Whether you’re from Providence, Boston, New York City, or destinations beyond and between, Saratoga is the summer place to be.
For racing fans, the season offers a chance to view the best of the best up close and personal. For owners, it’s a social whirlwind filled with luncheons, cocktail parties, and charity galas. For horsemen, however, life goes on as regularly scheduled – with the added pressure of the meet’s high stakes and higher expectations.
Still, this is Saratoga, and there’s something magical about working with horses at the Spa. You can see it on the faces of exercise riders and grooms and trainers as they go about their daily duties – people stand a little straighter, smile a little brighter. The general philosophy goes something like this: you may be pushing a wheelbarrow full of muck across a gravel stable yard in the pouring rain, but you’re pushing that wheelbarrow at Saratoga, and somehow this makes the task a bit more tolerable.
At Bobby Frankel’s barn as a downpour pelts the backside, the mood is light even considering the weather. Edgar Prado perches on a trunk in the tack room, running his hands over a worn work helmet. Rafael Bejarano leans against the wall and reads the Racing Form, while Alan Garcia looks over his shoulder. Javier Castellano, ever considerate, offers up his chair to a stray reporter who seeks shelter from the storm. Joe Ferrer, Bejarano’s agent, and Tony Micallef, Alan Garcia’s agent, crowd in as well.
Frankel is enthroned in a leather office chair, trying to decide if he should cancel the works he’s scheduled with the jockeys. They wait to see if the weather will clear up. Talk turns to the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), scheduled to go off with a field of 12 this afternoon.
“Who’re you riding?” Bejarano asks Prado.
“I’m riding a gray, Diamond Stripes,” Prado says. “Gray horses love mud, that’s what the gamblers say.”
Everyone laughs, and suddenly the room erupts in a volley of horse sense – yeah, that’s what they say, and it’ll be a tough race, and there’s more than one speed horse, and they’re gonna war it up on the first turn, and it’s hard to pick a winner.
Ferrer stands up and starts pacing. Will they harrow the track or seal it? Bejarano is riding a filly in the Go For Wand (gr. I) and she doesn’t like the slop and he doesn’t like the weather and he thinks the rain is crappy and he needs to talk to Zito and…
“Would you relax?” Micallef says. “Take a seat, have a seat, for crying out loud.”
Ferrer looks outside. The rain has cleared. Frankel decides to send his workers over the Oklahoma surface, so the jocks and agents pile out of the tack room. The deluge has left a flood of water around the barn area. Prado picks up a shovel and starts to dig a drainage ditch while he waits for his mount.
“Is that what they taught you in Peruvian jockey school?” someone asks.
“They hadn’t invented shovels yet when he went there,” Garcia jibes.
The flow of water is slow, and Bejarano puts in his two cents – without lending a hand, of course.
“You have to go deeper,” he says in Spanish.
“I’ve heard that before,” Prado says, his comment dripping with innuendo.
Bejarano laughs. “Oh, that’s good, that’s funny. Are you writing that down? Be sure to write down what he said.”
The Frankel horses emerge from their stalls, and the jockeys are legged up into their various saddles. Morning sun glints off Garcia’s silver exercise vest, and he zips the front. Bejarano twirls his crop. Castellano fastens his helmet. Prado picks up the reins. Five minutes later, they’re skimming the rail with freshly-harrowed dirt flying up in their wake.
Day four at the Spa? From this perspective, it’s off to a perfect start.