Dear Diary,

February 14: It’s been quite the fortnight; emotions ran a gamut longer than the Display Handicap. The highs were zenith sized but the lows? Nadir only begins to scratch the surface.

The lowest of the lows hit a nation when 17 people, most of them children, were robbed of a future that for most of them was bright. They had every advantage, fortunate to live in one of Broward County’s most exclusive towns, going to a model high school.

Until the morning of Valentine’s Day past, life was normal. People were living the lives like they do, the privileged, while others around them were just makin’ it to scratch. But that’s OK because where there’s life, there’s hope, right?

Clichés become so because their truth is self-evident.

But on this afternoon, all the lights went out as America, again, retreated into its violent past and hatred was visited upon a community after hatred was visited upon one of its own. He lost all perspective and too many innocents lost their lives.

February 17: My oldest daughter Jen is using South Florida as a stopover on her way back to the Shores of Jersey from LA, where she was credentialed to work NAMM, a trade show for the Musical Instruments industry, at which a handful of rock stars and top session musicians act as exhibiting artists.

This year’s honorees at the event were Jackson Browne and Melissa Etheridge, among others.

We are still enjoying our visit as this is written and I used the opportunity to make our first drive up to Payson Park this year. The training center is 90 minutes, with traffic, from home. Jen’s no horseplayer but has loved mornings on the backside since she was a baby. We turned Thursday into a take your daughter to work day.

The atmosphere more closely resembles European yards, with its rolling hills surrounding a training track with the kind of surface that muffles the sound of hooves, deep and safe. In short, it’s a place where, between business hours, horses can be horses.

Payson Park: Good for Equine and Human Souls Alike

For dad, it was a chance to visit some of the people I first met back in the day in New York. Shug McGaughey took the day off, with top assistant trainer Robby Medina putting the classy stable residents through their paces.

But Bill Mott and Christophe Clement, two horsemen I admire for obvious reasons, were present and are always a highlight on any trip to Indiantown. Surprised to see Ken McPeek, readying his top class stock for an assault on Keeneland.

McPeek informed us that he is moving a large division to South Florida late this spring and summer, returning to a place where it all began for him. Indeed, McPeek was a graduate of McGaughey University when first starting out.

Payson Trifecta: (left to right) McPeek, Clement, Mott

Any day now, Clement is expecting the arrival of the Generazio turf sprinters, has some nice fillies, could use a few good male dirt horses and might return to New York a bit earlier this year because of the newly resurfaced Aqueduct main track and newly widened turf course.

Mott debuted a professional special-weights winner, Penalty, on Saturday’s Hal’s Hope program, the colt numbering among Irad Ortiz’s hatful of winners on the day. He said his barn is coming around and should be peaking in about a month or so.

"This is my baby." Elate's handler, Erma Scott,
has been with Mott 37 years.

We visited with one of our favorite fillies, Elate, while we were there and can report first hand that she’s growing nicely into her large flame.

Mott declined to blame the Del Mar surface for the mare’s Distaff loss, explaining that she was just tired following her monster efforts winning the Alabama and Beldame back to back. I asked if there was Saratoga Grade I in her future. He smiled: “I hope so.”

February 24:
A couple of good stakes highlighted Saturday’s Gulfstream program. In the Texas Glitter at 5 furlongs on the turf for three year olds, Salmanazar ran to his excellent recent works, never in serious danger through the lane.

The second and third horses might be worth following as Shangroyal was ready off the bench for Wesley Ward, chasing the winner throughout at the loss of ground but staying gamely to beat favorite Barbarossa narrowly, good race riding by Albin Jiminez.

Barbarossa was pocketed up nicely but never could shake into the clear. He kept chugging and narrowly missed in the tight place photo. The winner and third finisher were trained by Todd Pletcher, who also managed the brilliant turf sprint campaign of Texas Glitter.

Irish War Cry brought his B+ game into the G3 Hal’s Hope but it wasn’t good enough for Economic Model’s A game. After entering the stretch, these two came together as a team, quite literally, as the Ortiz brothers battled it out, Irish War Cry holding a narrow lead on the outside.

Economic Model, like most Chad Brow runners, never ran out of reserves, however, while the favorite tired in the final 50 yards. Sure to benefit, if a race like this were brought back, the thinking is that Irish War Cry would even the score.

February 25:
Shortly after this is posted it will be time to get ready as Toni and I travel up to Frank & Dino’s Restaurant in Boca. Owned in partnership, South Florida-based trainer Carlo Vaccarezza, who lives in Coral Springs, next door to Parkland, is the host.

The restaurant will be closed for business but open to the public and racetrack community for a fund raiser for the Parkland families affected by the Valentine’s Day mass shooting. We’ll be there to pay our respects and in support for the community.

The good news is that Vaccarezza’s sons, Nicholas and Michael, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, thankfully escaped with their lives but surely will be left with the scars the rest of their lives.

When I lived in New York, I thought 911 would be the last national tragedy that would hit so close to home. But this, dear diary, is America now, where the right to bear assault rifles, weapons of war, is more important than enacting sensible policy on gun control.

Photos by Toni Pricci