Just in time for Valentine’s Day…

I think—dare I say it—that I may be in love.

I haven’t felt this way since 2004. Then, it was summer love: warm rains, summer breezes, cold beers and lemonade. Picnics, tank tops, flowers and trees in bloom.

It was July 29th, and his name was Afleet Alex.

Then, it was Saratoga; now, it’s Aqueduct and Gulfstream. Inner track racing instead of the Spa, bourbon instead of beer, sweaters and boots instead of sundresses and sandals. But oh, the feeling is the same…

I first saw him on November 17th, and his name is Saratoga Russell. Unlike that summer day in 2004, it was not love at first sight; older and wiser, I watched from afar, tentative, fearing to make myself vulnerable to the all-too-frequent two-year-old crush that so quickly turns to disillusionment.

But resist I can no longer. Derby trail or no Derby trail, Saratoga Russell is my three-year-old.

We have followed his exploits in this space, and last week I spoke with Kerry Carlson, chief marketing officer at West Point Thoroughbreds, owner of Saratoga Russell. She confirmed to me that last month the colt was hit by what sounds like a fairly unpleasant intestinal bug that put him out of training for several weeks. Clearly, he is fully recovered ­off his terrific showing at Gulfstream, and he’s expected to make his next appearance in graded stakes company. Though one obviously has to think of him as a colt who could be on the Derby trail, the necessity of graded stakes money to get in makes it a daunting challenge, and Saratoga Russell will need to pick up a big purse to make Derby entry a possibility. When we spoke, Kerry didn’t offer any thoughts on what that next spot might be, but his race on Saturday leaves open several possibilities, as he’s shown that he likes both Aqueduct and Gulfstream, fast and sloppy tracks.

As if there’s not enough to like about the horse, his back-story is appealing as well. He’s named for Russell Horvat, a former West Point owner who was a part owner of Saratoga View, a talented colt who won his first time out at Saratoga but was shortly thereafter injured in a training accident and euthanized. Terry Finley, president of West Point, liked the colt and his dam, Prologue, so much that he purchased Saratoga Russell (Trippi – Prologue (Theatrical)) as a two-year at the OBS sale last March.

While some descendants of the Theatrical line, such as Shakespeare, focus on the dramatic elements of the name, Saratoga Russell’s namesake carries a sadder story. Russell Horvat was diagnosed with leukemia, a disease that took his life last April, shortly after West Point purchased Saratoga Russell, from the same dam of Horvat’s winning colt, Saratoga View. To honor Horvat’s memory, friends and members of his family became part owners of Saratoga Russell and named the colt in his honor. Terry Finley writes about both the sale and Horvat in this newsletter from last spring.

In another link to that long-ago summer love, I can’t help but be reminded of Afleet Alex, and the way his connections linked to Alex’s Lemonade Stand to raise awareness of and money for pediatric cancer. Here’s hoping that those of us who make a few dollars off Saratoga Russell can contribute some of those winnings to research for the disease that took his namesake’s life.

In matters of the heart, I generally proceed cautiously—I mean, even the Derby future pools encourage us to play the field, right? But I fear it’s too late…at this point, Saratoga Russell, my heart to thy rudder is tied by the strings…and thy beck might from the bidding of the gods command me…

2 thoughts on “Just in time for Valentine’s Day…

  1. I love your write up. I was at the race on Saturday when Russell romped. It didn’t matter that it was pouring that day. Standing in the winner circle even in the thunderstorm was something that I will always remember.Saratoga Russell is indeed a special horse.

  2. I just read your wite-up and am compled to write as a part owner of this great horse and a friend of his even greater name-sake.Your story is wonderful and captures the true spirit of this horse. His next race in Saturday in the Gotham stakes. If God sees fit, he will win and then race well enough in a Derby prep race to take that magical “Run for the Roses”. If this happens, once the story of his name begins to circulate in the racing circles, he will be the Afleet Alex of this years Derby and the country’s sentimental favorite.A slight correction to your story, Russell did not have leukemia, but the same illness as that of the boy in the movie Lorenzo’s Oil (adrino-lukadystrophy – sp?). Sadly for the Horvat family, it took the life of Russell’s brother about 25 years earlier. Russell was more courageous in the face of death than i can possibly imagine any person could be and his bravery truly made his wake and funeral into a celebration of his life. His spirit drives this horse and will hopefully guide Saratoga Russell to heights that will cement the legacy of both in the annals of the “Sport of Kings”.

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