Belmont Stakes Morning

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Belmont Stakes Day – 70 degrees, partly cloudy. A chance of rain increasing from 30 percent to 60 percent later this afternoon. 

Not exactly like last year, when American Pharoah rocked the place, the sport, the world. He produced a crescendo unheard in my lifetime, I was standing along the outside rail as Belmont Park erupted, a cork exploding after 30 years of shaking – up, over, down and then continuing as he galloped out, jogged back and walked in circles. Grown men crying, rival grooms waiting to see him come back, cell phones held high in the air, it was a moment of solidarity, a moment of peace in a tumultuous sport.

But, alas, that was last year. This year, there’s nothing on the line but a big purse and a big picture for someone’s living room. But, we’re racing fans, we’re here, ready for a day that will certainly spark the embers in our racing soul. The Met Mile, the Manhattan, the Ogden Phipps, the Belmont…Flintshire, Cathryn Sophia, Cavorting, Frosted… stakes action all day.

Thursday morning, I drove over the George Washington Bridge as the sun was coming up, beautiful, an almost tranquil drive from Hillsdale to Elmont. Turning off Hempstead Avenue, through the stable gate and into Belmont Park, yet again, another year, looking around, seeing the same faces, the same paths. The girls at the Morning Line Kitchen greeting me like I never left. Horses ambling under the trees, making a right to the training track, a left to the main track, then home again. Jimmy Toner’s orange, Jimmy Jerkens’ big bays, Bill Mott’s endless train of how you want horses to look.

Belmont Stakes horses intermixed in the flow of routine. Exaggerator rolled past, maybe a little lighter than before but sound and solid. Suddenbreakingnews, not quite as big as I expected. Lani seemed to come from every direction all morning long, like a homeless man in Central Park, although, he looks more content. Americanized horsemen scoffing as he passed, “It’s crazy he’s out here this long.” What’s so crazy? A horse walking around for an hour or two in fresh air or standing in his stall. You have one horse to train and all morning to train him, why not?

The sad state of affairs with Brian Lynch testing positive for drugs – him, not his horses – part of everybody’s conversation. Confusing, disconcerting, unexplainable, mostly embarrassing. ‘Why him?’ ‘Why now?’ Of all the things that need fixing in the sport, it wouldn’t be Brian Lynch’s use of marijuana. Good guy, good horseman. As we’ve watched with Hillary Clinton, Steve Asmussen and other successful people who have hit bumps in their careers, this too shall pass.

Well, it’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon…