We are at the stage where solitude is sought. So many conversations, so little sleep, so many late deadlines, so few square meals, so many requests, so little peace.
Driving the golf cart in the morning has its plusses, you can escape, until someone grabs the windshield stanchion and won’t let go. You get stuck, listening to stories about their first time to Saratoga, fielding suggestions for things we should write in the paper, hearing about one more poor-poor-pitiful-me gambling lament.
Sometimes you simply need solitude.
Clare Court is my solitude.
Pull under a tree, away from the gap, halfway to Greentree, parallel park between the road and the horsepath, just sit, ignore the phone, don’t think about a deadline, don’t think about anything. Escape and watch the rhythm of the game.
Boots scuff on the road, fading. Metal shoes, clack on the road, nearing. Mike Hushion walks past, one out of five lame, left front. A lead pony goes about his job, simply a job. Des Farrell, long stirrup, long hold, canters a bay horse once, twice, three times around the pony track, with each circuit, the horse’s nerves subside. A tall chestnut of Eric Guillot’s walks diagonally under the trees, so much quieter than his trainer. Kelly Wheeler, with the smile of the meet, “Coming by,” as she glides under the trees and out of sight.
Trish McLaughlin walks toward the main track and stops to say hello, she’s one of the few who can speak without interrupting the solitude, “How long are you going to do the paper?” We chat. I don’t answer. “Enjoy the solitude,” she says as she strolls in her own version of solitude.
Jackie Davis gallops one in a #7 saddle towel, yellow blinkers, blue bridle, pink helmet cover, a rainbow of colors in Saratoga. Halters under bridles, I abhor, hearing my dad grumble from a green stand at Delaware Park in 1977. A set of three for Bill Mott lob past, the riders coming in all shapes and sizes, nothing like the corn-fed, double-cross, Wrangler-wearing men of yesteryear.
A groom for Mark Hennig scrubs a bucket like he’s going to drink out of it, the water ricocheting onto his pant leg, the sound will lull you to sleep. The endless brigade of TAP and CB going to and from the harness track, numbers, so many numbers. Lauren Robeson rides past one direction, her stirrups at the horse’s elbows, she rides past the other direction, her stirrups at the horse’s shoulders.
A squirrel scampers up a tree, I wonder if Leah Gyarmati could train him. Heather Smullen eases one into a gallop for Ralph Nicks, old-school horsemanship and a Wheeler-rivaling smile. AHR saddle towel, who’s AHR? A jogger for Joe Sharp jumps in the air, bell boots doing their job. Bob Chapman, who I rode races against, rides past, still good hands on a horse. An assistant hustles back to the barn, cell phone to his hear, blinkers swinging at his knee, I could use the blinkers.
A set of five for Linda Rice scatter through the trees, neon vests darting like moths off a bulb, not a Munnings image. The gate springs open from the main track, I hear hooves but don’t turn my head. A photographer readies his camera, adjusting settings that may or may not work. Carl Domino walks crop circles in the distance, a horse hurt or an owner mad.
The high blow of a big bay, nothing like it. A man carries a muck basket on his shoulder in the distance, imagine. Lisa Bartkowski, leg long, rides past, her ace deuce stirrups make me cock my head to try to straighten them. A bicycle glides down Nelson Avenue, faster than the horse galloping five, six, seven lengths behind. A man in a Del Mar T-shirt steps out of a Mercedes – “Great job on that paper. It gets better every year.” I thank him.
An Irish accent rattles in the distance, all I hear him say is “Tight jeans,” that’s all I need to hear him say. Javier Castellano jogs one for Gustavo Delgado, looking in front and behind, “I don’t know the routine out here.” Ray Handal after a win accepts kind words, “Appreciate it,” feeling ever so slightly more accepted than he did a day earlier.
A set of three for Barclay Tagg canters past. Chris DeCarlo walks toward his car, helmet on, jacket draped in the crook of his elbow, gloves dangling in his right hand, finished for the morning. Robison heads home on hers from minutes ago, the horse bowing his neck as she lays her hand down softly.
I’ve taken notes, four pages, that’s all I’ve done for minutes. I don’t know how long I’ve sat, but I’m recalibrated. The rhythm creating a respite, a few moments of solitude helps silence the noise for another day.