A Cup of Coffee--August 16, 2001

By Sean Clancy
From The Saratoga Special, reprinted with permission

One good thing about this gig is the waiting. This morning I tried to talk to nine different trainers about the card. If you have ever tried to talk to one trainer in the morning you know what I mean about the waiting. Damn entertaining to be honest. They have to enter horses, appease owners, answer mobile phones and landline phones, haggle with agents, direct help, keep watch over the barn at Belmont, and on top of that talk to a reporter about a ten to one shot in a maiden claimer.

I can drift with the best of them so there I leaned against a rail at Neil Howard's barn, while he and Mike Ryan discussed a "flipper" bit, designed to keep a horse's tongue from flipping over the bit. Howard first had to find the bit, then had to attach a chin strap to it, then had to show Ryan how it worked. My dad tried a "flipper" bit on a filly named Thing A Thong when I was 14 so I drifted off. Drift, drift, drift.

These trees. Man, what they've seen. Alsab and Colin, Fitzsimmons and Hirsch. These trees on the backside have been here for it all. How many horses have they seen walk around and around. The leaves are bushy green keeping the whole yard in the shade. Who planted all these trees? How long will they last? Who will plant the next ones?

What about this dirt? What kind of dirt is it? Is dirt simply dirt? How many times has it been raked over all these years? If you traced this dirt, from shedrow, to boot tread, to car mat, to where? Where does it all end up? How often does fresh dirt come in to fill in the gaps? Do some barns get dirt before others? I wonder about dirt.

Bandages. Look at all the white flannel bandages hung up on the line. All white, or at least some shade of white. How many legs have they been around? How long do they last? Who was the first guy to put a bandage on a leg? I wonder how much grief he took for doing such a thing. Jacque Plante, perhaps. Do they really work? Do horses feel the difference. There they are, all hung in a line.

Saddle horses. How long have they been here? Who named them saddle horses? They hold the world, these saddle horses. Still a saddle on this one, a pad and a bridle on this one, just half a sponge on this one. How many kids wanted to climb up on a saddle horse and be Eddie Arcaro for a moment?

Coffee mugs. How many coffee mugs have been left at the barn? Thousands perhaps. Millions more likely. There's two cups there, one by the tree, one on the saddle horse (all this is tying together, you see). How many ever make it back home? Here's a Breeders' Cup, a Florida Everglades, a Buffalo Bills, Grandad, and on and on. Tomorrow morning in the kitchen you'll be looking for one.

How long does it take that bag of ice to melt? Looks like a while although it's hard to know. Puddle forms at the bottom. Wonder if it's supposed to be on a horse's legs? When did ice boots replace the ice tub? Boy, remember the tub, "Come on gimme your leg, you're OK, step into it. Nah, stay in there." Innovation and invention.

And about these hay nets. Rings hanging from the tack hook. The fire extinguisher. Who cut the hose and put it on the wash bucket handles. Do all those supplements work? Whose jackets hanging from the hook? Feed tubs are ready to be set in for lunch. Who hung the rake in the pitch fork for the first time? How long has Moe's Coffee truck been blowing the horn and providing the juice? Are there more bridles in the tack room than horses in the shed row. I love the windows in the back. How about this breeze? Ah, these horses.

"Hey, Sean, what can I do for you?"

"Hi Neil. I'm doing a story . . . "

Contact Sean Clancy via e-mail at sean@thesaratogaspecial.com or telephone at 518-581-1947.