A Cup of Coffee--Saturday, August 11, 2001

By Sean Clancy
From The Saratoga Special, reprinted with permission

Yes it is strange. Strange to see one of your friends (and sometimes two) hit the ground like a mail bags off a ledge. Thursday it was Indispensable and J.W. Delozier, then seven fences later is was Roger Horgan departing from Quel Senor.

Strange, to say the least. Embarrassing, a little since it's Saratoga. Scary, sure. Par for the course, well yes and no. After a race when two horses fall, steeplechasing is forced once again to explain itself. Reporters flock from the rafters to see if the jockeys are hurt.

Anybody who has an involvement in the game feels responsible and apologetic at the same time. We know it wasn't pretty.

The last fall I had (other than from desk to floor last night) was from Indispensable. The last winner I had was with Indispensable, three weeks after that fall. Yesterday I was standing at the big screen with Jonathan Thomas, who helped run Indispensable. Thomas broke his back last year and would give anything to have ridden Indispensable in the A.P. Smithwick rather than carrying a bucket with a sponge next to him. We stood in the paddock before the race, me as a retired jump jockey and Thomas as a yearning jump jockey.

"It's hard to watch, you know," Thomas said leaning on a tree in the paddock. "Man, do I wish I was out there."

When Indispensable made the exact same mistake as he made with me last fall, I know Thomas still wished he was out there. He took off running and I took off thinking. The horse was OK. Delozier went to the hospital, was released, then it was discovered he had a collapsed lung. I know it makes no sense.

Love never make sense right? Why would anyone do such a thing? I could write this column for the rest of the meet and never come up with an answer that puts it all right. That is unless you've done it.

Horgan came back with grass stains on his helmet cover, on his left shoulder, down his legs.

"The same thing's hurt as always. Pride," Horgan said.

Trying to explain the game to people who don't feel it is tough. Trying to explain the steeplechase jockey's desire to go out there time after time is even tougher.

Because they do explains a lot, though.

The jockeys go out there for the love of the game. It's that simple, they don't get rich, they get hurt and they'd do it again everytime.

The horses. Well the horses are the tough part. I know Indispensable better than I know my brother. Whew, was I glad to see him standing on the other side of the hedge.

One thing's for sure, the jumping people take falls to heart. They roll with them because they have to roll with them. If you saw Jack Fisher, who trains Indispensable, after the race, you would have seen that it went straight to his heart. He looked like he had met the maker. He'll go on, move forward, school Indispensable again for his next start but you better believe he was wrenched like a trailer hitch on this day.

Horses are intriguing characters. No matter if they're flat horses, steeplechase horses, event horses, police horses, polo ponies, pony ride ponies, or Budweiser Clydesdales, they are pretty much here for our enjoyment or recreation or income. That's the truth of the matter. And that's what makes the decisions we make with them so delicate.

Sure, it would be nice to make them dogs, you know, lay around and sleep all day with you, go for walks, swims, runs . . . but of course people did invent dog shows, dog obedience schools, dog races so maybe that wouldn't make any difference.

But as for steeplechasing, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'd come back as a steeplechase horse everytime.

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