Cup of Coffee: In Pursuit

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“You’ve been coming here since 1973? You’re out here every day, you know the owners, you talk to the trainers, you’re friends with the jockeys, you see the horses, you write it all down, you follow it year round, you’ve been doing it your whole life. You must know what’s going to happen. Nothing could surprise you around here.”

I laughed, well, more like a roll of the eyes and a snicker, the ingrained resignation I learned from my dad who taught me this crazy game so many years ago. Back then, on early morning trips to Delaware Park or cross country rides through the hills of Chester County or next to him in the horse van heading home from places like Rockingham Park and Saratoga, Dad would talk about horses and horsemen, wins and losses, euphoria and deflation. His sayings are branded in me, I use them like they are mine, “You can always train the other guy’s horse…20/20 hindsight…mine’s to do or die, not the reason why” and others I still don’t understand.

Dad would have laughed, rolled his eyes, snickered at the rookie’s comment about a game that looks so simple from the outside and plays so difficult from the inside.

Over the first six days of racing this season, I’ve been watching it from here while Dad watches it from Pennsylvania. He’ll bet a little, watch a lot and every few days we compare notes to what we saw and what we didn’t see, the bets we made, the bets we should have made, the horses who rocked us, the rides that flummoxed us.

From the laughable to the laudatory, from the sublime to the simple, from the outrageous to the outstanding, Saratoga has once again led us on her wild goose chase, one sprinkled with highs and lows, locks and shocks.

So far…

Kiaran McLaughlin is leading trainer after six days of racing. Before the meet, the only conversation when it came to trainers was who will win the title, Todd Pletcher or Chad Brown? Then, McLaughlin comes out swinging like he was resting for the first 11 rounds. He can’t last, can he?  

A horse named after David Bowie wins her debut. Yes, her debut.

Ancient Secret, an undefeated New York-bred raised by Roy Lerman, wins the Lake George.

Market Strength, surely to win and surely to be claimed, drops to the $40,000 level for Klaravich Stable and William Lawrence on Opening Day. Well, not surely, the claim was voided due to an administrative reason.

Jeremiah Englehart mentions Macho Miah in Fasig-Tipton’s Stable Tour Wednesday, “A Macho Uno New York-bred 2-year-old colt we bought this spring that looks like he’s pretty precocious. He should be early, we actually entered him today, he’s been showing some nice things.” He wins, pays $17.40 and we look around the office like, ‘did that just happen?’

A Graham Motion winner on the turf pays $26.80. A Tom Proctor winner on the turf pays $20.40. A Christophe Clement winner on the turf pays $36.40. Another Graham Motion winner on the turf pays $34.60. A Bill Mott winner on the turf, by Arch no less, pays $47.80. We should be in the islands.

Ricardo Santana Jr., in his first meet at Saratoga, wins three races for three different trainers.

Both 2-year-old stakes winners rally from off the pace.

Tale Of Verve, who finished second in the Preakness, pays $37.40 when winning an allowance race. Dad always said bet the class horse in the race, forget the rest.  

Marylou Whitney wins with a homebred, walks to the winner’s circle, laughs, waves and talks about the thrill of winning a race at Saratoga.

Jorge Abreu, who’s walked next to hundreds of Chad Brown’s winners, makes a winning debut as a trainer with a 4-year-old first-timer, who will win again and again.

Songbird gets looked in the eye for the first time in her career, churns in place for a furlong and then slams the window with her typical flare.

Rusty Arnold gets off the duck early with a $60 winner who last ran at Ellis Park.

The biggest inquiry comes when the starting gate bolts into the outside rail Wednesday, scattering photographers and fans like confetti into a fan. I never realized how much I liked Dave Harmon (above) until I saw him fleeing from the green monster. 

Forest Boyce, Mike Smith and Mark Watts go 1-for-1 at the meet.

Moonlight Song, a 9-year-old who failed to sell for $900,000 in 2008, wins the John Morrissey for Charlton Baker, who we once called “Finger Laker Charlton Baker” (not in print) but it doesn’t fit any more because he simply wins wherever he goes.

Leon Blusiewicz wins a race, paying double digits, Thursday. My phone vibrates. Quint Kessenich, from the original Special, texts, “You have to write about ‘Blu.’ My main man. A true lifer.” Yeah, a true lifer.

And on and on and on it goes. Dad and I will have a lot to talk about – six days down, 34 to go.