Saratoga just opened this weekend – and lots of trainers have moved most, or all, of their strings up there. But there are still a bunch of horses, including Talking Blues, down at Belmont. So the Castle Village Farm team split up for Sunday morning. Steve was up in Saratoga for the weekend, and Joe did Belmont duty.
Bruce Brown has 20-plus horses stabled at Belmont, another dozen or so at Monmouth and 18 up at Saratoga. He would have preferred to stable a few more at Saratoga, but trainers are at the mercy of the racing secretary (P.J. Campo) who decides how many stalls each can have. And 18, which is what Bruce got, is actually a lot for a new trainer. So he brought up to the Spa the horses he thinks will run there first, and he’ll be shuttling most of those back to Belmont as soon as they’ve run, to be replaced by the next group to run.
Our New York-bred gelding Talking Blues isn’t slated to run till later in the Saratoga meet, so he’s still stabled at Belmont. Sunday is his regular breeze day, but with the heat (it got up near 99 even before training ended for the morning), not to mention the humidity, Bruce and his assistant Maria, who’s in charge of the barn when Bruce is upstate, decided to go easy on their horses. Talking Blues, who had a bullet work just last week, breezed the half-mile this week in an unhurried 53.55 seconds, though in that heat, he still worked up a sweat. This was his first time going a half-mile, after the two good three-furlong breezes earlier.
Up in Saratoga, Steve made the rounds on a wet and muggy opening weekend. Friday was opening day. Despite the weather that day, which took most of the turf races off the grass, and which flooded the brand-new Danny Meyer restaurants – Shake Shack and Blue Smoke –there were big, big crowds and lots of great racing. All three days of opening weekend featured big fields and exciting racing. Going head-to-head against Monmouth Park’s three-day a week, “million dollars a day in purses” strategy, and even with last year’s Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, racing at Monmouth on Saturday, Saratoga came out way ahead on attendance and betting handle.
Like other CVF partners – Debi Kral, Ann Killory, John Burke, to name just a few – we look forward every year to “Saratoga Charlie” Barringer’s opening day party under the trees between the paddock and the Red Spring. It wasn’t quite a wash-out this year, but close. The rainstorms drove everybody under one of the tents that NYRA had thoughtfully provided, and several partners – including the above-named – never made it. But it was great to see Charlie and Ann and their ever-growing passel of beautiful grandchildren, and we look forward to lots of sunny afternoons, this year, as always, sharing a brew with Charlie on the backstretch.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and hot. Steve went first to the Oklahoma training track to meet up with John Couture, who’s just joined CVF’s new Saratoga Claiming Partnership, John’s wife Mary Ann and their friend John Serbalik, who’s also going to be involved in our Saratoga claiming group. Since the Friday rains had drilled holes in the Oklahoma training track, they all walked across Union Avenue to the main track to watch the workouts from the gap at the top of the stretch. Crossing the street, they weren’t the only ones in the cross walk; the traffic police held up the cars for the people – and for the race horses gravely clip clopping across. The gap is a great place to catch the morning action, as any clocker will tell you, though one does have to be a bit careful not to be in the way when the young horses get excited.
After a breakfast break – beware the Oklahoma-side track kitchen! – it was off to the front side of the track, catching up with lots of folks -- CVF partners, trainers, jockey agents, other owners, all the people that we get to see just once a year, because everybody comes to Saratoga. But, first, had some licensing to do for CVF partners, since the licensing and credentials offices had been closed between the Belmont and Saratoga meets. As always, the line out the door of Lew Kobel’s NYRA credentials office was almost as long as the line at the Shake Shack; seems like everybody waits until Saratoga to renew their NYRA badges and get their parking permits, so they can be part of mornings on the backstretch.
On Saturday, with the sun out (but the temperature well over 90), Steve spent the afternoon at another one of the hidden gems on the Saratoga track, the main track backstretch. Lots of Saratoga regulars, including partner Ron Lacey, who was there with his lovely wife on Saturday, regularly set up their folding chairs and tables under the trees and watch the races from there. The snack bar offers decent food at half the price that they charge over by the finish line, and you get a great close-up view of the start of the sprint races. You can lean over the rail, just yards from the gate. It’s especially fun when the starters are two-year-old maidens making their racing debut, and really not sure they want to go into that gate. You can even hear the starter counting down, and the jockeys and gate crew yelling “no, no, no, no.” Except for those frantic minutes when the gates open, and the horses charge out in a pack, hooves pounding, jockeys shouting, it’s quiet back there, almost like being in the country, deep shady trees, patches of meadow, and the rows of dark green barns behind. No grandstand, no clubhouse, no crowds at the betting windows and on the rail, no fancy restaurants. Just acres of grass, three mutual tellers and a handful of betting machines. What more could you ask? Oh yeah, one could ask for televisions that aren’t 20 years old and that actually show a picture, so you could maybe see the finish of the race. Good thing Track Announcer Tom Durkin is the best in the business; otherwise it would have been tough to know who won.
Babies Behind the Gate at Saratoga
More of the same on Sunday, then back to the city for the week. Steve will be up in Saratoga the first week in August for the yearling sales, and will be spending mornings at Oklahoma. He looks forward to seeing you there – and also, in the afternoons, on the main track, in the paddock area or the backstretch. Steve and Joe will both be up the weekend of August 7 – 9, so there’ll be more chances then to get a CVF guided tour, morning or afternoon. And, of course, they’ll be there whenever we’re claiming a horse or whenever Talking Blues or any of our CVF horses race.
In the meantime, whenever they aren’t both at the Spa, the CVF tradition of Sunday mornings at the Belmont backstretch will continue. Give Joe or Steve a call if you want to join them this, or any, Sunday.