Cup of Coffee: Dave

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Today is the Fourstardave Stakes, run in the memory of the New York-bred gelding who won a race at Saratoga for eight consecutive seasons from 1987 to 1994. Friday evening, Richard Migliore talked about his memories of Fourstardave’s magical run. We turned up the TV and listened to the jockey who can tell stories better than Tolkien. Migliore got me thinking about my memories of Fourstardave, when I galloped horses for Leo O’Brien and his family. 


Well, I remember O’Brien actually never allowing me to ride Fourstardave during his racing career. I hopped on Fourstars Allstar, Irish Linnet, Irish Actress, Amarettitorun, Tiffany’s Taylor but never Fourstardave. It was fine with me. 

I remember watching Keith O’Brien and Joe Hennessy gallop Fourstardave. Joe rode short, like ankle above the pommel of the saddle short and would take a long hold. Fourstardave would always gallop a tick faster than you’d want, but Joe didn’t care and neither did Dave. Keith would come back from galloping Dave like he had seen God, red faced, sweat rolling off him. That’s when we knew Dave was on go. 

I remember the fans. They would come to the barn all day, every day. I don’t know how they got to the barn but they would just wander in and O’Brien would make them feel like family, show them to Dave’s stall, next to the tack room. Letters would come to the barn, addressed, “Fourstardave. Saratoga Race Course.” We read all of them. I remember the fans asking if you were riding Fourstardave. The horse could be bay, chestnut or gray, and still people would ask, “Is that Fourstardave?” We never lied, although we were tempted. 

I remember a fan coming to the barn and seeing me throwing out a pair of boots, which had blown out a heel. She looked at me and shrieked, “Have those ever been on Dave?” Well, I did lie that day. She shrieked again and ran off at a trot, carrying two boots like tin cans behind a bumper. 

I remember the jockeys, Mike Smith and Migliore in particular, tempering the free-running gelding’s urgency early, before coaxing his moxie late. They were so good on him, never punishing him, never panicking. Teammates. 

I remember Fourstardave pouncing onto his right lead at the head of the stretch, cocking his head to the side and running sideways like he was down to his last dollar. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any horse try so hard for so long. 

Yeah, I remember the West Point when he got disqualified. He stumbled at the break, Migliore nearly went over his head. They recovered, made up the ground and won. Keith, his sister Leona and I knocked over the chairs in our box, stepped on our sport coats when he won. Then we limped home, gutted, when they took his number down. It was as bad a beat as I’ve ever known. 

I remember turning him loose on the Oklahoma track. Yes, turning him loose. It was the last week of the meet and O’Brien backed off and freshened up Dave. He had won his race at the meet. Every morning, Leo would say, “Take Dave for a wander.” We didn’t ride him for two weeks, just ponied him around the stable area, once around the Oklahoma or Clare Court, stroll through the paddock, over to the Annex, to the baseball field. O’Brien rarely had sets, you could take all the time in the world. Dave and I would stroll for an hour, sometimes longer. 

Each day, he got fresher, tormenting the pony, biting his withers, kicking at him, leaping in the air, bucking. On the last day I ponied him, we walked onto the Oklahoma. I figured I had to let him do something, he grabbed the pony by the withers, shaking him like a piggy bank. The pony finally had enough. He went left, kicked out and Dave went right, the leather shank sliding through my hand until I was holding only the tip. Dave looked me dead in the eye and tossed his head, the shank hit the ground. He was loose. But, he didn’t run. 

I squeezed the pony, sidling next to Dave and reaching for the shank, he jogged four steps and stopped, staring at me. We did this four, five, six times. Each time as I had the shank at my fingertips, Dave would scoot off, then stop and do it again. Jim Bond, at least I’m pretty sure it was Jim Bond, watched it all from the gap. He and I finally made eye contact. He knew what I was thinking and I knew what he was thinking. As I inched closer and reached for the shank, Dave spun right and right into Bond’s awaiting hands. I had never felt such relief. I took the shank and Dave didn’t make a wrong move the rest of the ride. It was just a game. He won. He knew it. I knew it.

I remember the night after the Bernard Baruch in 1994, when he finished third behind Lure and Paradise Creek. He was hurt. We knew he was hurt. We knew the ride had come to an end. Juan Nolasco, Dave’s wingman from start to finish, walked into the Parting Glass and ordered a beer. We clinked bottles and held back tears.