It’s late March. I walk into the Gulfstream barn of Teresa Pompay, and I am greeted with a meow. Simultaneously welcoming and warning, the meow comes again, insistent. “That’s Rasta,” says Terri, appearing from around a corner. “He adopted us.”
Rasta clearly has discerning taste, as the barn of Terri Pompay seems like a mighty nice place to be. In addition to the 24 horses in her care, I see a cage full of birds at the end of the shedrow; one talks to us each time we pass. “They’re for the horses,” Terri says.
I hadn’t seen Terri in decades; her sister and I were good friends in high school, when Terri was ripping up the riding circuit, and it was no surprise that, years later, I saw her listed as a trainer at Saratoga, her hometown.
At Gulfstream, I first meet up with her at the races, on a particularly busy day for her. She has three horses entered, one in the first race, from which she also plans to claim one, so after saying a quick hello, I arrange to catch up with her later. Her claim on Sacrifice Bunt is successful, and the name is familiar; though he has most recently raced primarily in Kentucky, he won at Saratoga last August. Her entry, Sneaky Stephen, finishes second, and at the time, I have no idea that that is significant.
I watch the rest of the races with Pompay and her father, who’s down visiting with her mother from Saratoga. Mr. Pompay too is a racing fan, and he owns some horses that—naturally—he places with his daughter. In the third, a virtual replay of the first race, the Pompay-owned and trained Texas Hedge finishes second, and a claim is involved…but this time, Pompay loses the horse.
Philosophical about the claim but frustrated by the loss, she ruefully acknowledges, “I’ve got a bad case of seconditis,” and I check the program. As of these races, Pompay’s record at Gulfstream is 32 – 1- 8- 6. Her horses finish in the money nearly 50% of the time, but they finish second at an astonishing rate of 25%. Later that day, Hez Gonna B Famous breaks the streak, but not in a good way, finishing seventh.
We agree that I’ll come back the following week, and it is then that I meet Rasta, and many of the other animals in Pompay’s care. “This is Nasr Bibi,” she says, stopping at the stall of a docile, pretty three-year-old grey filly. “She’ll make her first start soon.” She did, on April 9th, but not so auspiciously, racing wide and fading to finish last.
We stop at the stall of Compliance Officer, a maiden who will, Pompay tells me, stretch out next time. “He’s fast,” she says, “but he still needs to learn.” She’s right on all counts: That “next time” was April 12th, when he ran 1 1/16, leading from the gate to the stretch, before losing by nearly three. He finished second.
This day, Pompay’s got only one horse entered, G. Poli in the third, trying to break his maiden in his seventh start. A peek into his stall at approximately five hours to post does not reveal the aspect of a racing warrior…but in the paddock, he’s alert, dancing a little. To no avail; he finishes sixth.
Owner John Franks brought Pompay her best horse, stakes winner Clearly A Queen. A turf horse, she came to Pompay at age five, when she “was on her way down.” Clearly A Queen won five races, including two graded stakes, for her new trainer, before being injured and retired.
Parents don’t have favorite children, teachers don’t have favorite students, and trainers don’t have favorite horses. But if they did, I’d suspect that Mannington is right up there for Pompay. He’s hit the board in 13 of 22 lifetime starts, and six of his last ten—three thirds, and, of course, three seconds. Leading Gulfstream jockey Jose Lezcano was aboard for his most recent start, on April 15th. I can’t even bear to type it…he finished second.
Pompay’s tracks are Gulfstream and Monmouth, with occasional forays elsewhere; in early April, Intrusive broke her maiden by nearly eight lengths at Tampa. Though she loved Hialeah—“I cried when I left there,” she recalled—she likes being at Gulfstream, citing the track’s support for the backstretch workers and a variety of programs for backstretch help, including training programs, medical care, social activities.
One of Pompay’s main owners is Wanda Polisseni, of My Purple Haze Stables and the Purple Haze Foundation at Finger Lakes. Part of the Finger Lakes Thoroughbred Adoption Program, the Purple Haze Center opened last fall at Finger Lakes and comprises an adoption barn, a riding ring, and grazing paddocks. One suspects that along with respect for Pompay’s training acumen, Polisseni has her horses with this trainer because she knows they’ll be well taken care of.
Thursday is closing day at Gulfstream, and I can imagine that at barn 18, tack is being packed and horses are being loaded, as Pompay prepares to end one racing season in Florida and begin another in New Jersey; opening day at Monmouth is May 9th. Last summer, Pompay was the subject of a cover story in the New Jersey magazine Prime Woman; she has a home in New Jersey as well as in Florida, and these fall/spring migrations are routine…if packing up a couple of dozen horses, a stable of help, a son, and cats, monkeys, and birds can ever really be routine.
As of Tuesday night, Pompay’s record at Gulfstream, from 42 starters, is 2 – 10 – 8—nearly 50% in the money. She’s got two more starters before the meet ends; together, they own four thirds from nine starts. Their records would suggest that we bet to show; Pompay’s stats indicate that a place bet is in order. But I seldom let logic rule my wagering, so if any of my money drifts southward this week, it will be in the win pool—winter’s just about over, and it’s time to leave those seconditis germs behind.