Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Big Sky at the Big A

There is much to be said for the view from the Belmont Park grandstand across the track this time of year, when the trees that form the backdrop to the chute reveal their true colors -- flaming orange, deep burgundy, high-impact yellow. On the south side of the building, the foliage that clings to the walls is just as glorious but slower to turn and therefore largely unappreciated with the move to Aqueduct.
From the pressbox at the Big A, one can see the top of the Belmont Park grandstand situated at about 11 o'clock on the horizon about eight miles away, but it might as well be eight light-years away, so different are the two entities. If Belmont Park is the grande dame of the family, then Aqueduct is its Joe the Plumber. But was it Einstein who said, "A good plumber is infinitely more estimable than a bad philosopher?" There is much to recommend Aqueduct over Belmont in terms of interior comforts as the days shorten and the temperature drops.
There is also My View, a sweeping 180 degree panorama that starts with the unusually high ridge to my left; the end moraine of the rocks and dirt and silt scraped up and then deposited by the last glacier some tens of thousands of years ago, the outwash of which formed Long Island itself. Slightly to the left of center is a cluster of brown apartment buildings, built on the site of the old Jamaica Racetrack, and slightly to the right looms the control tower for JFK airport. Completing the semicircle is Jamaica Bay itself and beyond it, the Rockaways, home to the hawks which occasionally swoop over the infield in search of prey. But most of all, there is the sky.
Opening day, it presented a curious and ever-changing mix of clouds, gathering and darkening to occasionally spit showers, then parting to reveal a freshly washed expanse of blue that was mirrored in the infield lakes around which brown and gray horses raced. Later, creeping east along the Belt Parkway, the rear-view mirror was filled with breathtaking hues of pink and orange and purple, that, when I finally turned into Belmont Park, rendered the dying leaves almost insignificant.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Link to Evening Attire Memory Book

This morning, the memory book I put together for Evening Attire's connections is supposed to arrive from Shutterfly. I am so excited! I think it came out wonderfully and I hope the Kellys and the Grants think so too! I stopped by EA's stall to let him know; no one had any peppermints but he seemed happy enough to crunch away at a couple of Jolly Ranchers. With me was a young intern in the press office, Kyle Fox. A rabid Mets fan (he is leaving at the end of the Belmont meet to work for them) he had never been that close to a horse before, and, of course, was immediately smitten. I just wish there were a way to get more people to be able to touch a racehorse -- I know they would fall in love.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bye bye to Big Brown

I just got off the phone with trainer Rick Dutrow. During an excellent workout in company with Kip Deville this morning at Aqueduct, Big Brown managed to tear a chunk out of his right front foot, knocking him out of the Breeders' Cup Classic and ending his career. Dutrow, as you might imagine, was stunned at this development especially as the colt had been working so well for that highly-anticipated matchup against Curlin at Santa Anita. It's not tragic, by any means, but it's very disappointing.
Big Brown was a terrific racehorse, but, always appreciated him as much for his personality as his prowess on the racetrack. I remember watching him get a bath a few days before the Belmont Stakes. He was standing there, calmly, when a plane flew overhead. I had never seen a horse do this before (planes are always flying low over Belmont Park) but Big Brown actually looked up at the sky to see where the noise was coming from. At that moment, I totally fell in love with the horse. His curiosity and intelligence set him apart as much as his ability.
And, in case there were any doubts as to the veracity and severity of the injury, check out Barbara Livingston's photos taken this morning at the Big A on

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Day for Evening Attire

I went to visit trainer Pat Kelly to talk about the special things that are going to be happening at Belmont Park on Breeders' Cup Day for my favorite 10-year-old gray gelding, Evening Attire. As we were talking next to Pat's office at the end of the shedrow, the old guy stuck his head out of his stall and was nodding up and down, as if agreeing with everything we were saying! Plans are not finalized, but what I am most delighted with is that we've set up a special mailbox ( for fans to write in and share their favorite memories of the horse. I'll be collecting these into a special book that will be presented to the horse's connections in a special ceremony at Belmont Park on Oct. 25, along with a DVD of all of his victories. Funny thing, in his 69 starts, he's only won ONCE at Belmont (it was, of course, his biggest victory in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup back in 2002). As I was going through his charts, I noticed that he failed to bring back a check only three times in his whole career. As Pat said, "He put all the kids through college."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fall at Belmont Park

From where I sit up in the grandstand at Belmont Park, I can see both the changing colors of the trees reflected in the infield ponds and the shadow of this massive edifice falling completely across the stretch. Both are poignant reminders that racing at Aqueduct will begin in just a few short weeks. Forget that Belmont is but 100 yards from my house and the Big A a painful commute down the Belt Parkway; this time of year Belmont Park is at its loveliest and I hate to leave. On a gorgeous fall afternoon such as today, the afternoon light infuses the banks of flowers and foliage so they practically glow of their own accord, rivaled only by the coats of the horses, which have taken on an added lustre as well. Still, I'd rather look at a horse than a flower, and watching Curlin school in the paddock here last month was a sight I'll never forget. The Fall Championship Meet never looked so gorgeous!