I’ve watched a few races with Charlie LoPresti over the years.
Here Comes Ben winning the Forego, after we went searching the Saratoga backside looking for the new guy “Lowpresstee” and found him sitting on a tack trunk talking to his mother on his cell phone. Successful Dan finishing second in the Whitney, I had grabbed LoPresti by the arm to tell him he had flipped in the paddock chute, I’ve never seen despair like that. Turallure winning the Bernard Baruch, we walked out of the grandstand and along Nelson Avenue, LoPresti saying, “Man, I really like this place.” And then all the wins by Wise Dan, the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita when I went to shake his hand and he bear-hugged me like a son coming home from the war.
And then there was the seventh race at Turfway Park Thursday night.
I’ve talked to LoPresti about sending a horse to him for years. I got outbid on a horse named Input, he was going to be the first. I tried to talk him into a horse named First Beach, he talked me out of it. Motivational finally fit the bill. Average flat horse, jumper potential, already in the barn – perfect.
The sign greets you through the fog. Big and bold, a buoy in the distance. A one-off neon glow, like a bar sign at the end of the block, the back of the alley.
“A lot of good horses ran here,” LoPresti says as Price Bell, Austin Luttrell and I meet LoPresti and his wife Amy on the ground floor of a racetrack time forgot. Bottom-of-the-pocket fans handicap the fifth, then the sixth under a haze of wafting smoke and florescent lighting. We order a couple of beers, including a Racetrack Lager and stand under a TV, waiting in that crazy space between the races and your race, you know the time that slowly ticks, holding a lid on the pot that will either boil or toil.
Off we go to the paddock, the cold air hits us. Motivational walks in the paddock, bowing his neck, clenching his bit, hidden behind a pair of black blinkers. It’s the first time I’ve seen him, I like him. We make small talk, more small talk, as Charlie tacks him up and jockey Sophie Doyle comes out, a pair of ski goggles ready on her helmet. We talk strategy, I like her confidence, her directness. I feel good.
Motivational, last and wide in his most recent race, breaks sharply from the rail and Doyle is definitive, oh how I love definitiveness from a jockey, ‘just make a decision, even if it’s wrong, make a decision.’ Doyle nudges him to keep his position on the rail and he’s in front, the two horses outside her take back, as they take back, she rotates her weight, back and down, slightly, Motivational likes her cue, understands her cue. The first quarter posts in 25 and change. I pump my fist and turn to a bank of TVs behind me. He lopes down the backside, easy, enjoying it. Turning for home, the two horses outside him get a jump on him, I wait for him to dig in, surely, he’ll dig in, but he doesn’t. I turn back to the racetrack, “Come on, son, dig in.” I hear Bell, Luttrell, LoPresti yelling as well. Motivational digs in, opens up, wins easily.
The crowd goes wild – oh, that’s us – we high-five, hug, laugh all the way to the winner’s circle. We huddle in a group like long-lost college buddies. LoPresti stands at Motivational’s hip and smiles. For a moment, he looks like Wise Dan after the Breeders’ Cup Mile. For a moment.