Last Wednesday afternoon, literally minutes before heading out to drive south to Virginia for a conference (on academic integrity—woo-hoo, right?), I exchanged a couple of e-mails with an internet horse racing friend who shares my affection for the horses of Allen Jerkens, particularly Duchess of Rokeby. Hearing that I was headed south, she urged me to take a right, instead of heading straight through Washington, to make a pit-stop in Middleburg…knowing that it was sheer madness to make a minimum seven-hour drive any longer, I accepted her invite. Much as I wanted to meet her, it was the promise of meeting the horses that enticed me.
Timing my arrival in the DC metro area perfectly to coincide with rush hour, I arrived in Middleburg at about 7:30 pm, pondering my decision to meet a total stranger in a town to which I’ve never been so that we could drive out in her vehicle to an isolated farm in total darkness (I teach Hitchcock movies–what can I tell you?). Fortunately, the greatest danger I faced that night was the long reach and nipping teeth of a high-spirited, one-eyed two-year-old colt…known affectionately as Red (below). The fillies and colts I met are under the care of Allen Jerkens, some of them babies, some of them waiting to make their move to the track this winter or next spring. A few were a little snappishly grumpy at being awakened, but handfuls of carrots and apples soothed most of them, and I spent a delightful half hour stroking noses and being nuzzled. I would have liked to have been there in the morning so that I could see the horses working out, but I’m hoping that that will come on another visit.
Middleburg is big-time horse country—not in the Thoroughbred racing sense, but in the hunter/jumper/dressage/steeplechase/farm sense—and I happened to visit just days before the Virginia Gold Cup, about which I knew nothing, but whose website awed me…this is clearly An Event, and like all Events, it has its own blog, including a conversation about whether Britney Spears should be permitted to come to the Gold Cup (no) and Oprah Winfrey and Oprah Winney (more on this topic tomorrow). I was en route home from southeastern Virginia the day of the races (and having lunch in Richmond with yet another internet horse racing friend—they’re all over the place!), but having decided to drive through Middleburg on my way back north, I was impressed with the enormity of the event when state troopers guided me away from the very area through which I’d driven on Wednesday night, as all nearby roads were closed to accommodate the Event traffic. It almost felt like Union Avenue at 5:30 on a Saratoga afternoon…but not quite.
On Tuesday afternoon, before I left Brooklyn, my Rangers account rep called to offer me two free seats in a luxury box for the Springsteen concert at the Garden the following night; because of this trip south, I knew, agonized, that I had to turn them down. I discovered that if you can’t see Springsteen from a luxury box for free, hanging out with baby racehorses on a star-filled night in the Virginia countryside is not a bad alternative…