Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Party at the Park

So I'm looking at the weather report and it says (I am not making this up) that for SIX of the next SEVEN days it is supposed to be rainy. Showers. Showers. Showers. Showers. Partly Sunny. Showers.

Never fear.

One thing at the racetrack that seems to withstand the elements is the Friday afternoon deal at Belmont Park, Party at the Park. Last Friday, which started out as the ickiest, most humid, horrible hair day in the history of man, turned pretty wonderful by post time of 3 p.m., with the blue sky glinting off the puddles of water on the track, Commentator having rolled to victory, and a throng of young people in the backyard, HALF-PRICED BEER (that bears repeating) HALF-PRICED BEER and fine music and trivia from 3-6 p.m. in the Festival Tent, courtesy of Ernie Munick. (Disclaimer: I adore Ernie Munick).

(Also: Let me digress for a moment: The late afternoon sun glinting off the standing water on the track was pretty, but if you were calling the races, it was hell. Looking up the track as the horses turned for home, all you could see was the glare of the sun, brown animals, and NO COLOR. I have no idea how Durkin managed.)

OK. So there we are in the Festival Tent, and the beer is HALF PRICE (let me repeat that: HALF PRICE) and the woman behind the counter couldn't be friendlier or happier, and I hear my absolute two favorite songs of all time, Down by the River (Neil Young) and Hesitation Blues (Jorma K.), and I have an ice-cold HALF-PRICED beer in front of me, my friends are there, and the horses are parading by and I'm thinking, I am really lucky.

And I mean that. I can't wait for this Friday!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's That Bird?

By Wednesday afternoon, Ashley and I were becoming increasingly despondent over the departure of Summer Bird for Louisiana and Mine That Bird for Louisville.
We were bird-less.
So this is what we did.

Here are Ashley's pictures.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goodbye Mr. Chip

So the most indelible memory after the Belmont Stakes was Mine That Bird's trainer Chip Woolley sitting in one those folding canvas chairs you bring to the beach -- foot rest, arm rests, cup holder for a beer -- and sitting there outside his Belomt Park barn with his black cowboy hat, boots and legs propped up and him kind of laughing: ``If you would have told me five weeks ago I'd be sitting here the day after the Belmont Stakes disgruntled because we were third, I'da said you were crazy.'' And then he went on to praise the training of Tim Ice, like Chip, a new face in New York, who saddled the winner, Summer Bird.
I don't think I've ever met anyone like Chip Woolley. That's because I don't think I've ever met any cowboys before in my life. Sure, you got Wayne Lukas. He wears a cowboy hat and jeans but he also gets his jeans dry cleaned so that doesn't count. Bob Baffert grew up in New Mexico and he gets his jeans dry cleaned, too, so he doesn't count either.
Someone told me Chip was 2-for-40 heading into the Preakness (one of the wins was the Kentucky Derby) _ for the year. Gary Contessa is like 2-for-40 for the WEEK! at Aqueduct or Belmont! I really liked how Chip handled Mine that Bird ... The horse showed up every race _ and despite Calvin ``I'm on national TV!'' Borel totally dismissing the idea that Belmont Park is a different animal, the gelding really established himself as a horse we're going to love to follow in the years to come ... But back to Chip ... So there Chip was, and he looked like he'd been rode hard and he admitted he was tired ... Down the street from Belmont Park there is a pizza joint _ excuse me, an Italian restaurant called King Umberto's _ and every night Chip and the rest of the Cowboys would show up and have dinner. They showed up after the race. There were the balloons and the Mylar horses and the crepe paper, and when he was talking about it Sunday morning at his barn you cud see how touched he was, that these people he didn't know four days ago would go to all this trouble in big bad New York to make him feel at home.
Because that's what they do, cowboys, they make you feel at home. Whether Chip was at Madison Square Garden or at Anna House or patiently answering another stupid question from a member of the Fourth Estate, he went out of his way _ even on crutches _ to make everyone around him feel at home.