Waylon and Willie (Mullins) and the Boys

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So, where were we?

A lot of water under the bridge (horses over fences) since we last spoke. For me, it was Aintree, Iroquois, Churchill Downs, Claiborne, Calumet, Mill Ridge and Riverdee – either in person or on my computer.

Looking at my schedule Friday afternoon and converting BST to CT, I realized I had a conflict. NSA board meeting at 2:00. Alzammaar at Aintree at 2:10. As I walked into the meeting at the Richland Country Club in Nashville, Bill Gallo suggested a chair at the long, rectangular  table, I shimmied into the back corner, back against the wall, seeing all guests, only books over my shoulder. “I’m OK here. No, no, no, really, I’m OK here.”

When I was a kid, George and Nina Strawbridge were the coolest people around, with a satellite dish – remember the half-crater ones that looked like they could talk to Mars – which pumped in British racing. We went to the their house once a year to watch the Grand National. That was the only European racing we saw. Now, you can hit one button on an iPad while at a board meeting and watch Aintree’s 2:10.

Riding a one-race win streak, Alzammaar traveled well, jumped slickly and turned into the long, flat Aintree stretch with four or five in front of him. As NSA treasurer Charley Strittmatter talked about balance sheets and budgets, I quietly implored. It was never in doubt as the 5-year-old son of Birdstone mustered up his stamina (American-breds can go 3 miles) and won easily, geared down in the end. The board meeting had quickly become fun. I quickly added a point on purses to my SOTA presentation – Alzammaar won a handicap hurdle at Aintree, the purse was $12,500. The Grange was due to run in a filly and mare stakes the next day, the purse was $50,000. Let’s just say Alzammaar cost a lot more than The Grange.

A day later, the Iroquois Steeplechase offered the world, the world. Willie Mullins singlehandedly (well, Graham and Andrea Wylie helped, too) saving the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge with Nichols Canyon and Shaneshill venturing to Tennessee for the $200,000 Iroquois. At the bottom of the hill, Rawnaq led and Mullins loomed, it was all there, that moment in a race when it could happen. In life, we are so present, so busy. At that moment, we were gone, transferred to another world, the world of sport, the clarity of sport. Rawnaq held off Shaneshill by a neck, Nichols Canyon ran hard to finish third. It was as good a horse race as I’ve ever seen.

As for Riverdee, The Grange ran huge to finish second to One Lucky Lady, producing a Clancy Bloodstock exacta in the Margaret Currey Henley Stakes. In November, when The Grange finished a tepid seventh at the Colonial Cup, we counted backward from the Iroquois and delivered her on the day, a half-length. When I saw Mom’s red cap slicing through horses, there was a moment there…

We celebrated and commiserated at Robert’s Western World in Nashville Saturday night, which turned into Sunday morning. George Baker and his friends, once again, enriching my life.

A day later, we ventured to Churchill Downs to watch Motivational run in a two-other-than allowance on the grass. He ran OK, just OK, finishing fifth. Let’s just say there wasn’t that Rawnaq-Shaneshill-Nichols Canyon moment. Nice horse, we’ll be back.

By Sunday night, my racing venture circled back to Lexington. Sport coat, suit, loafers rolled into balls in the bottom of the suitcase. Deep breath, a moment to process Alzammaar and Aintree, Waylon and Willie over pizza and beer. Monday started early, trips to Claiborne, Calumet, Mill Ridge…sun, green grass, long-legged foals and wide-bellied mares.