SARATOGA SPRINGS – Thank you, Saratoga. I needed that. Just as horses get soured on racing, so do humans. In this case, me. I surely felt I had cause.
The tragic fatalities at Santa Anita broke my heart. The grandstanding by the California Horse Racing Board and the heavy-handed meddling by know-nothing politicians was infuriating.
The over-reaction by Santa Anita was mind boggling. Curtailing whips is as effective as banning unlucky No. 13 on saddle cloths.
The fact that the running scared mentality spread nationwide was depressing. Have no doubt it was largely responsible for the needless cancellations of Saturday racing on July 13.
Talk about hilarious irony. The only major tracks to race that day were in Southern California, ground zero for the madness, and Gulfstream, where the heat index hovers at or over 100 every day. If there has been a heat cancellation at Gulfstream or Calder, when summer racing was recorded there, I can’t recall it. All 15 Major League baseball games were played, many in the heat of the day.
The Kentucky Derby, the race I think about all year, was a debacle, from the scratching of favored Omaha Beach to the disqualification of Maximum Security, a decision that will be debated as long as there is racing.
Then owners and trainers treated the other jewels of the Triple Crown, the Preakness and Belmont, as if they were the Iowa and Indiana Derbies.
Beset by the fiscal issues that are plaguing the entire newspaper industry, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, for which I have covered stakes for more than a decade, had to cut back coverage to just a handful of major events.
I made small investments in a couple of horses as part of a group of friends and acquaintances. One suffered an injury in his stall the day he was the morning line favorite in a stakes. He never rebounded and we wound up giving him away. The other contracted pneumonia and went to the sidelines for seven months. When he finally kicked the disease, he developed a throat problem.
Personally, I had a significant health scare, which thankfully turned out to not be as ominous as first feared. Nevertheless, it was my first serious reminder of mortality.
The cumulative effect of all this was I seriously considered calling it quits and retiring for good. The only thing that kept me from doing this was the excitement of the relaunch of Horse Racing Insider.
Then I got back to Saratoga last week. For my psyche, it was like visiting Lourdes. The ambiance was as invigorating as ever. Walking around town, it was exhilarating to hear people talking racing in restaurants and bars.
Where else do you see a Hall of Fame trainer, Steve Asmussen, walk unobtrusively among the masses to the top of the stretch then follow a juvenile named Shoplifting down the lane to the winner’s circle. I doubt Asmussen does this with all his young horses, so you might want to put Shoplifting on your horses to watch list.
I reconnected with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in several years but it was like we had last talked yesterday.
The racing was extraordinary. Imperial Hint breaking a 40-year-old track record to outrun seemingly invincible Mitole.
Another track record-setter, Covfefe, dueling Kentucky Oaks champion Serengeti Empress every yard of the Test Stakes before inching away at the wire.
Jorge Navarro, who trained speedballs Sharp Azteca and X Y Jet, tipping Shancelot as “the fastest horse” he ever trained, then having the colt in only his third start run away from a field of accomplished stakes horses to win the Amsterdam Stakes by a pole.
Bob Baffert bringing McKinzie cross country to put in his bid for Horse of the Year in the Whitney, a bittersweet celebration because of the proximity of the race to the death of the beloved doyenne of Saratoga.
I even got to look like a genius in the eyes of my grandson, making his Saratoga debut. We got to the track too late for the first race Saturday. He asked me who I thought would win the second. “Everyone is saying, The Rock Says,” who was 8-5. I told him I would buy him a ticket on Grumps Little Tots instead.
Grumps Little Tots outdueled The Rock Says and paid $10.40, which my grandson put in his pocket and quit for the day. “How did you know?” he asked. I wasn’t about to disillusion him by explaining I thought The Rock Says would win, too, but Grumps Little Tots was trained by Jason Servis. For once, I felt good about that.
To revisit the Lourdes analogy, I got an email during the week that my horse’s throat problems had been over-diagnosed. He was fine and might be able to race again within a month.
All of this in just one week. I’m hooked on racing again.
© HorseRaceInsider.com, All Rights Reserved, 2019