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.

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