The Phone Call

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Guess I have to write about it. If I write about the dizzying heights of Cheltenham (just think if he finished better than fifth in the Arkle…) then I have to write about the down days of November. I knew it when I saw the missed call. Matt Coleman never calls. He emails, texts, never calls. In this game, calls are bad. Nobody calls to say your horse ate up this morning…slept well…galloped great…had a nice roll in the sand.

They call to tell you they’re broken. Those are the only calls you get. I remember all of them, where I was, what I was doing, the bombardment of emotion, disappointment, realization and pragmatism. Matt knew it when he saw Alan King’s name pop up on his phone. I, in turn, knew it when I saw Matt’s name under missed calls on my phone. I guess caller ID has tempered the emotion to some degree, at least you see the punch coming. This time, I was driving Miles to school, before the dip on St Louis Road where the signal cuts out, when I called Matt back, he told it to me straight, matter-of-factly, knowing the quickest cut is the best cut. I said, “F— me,” then realized Miles was in the car, he never looked up.

“These jumpers will put you through every emotion…” Matt said. I wasn’t listening.

I’ve got plenty of calls this year – Eagle Poise is lame, Hear The Word won’t make Saratoga, Apse has some filling, etc., etc., but, this one was the worst. Valdez’s leg has some heat in it, the scan showed…finished for the season. Alan King revealed it in the Weekender this week, I guess. I saw it on Twitter. Nice to have a horse worthy for a mention on Twitter (evidently, there is also a volleyball player named Valdez). I guess, but what a disappointment. The long, cold Virginia winter just got longer and colder – and it hasn’t really started. Valdez got me through the snow days last winter, just dreaming about big days still to come. 

Most likely from his fall at Chepstow, the injury showed up a few weeks later, which is always the time frame. Race, walk for a few days, jog for a few days, couple of easy gallops, first real gallop or breeze…then the call. Nobody’s fault, I keep saying, “It’s the game we play.”

Tough game.

It’s certainly tougher for the ones dealing with Valdez every day, they’re the ones investing their time, energy and effort. We are across an ocean, showing up at Cheltenham and simply taking phone calls.

I remember years ago when Dad’s best horse Gogong bowed. He won the Carolina Cup in the final stride, beat four-time champion Flatterer at Middleburg and then Dad ran his hand down his leg and knew. Dad was crestfallen. “You just don’t get many horses like him,” he said. Yeah, I know what you mean. Gogong returned, I won a claimer on him at Tanglewood, many years later, he was never the same. When you play this game on a small scale, you realize why owners play it on a grand scale. Because of the attrition. It’s not the losses that hurt, it’s the injuries. The what-might-have-beens, the what-ifs…if he would have just met the second-to-last at Chepstow a half-stride earlier…or later.

Riverdee Stable isn’t any different than any other owner dealing with injuries. We just don’t have a replacement for Valdez. At least, right now. As tough as the trainers have it, they can at least go on and run horses, they’re still in business. King will have a fleet of horses and a book of chances at Cheltenham in March. I’ll have a press pass and a pint of Guinness.