Back Story

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There is nothing like a Saratoga morning. I’d take the morning over the afternoon, the backside over the frontside. Just for the stories, the conversations, the light nature to a day that hasn’t gotten away from you – yet.

Friday morning was running loose. Nobody was saying anything glib or pithy for Here & There. Tom Law was 0-for-5 on Fasig-Tipton Stable Tours. The Galway preview was uncertain. I needed to find a photo of Sister Peacock, the Canadian shipper. Wonder where she is? Law comes through, like he always does, with a photo of a ship-in slip for Sister Peacock – Barn 33ABC. Underneath it, he texts “With Lynch.”

I punch the golf cart, enticed by the acceleration and disappointed by the dissipation like always, and head to Brian Lynch’s barn near the quarter pole of the main track. Nobody is there. I walk down the apron and ask a groom bent over a bandage about the Canadian shipper. He says she’s over there, points flippantly and says her groom will be back in a few minutes. Time is ticking. Erin Lynch arrives and offers to show the filly to me, once she talks to the rider about a green 2-year-old. That accomplished, Lynch escorts me to John Kimmel’s barn in the corner of Union Avenue and Yaddo.

A bay filly tosses her head from the first stall on the right. A husband and wife stand outside her stall, they introduce themselves. I have a story.

Now, this is what I love about Saratoga mornings, the organic nature of our game and the organic nature of the story. I go from bumbling around trying to find a photo of a horse to standing outside a stall and hearing the life stories of Brent and Judy McLellan and their horse, Sister Peacock.

“This is like we’re going to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch,” Brent McLellan says. “Or even, actually, play an inning. This is the Yankee Stadium of horse racing.”

I interrupt them and dash off for my recorder. Energized by the discovery.

Brent McLellan’s dad gave him a share in one of his horses when he was 16. He doesn’t really count that as his first horse. His first horse came about seven years later, a cheap claimer from Turf Paradise, never won a race. His first winner came with Stuart Simon, who he met when the trainer rented a house on a farm that McLellan’s dad would eventually buy in Western Canada. They became friends. Simon became McLellan’s trainer and they began their crusade from the tumblebrush of Marquis Downs and Stampede Park to the big lights of Woodbine.

“In baseball, you’ve got your Triple A, Double A, Single A and the other stuff. Well, he was other stuff,” McLellan said. “It’s an incredible journey, it’s so cool to have him as a friend and a trainer.”

They dreamed of having a horse good enough for a place like Saratoga. Now they’re here with a late-round acquisition.

Simon discovered the daughter of Real Solution at Keeneland September, looking at her because he trained for Cecil Peacock, who owned Brother Derek who shows up on her pedigree page. He loved her looks and bought her for $9,000. She’s won four races, two stakes and has a shot in today’s feature.

“We had always heard about Saratoga but had never been here until we moved east. We said we’ve got to go to Saratoga, that was about 22, 23 years ago. We’ve been here every year since. Not with horses, just coming, every year,” Brent McLellan said. “This is a bonus, our second horse to run here, myself and my brother. I have an annual trip with my buddies. We booked the house back in February. They’re coming Wednesday, that’s fine, it would be too much pressure if they were here. Know what I mean?”

Yeah, the pressure, the disappointment, the “what happened?” strides after the wire when the dream slips away.

About that time Richard Migliore rolls into the courtyard. Agent for Chris Landeros, who rides Sister Peacock, Migliore introduces himself, checking in, making small talk. Minutes later, Gerry Olguin walks around the corner to check on Sister Peacock. The former jockey traveled with the filly. Migliore lights up.

“We used to ride together in California,” Migliore says. “Good rider.”

I had to look him up. He won 2,000 races the hard way.

There is nothing like hearing a rider say someone else is a good rider. Take it to the bank. The retired jockeys compare similar scars on the forearms, talk about the old days.

A jocks’ agent, named Trapper, you can’t make this up, strolls into the barn. His dad, former jockey/trainer, Frank Barroby, is a legend north of the border. Trapper’s jockeys are on the shelf, he was losing mounts, losing business, and said to himself, “I’m so miserable, I’m going to Saratoga.”

He’s enthralled, glad to be here.

“Whatever, it happens,” Trapper says. “It’s the business we got into.”

Migliore nods his head. Brent McLellan laughs. Olguin smiles.

And, sometimes, it feels like the right move.