Thursday, November 27, 2008
Hail, to the Chief
So the other morning I'm wandering around the backstretch at Belmont Park, and I walk by Allen Jerkens' barn, hoping against hope that he will be there, and sure enough he's sitting on the old park bench just inside the doorway, hat on, bundled up in two pairs of pants and three jackets.
"And I'm still cold," he says, nodding goodbye to another visitor.
I ask him when he's leaving for Florida.
"Saturday," he says, and makes a face. "Going through the airport, having to take your shoes off ... travelling used to be so much more fun."
Taking a cue from Brooklyn Backstretch, I don't ask a question, I just wait.
"Eastern Airlines," he says after a moment or two, with a smile. "You'd go to the airport, go into the club lounge, and they'd give you a drink, or maybe a Mimosa. (Great mental image: Chief drinking Mimosas) Bacon and eggs, great food. It was something back then."
"You know, the guy who founded Eastern Airlines, Rickenbacker?"
"His plane went down in the Pacific in World War II and he was on a raft for a month before they found him."
There's another pause as I digest this, and then he asks if I'd like to come along to watch a filly work. I make a turn to walk toward the training track, but he stops me and says he's driving (so soon after getting out of the hospital?) but I climb into the cab of his truck and he pulls around to a corner spot and there are horses all over the place. It looks like a cavalry charge.
I notice that some of them have their winter coats coming in.
"You know, I could never figure out why some of them get the wooly bear coats and others don't," he says. "Sky Beauty was one of them. We'd clip her and everything, but that was one of the reasons she never did any good in Breeders' Cup."
The gray filly has galloped by, and Chief backs the truck around and heads back to the barn.
"How she'd do in the gate," he asks the exercise rider, who shakes her head.
"She didn't know what to do," she explains. "Finally, we got her to walk through."
Jerkens then tells Fernando he'd like to see the pony. I, of course, take this literally, thinking he wants to look at Circus but no, here comes Circus all tacked up and there goes Chief up onto the mounting block and with no help at all he hauls himself into the saddle and walks off and I hold my breath and think, Dear God, please don't let anything happen but nothing does, and everything is all right, because the Chief really is back in the saddle, again.
Photo by Sarah K. Andrew
Posted by On the Lead at Thursday, November 27, 2008