Monday, June 28, 2010

Another warm Sunday morning by the rail at the Belmont training track. By 7 am, the temperature was already in the 80s, so we were treated to the not very edifying sight of several of the trainers (and the guilty shall mercifully go unnamed [Bill Terrill]) walking around in shorts, t-shirts and big bellies. Not a look to inspire confidence. And, no, not any of our trainers.

The women on the rail, though, were hoping to see a couple of the exercise riders or jockeys in shorts and tees. They would look really buff. Unfortunately for the rail birds, who had their cameras ready – and even more for the riders themselves, who had to sweat it out -- shorts and flip flops were out. The rules say safety vests and helmets. For good reason. And there are equally good reasons for boots and long pants – reasons like the horses and their great, big, heavy hooves. But all that gear makes for a pretty warm working environment, and we could see the riders sweating as they came off the track.

Castle Village Farm trainer Leah Gyarmati figured out a compromise between being too hot and being unsafe in the saddle. Jeans and riding boots, yes. But, safety vest and helmet, no. Of course, she can get away with it, because the rules don’t apply to trainers, and because her “pony” is Diligent Gambler, whose now nine years old, and as solid and steady as they come. He’s so reliable, if she started to fall, he’d turn around and catch her. It’s hard to look at him now, big and comfortable, and put that together with the race horse he was, back in 2005, when he won nine races in a single year. A couple of years later, when his racing career was over, grateful CVF partners bought him back and gave him to Leah, who was in need of a “pony.” (And, yes, that’s a ridiculously wrong name for the great, big horse a trainer uses to escort fractious, young race horses onto the training track, and to teach the two-year-olds what it means to be a race horse.)Every once in a while, Leah takes Diligent Gambler for a jog around the training track, just for old time’s sake and because he gets a kick out of it. If he took it into his head to turn that jog into a fast lap, Leah might very well need her helmet and vest, but he had no intentions of doing anything of the kind on Sunday. Probably as hot as the rest of us, and, though he kept an eye on his charges as they cantered by, he was also busy courting the attention of the railbirds, even to the point of agreeing to having his picture taken with a friend’s baby.

Diligent Gambler and Friend

The CVF contingent this week consisted of Steve, Joe and partner Vinny DiSpigno, and since we’re discussing trainers’ wardrobe mistakes, we should hasten to add that the three of us were all neatly done up in polo shirts and khakis. Vinny is planning a trip to France next month, so the conversation turned, of course, to race courses in Paris, and how to get to them. (Why bother with the Louvre when you can check out Longchamp.) Lucky for Vinny, we ran into Pont Street Stable partner Pat Hammond, who was just back herself from a springtime trip to Paris, and had gone to the races while she was there at both Longchamp and Auteuil. Steve also had fond memories from some years ago, when he was at Longchamp for the Arc de Triomphe. So, between them, they filled Vinny in on the things every racetracker needs to know – the nearest Metro stop, where to find the English-speaking pari-mutuel tellers, how to bet when there are no Beyer numbers and the card’s in French, why not to wear jeans or shorts (the restaurants won’t let you in), what you’ll find in the gift shop (it tends to be high-end, lots of 75-euro [that’s about $90 US] Hermes ties; no baseball caps, no t-shirts saying “My father went to Longchamps and all he bought me …” – not even in French).

Pat also filled us in on trainer Del Carroll Jr., who trained the Pont Street horses for many years. Del and his wife have moved to North Carolina, and though they moved there because he was supposed to be retiring, he’s managed to stay involved in racing by developing a second career, this time as a bloodstock agent. Steve will probably catch up with him at the Keeneland yearling sale in September. Since Del retired, Pont Street has moved its horses to Bruce Brown’s barn, where they now share space with Castle Village Farm.

Just one more hard-working Sunday morning for the CVF crew. If you want to join us any Sunday, just give Joe or Steve a call, or drop them an email.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Barn Report - Wednesday, June 23rd

Steve and Jean went to the track on Wednesday afternoon, not because a Castle Village Farm horse was running – none was – but just to be handicappers again. It was an exceedingly warm afternoon, so they found it a special pleasure to sit, out of the sun, in the third floor grandstand, with a Diet Coke and a cooling breeze, and the most beautiful race track in the world spread out before them. Belmont was at its quietest. Belmont is very quiet on a Wednesday. They had almost an entire section of the grandstand to themselves. Well, them and six guys sharing their betting strategies with each other – “Go for the 5 – I hate the trainer, but nothing can beat that 5.” “That 7 couldn’t hit the Board if they aimed him at it.” (Yup, you guessed it: at the finish line, the 5 was way down the track; the 7 up for first.) There were at least 10 seats for every person in the third floor grandstand on Wednesday, and the six guys had spread themselves and their racing forms accordingly, so their shared handicapping had to be pretty loud. (Not so much “I gotta have the 4 in the next race” as “I GOTTA HAVE THE 4”) which meant the Zorns got the benefit of every insight. It always helps to know which horse not to bet on.

Best overheard repartee of the day:

“Last I heard, NYRA’s run out of money. They’re gonna tear this place down and put up a senior citizens center.”

“Whaddya think it is now?”

[Note to NYRA: Much as Jean and Steve and the other senior citizens enjoy their peaceful Wednesday afternoons, maybe it’s time to consider going to a 4-day, or even a 3-day week. Even though Wednesday’s cards were pretty small, the track still probably needed more grooms for that afternoon than there were people in the stands.]

Steve was feeling badly, because he’d been too busy to visit Strings & Arrows on Sunday. Nobody wants Strings to feel that, just because he isn’t racing any more, he’s yesterday’s news. The short drive from the track to the barns took Steve and Jean back into a countryside that hadn’t existed since Tom Sawyer set his friends to work painting picket fences. The wooden barns stretched like sleeping cats in the warm sun, and wide-canopied oaks and maples cast patches of shade across the dappled grass. Inside the dark, cool shedrows, fans whirred, a hen clucked, and horses slept and dreamed of races to be run.

Strings was glad to have some company, gladder to see a couple of carrots. He already looked less like a race horse than he had just a few weeks ago. With his morning workouts reduced to sedate walks around the shedrow, he’d put on a few pounds, and, compared to his sleek racing self, was positively plump. But his coat and mane were as red and glossy and Secretariat-like as ever. In the paddock, a big, handsome white horse stood watch over the shedrow, like a wild stallion watching over his herd. It was Diligent Gambler, who once upon a time was dark gray and a pretty good race horse himself (Florida bred claimer of the year, in fact, in 2004, when he won nine races and raced for Castle Village Farm). He, too, was happy for a couple of carrots, and, after the first batch was gone, nosed the Zorns’ pockets, hoping to find a few more. But he was more interested in chatting with Steve about racing and memories. Nose to nose, they carried on an earnest colloquy for a while, while Jean contemplated skipping the rest of the races in favor of stretching out under one of the trees with a big summertime novel in hand.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Barn Report, Sunday June 6

Hot topic of conversation on the rail at the Belmont training track this morning: Uptowncharlybrown’s disqualification from a 5th-place finish, and a $30,000 share of the purse, in yesterday’s Belmont Stakes.

Uptowncharlybrown was on or near the lead early in the race, then hung on through the stretch for 5th. But when jockey Rajiv Maragh weighed in after returning to the unsaddling area, he was eight pounds too light. It turned out that a lead weight from the saddle had fallen out near the turn, heading into the stretch. Trainers on the rail this morning, including Bruce Levine, Tim Ritvo and Heriberto “Ocala” Cedano, couldn’t recall when something similar had last happened. They said that so few races now require the jockey to carry a lot of extra weight – the Belmont weight was 126, but most everyday races are at weights of 115-118 pounds -- that hardly anyone needs the eight-pound lead weights that Maragh was carrying. Maybe trainers have forgotten how to secure them in the saddles.

Too bad for the 60 New Jerseyans who are partners in Uptowncharlybrown. Tough way to lose a pretty big piece of change.