Write a column.
For more than a week, those three words have been part of the list on my current reporter’s notebook I take pretty much everywhere. Technically I wrote one, sort of a Preakness preview, last week but that’s not what I meant.
I meant write a column about winning the Old Hilltop Award for career excellence in racing journalism, and all the people who helped make it happen. There are so many, and I’ll get to them someday. In short, thank you.
I meant write a column about being at Pimlico, lovely, old, grimy, tough, resolute Pimlico. I love the place, in all its near ruin. The hallways, the doors, the paddock, the staircases, the elevator that feels like a time machine, every mismatched piece. Pimlico tries, really tries, to shine every year and leans into the challenge. I admire it for that.
I meant write a column about Joe the horse winning the Jimmy Murphy Stakes. It’s silly to get connected to a horse because of his name but here I am. No, I did not name him. No, The Elkstone Group did not name him for me. Yes, they did name him after the president (a friend of owner Stuart Grant). And Joe the horse is way tougher than I am, and cooler, and better looking.
I meant write a column about another school shooting in our broken country. We’re really divided on the issue of whether an 18-year-old can buy an automatic rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition like he can buy an iced coffee? Like that’s some kind of line-in-the-sand constitutional right. The second amendment was adopted in 1791. Its authors shot muskets and owned people. You really think they meant it should apply to what the world is like today? Come on.
I meant write a column about the camaraderie of jockeys. They risk their lives to compete against each other, but then cheer on one another like family. Nowhere is this more on display than at Pimlico during Preakness Week. The jockeys’ room porch hangs above the winner’s circle and you hear the cheers, some jeers, loads of heckling and cackling laughter, a lot of Spanish, some French, a little English too. Florent Geroux punctuated his masterpiece on Set Piece in the Dinner Party with a message for fellow jockey Sheldon Russell, “You learn something, Russell?” Victor Carrasco’s joy after the stakes score on Joe – the Maryland jockey’s fourth win on a competitive weekend – was matched only by the reaction of Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz Jr. who cheered like fans at a hockey game.
I meant write a column about how maybe we’ve made being a Congressperson too good a job. Some people in those jobs spend most of their time simply trying to keep those jobs, not actually trying to do those jobs.
I meant write a column about the nonsense of working really hard to find something to gripe about. The opinions at the Preakness each year typically break toward, “There are too many people, it’s crowded, the place can’t handle it, there are lines, they ran out of food, the bathrooms were a disaster.” This year the opinions went the other direction, “The place is half empty, remember how crowded it used to get . . . Where is everyone?”
I meant write a column about a business model where a person can spend $3.55 million on a 2-year-old racehorse and yet live with a system where the person who cares for that racehorse gets one day off every two weeks.
I meant write a column about Jose Ortiz’s decision to let Early Voting tighten up Armagnac’s early lead in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Just when it looked like the pacecestter was going to get an easy second quarter-mile, Ortiz tightened it up and pushed a little more pace into the race. It was a small thing, but it mattered.
I meant write a column about whether a suspended trainer can be on the grounds of a racetrack regulated by a state commission, even if the racetrack isn’t racing.
I meant write a column about how cool it is that Pimlico conducts morning backstretch tours for the public, including several elementary schools in the area. It’s amazing to watch, even better to hear. Run by volunteers, the tours offer a rare glimpse of racing and horses to people who surely need the glimpse. To hear a 10-year-old reply, “Warm” when asked how a horse’s nose felt is a beautiful thing.
I meant write a column about when (this is actually an if, a huge if, but…) the Clancy Horse Auction Company hosts a 2-year-old sale there will be no timer, no whips and consignors will have the option of breezing – or galloping – on dirt, turf or synthetic surfaces – some of which might be on a hill.
I meant write a column about how I miss the Fair Hill Races, a Memorial Day Weekend fixture for decades and a melting pot of horses, horse people, $2 bettors, cheap beer, funnel cake and sunshine. My local meet last occurred in 2019 and due to the construction of a new turf course and infield show rings hasn’t happened since. There was some hope this year, but the show rings need reconstruction because of course they do and the races got shelved again. Next year? Man, I hope so.
I meant write a column. Cross it off, for now.