a bumping incident just before the finish line.
As winning connections Aron Wellman, Todd Pletcher and Tristan Barry greeted their filly, they stopped and one at a time greeted losing trainer Larry Jones.
One by one, they shook hands or embraced. Jones smiled, took it in, accepted it and headed up the track with his horse.
Hopefully he was thinking about the little things.