Cup of Coffee: Training Dreams

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Watching horses and contemplating trainers, Kidd Breeden leaned back in his golf cart and sighed, “And everybody wants to be a horse trainer.”

We were in the midst of talking about picking spots for horses, wondering if it’s better to run a week early in an easier race or a week later in a tougher race. We never really came up with an answer as the agent drove off to pick up Kendrick Carmouche after he breezed Reporting Star for Elizabeth Voss and I went to chase down Jimmy Jerkens for a Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour. 

I thought about what Breeden said, as Jerkens walked the length of his shedrow, pointing at the brawn of Effinex and the refinement of Jay Gatsby. 

In a way, Breeden might be right, perhaps, all of us want to be horse trainers. 

For me, sure, but only on my terms. 

These terms . . . 

For starters, all the horses are like Effinex and Jay Gatsby.

We go to a little track in the spring and fall and a short summer stop in the middle. Part Keeneland, part Saratoga, part Goodwood and part Galway. There is no winter racing, because we don’t need the money and the horses need a break. 

Men wear suits, women wear hats and kids get in for free. 

Horses go long. 

Pillows of straw puff in front of the stalls, like the old days, deep and cozy where grooms take naps in the afternoon and use the pillows to start bedding down stalls the next morning. 

We take the horses for long walks before they train, longer after they train. 

The exercise riders have patience like Shug’s girls and use their legs like Phillip Dutton. They banter like Rodney Paine and smile like Lorna Chavez. The grooms are old, young, wise and energetic. They show up on time, get two days off a week and they tell great stories.

We cook oats and make weekly mashes. The smell makes us want to sit down for Sunday brunch.

The races in the condition book go, there aren’t any extras. We point for each race, knowing it will fill. Unplanned breezes? No need, because there is always a plan. Like training a stakes horse, you know the target. Every horse runs when you want them to run. 

The racing secretary doesn’t count your starts and cut your stalls. The agents tell the truth. The bettors win big. And all the jockeys listen. 

Trainers come back at night, just to see how the horses are doing, to enjoy the solitude and appreciate their craft. 

There is no claiming game. 

My son works with me, but not because he can’t do anything else, hell, he’s got a masters from Brown, but just because he wants to spend time with his dad.

The exercise riders could have graduated from college but they chose to make a living here, loving horses and relishing the lifestyle. 

Everything is leather, from boots to bridles. 

The mornings are crisp, a couple of layers peeled off with every set. The afternoons are warm, with a breeze, never humid. Nights are chilly, enough for a Baker blanket, and that’s all. 

Barn cats roam the shedrows, there are no mice. 

The track kitchen serves food like your mother’s home cooking. 

Security at the gate recognizes you every morning, there’s no need for badges. 

Old trees. Shade trees. Apple trees. There are trees everywhere. 

Grooms grow carrots outside the barns. 

The stakes horses take an extra turn of the paddock, the crowd squeezes in to see their stars. 

Simulcast signal? All-sources handle? Takeout? Nobody even knows what they mean. 

Each trainer has one division, never more than 30 horses. Old men and young kids play the game equally, respectfully.  

There is an ocean breeze like Del Mar. And an Adirondack feel like Saratoga. 

The only macadam on the backside is for the evening basketball games. 

Cars are parked outside the gates. 

There is a deep, forgiving main track, which never gets churned up or run down. The training track offers a respite to the grind. The pony track alternates directions each day, Monday we go right, Tuesday we go left, Wednesday we go right…we take Sundays off.

It rains, but never floods. 

There is dirt, synthetic and turf to choose from when you want, where you want. A walking path meanders miles, around the outside of the stable area, away from the combustion, horses decompress, breathe fresh air and walk flat-footed. 

Of course, there is steeplechasing.

Paddocks of all sizes are everywhere, trainers use them, horses love them. There is grass to eat. 

There is space – Horse Haven, Oklahoma, the main track, Clare Court, Greentree, the harness track, the showgrounds and Yaddo too. 

Turf slips? What’s a turf slip?

All the horses have the fortitude of Wise Dan, the eye of Royal Delta, the moxie of Fourstardave, the class of Rachel Alexandra and the kick of Zenyatta. 

For advice, there’s Allen Jerkens on his pony, whenever you need him. 

Owners pay their bills. 

The softball league serves as evening entertainment, the barn rivalries heat up but are never heated. 

The racing pub is outside the gate. There’s never a line. And it’s always crowded. 

The horses stay sound, the trainers stay sane and the game flourishes. 

Sure, I’ll be a horse trainer. Who’s with me?