No Regret

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Jim Croce said it best.

’Cause I’ve had my share of broken dreams

And more than a couple of falls
And in chasin’ what I thought were moonbeams
I have run into a couple of walls
But in looking back at the faces I’ve been
I would sure be the first one to say 
When I look at myself today
Wouldn’ta done it any other way

That’s the final verse of The Hard Way Every Time and I think about it at this time of year, every year, as Saratoga turns the corner. I write this now because there are still a few weeks to go, still a few weeks to make sure your moonbeams aren’t walls and you don’t leave here with regrets.

I have left with far too many.

I regret not spending more time with Allen Jerkens. I shared irreplaceable hours with the iconic Hall of Fame trainer, driving in circles in his golf cart, walking from the track, hanging around at the barn, but that was all during The Special’s years, starting in 2001. I regret not working for him, I never had enough confidence to ask. I regret that I didn’t just tag along, stop by for football games in the afternoon, share a cold Bud while The Chief grazed Missy’s Mirage and Kelly Kip, just be a member of the pirate ship. They would have accepted me, a horse-crazy kid who could ride a little and learn a lot.

John Hertler once asked me if I would take his son for a ride on the pony. I think he just wanted me to walk the lead pony in the bottom field. I didn’t do it. It meant a lot to one of the nicest people I ever met here. I’m not sure why I didn’t do it, just overlooked the importance. I’m sure father and son don’t remember, but I remember. And regret.

I regret not trying to understand and empathize with Cort Marzullo. I think of the first year he lived with us in Saratoga, maybe 1990, and another summer when we galloped for Leo O’Brien, there were times when he wanted to talk, needed to talk and I wasn’t there. A misunderstood sweetheart, too smart for this, who left us way too soon.

I regret losing all those security deposits.

Oh, those rides, those regrets. Hodges Bay, when I couldn’t get out. South Of Java, when I gunned at the last, thinking, ‘Win or fall.’ He fell. Cadence Count, when Tom Voss said wait as long as I could, I waited until coming to the last, I should have waited until after the last. Atomistic, Lindbergh and the time the saddle slipped on Roberto’s Grace. The time Beetleman fell over Hoh Steamer and I broke my ankle. So many regrets from so few races, that’s racing, learn from your regrets but let them go.

I regret the nights at the Parting Glass. Well, I regret some of the nights at the Parting Glass.

I regret not getting a job during sales week from 1989-2000. I was galloping horses from 5:30 to 10 every morning and, at most, riding a race from 1 to 1:05 every Wednesday and Thursday. I thought that was a full-time job. Why didn’t I go over to the sales grounds and find a job? Maybe I would have learned how to handle a horse like Billy Howland or sell a horse like Lee Eaton or prep a horse like John Williams or buy a horse like all the greats of the past.

I regret squandering opportunities to learn from trainers who gave me jobs. Mickey Preger, Mike Freeman, P.G. Johnson, Hertler, O’Brien, Mike Hushion and so many others. I regret not simply spending time with the greats before me – to think Woody Stephens, MacK Miller, Bobby Frankel were here and I didn’t know them better.

I would regret if I didn’t send a shout out to our Aunt Joan, who died Aug. 4. She read every word we wrote, she watched every race we ran. My dad’s sister, she loved the races, loved to have a bet at Delaware Park. I remember asking her whom she liked in a jump race, circa 1979. She said, “Empty Wallet.” I thought to myself, ‘Wow, Aunt Joan is broke.’ Minutes later, Aunt Joan was yelling from a second floor box. She implored “Empty Wallet” to fly the last and run home. The horse finished second. She always bet to place.

My family went to Delaware Park after her funeral Monday. Six men in suits, two women in black dresses and heels. Degenerates followed us to the window thinking we were the money. We bet a few races, played a couple of hands of $2 black jack and headed home. Sam Clancy, Joe’s wife, was the big winner, cashing tickets on the down low. Surely, place bets on longshots.

Aunt Joan would have been proud.

And one last point about regrets. I’m watching friends and colleagues squander their opportunities this summer. I’ve seen young jockeys take off horses for no reason. I’ve seen owners and trainers take wins for granted. I’ve seen writers look for reasons why they shouldn’t write the story, rather than the reason they should. And, I’m sure I’ll have my regrets when I get on the Northway in September. Add them to the list.