This is not a great time to be a turf horse in New York. In the Daily Racing Form, Dave Grening notes that there hasn’t been a turf race at Belmont since June 17th, and I’m sure that Steve Grodsky, owner of Miss Saul, would be happy to verify that.
Miss Saul is a four year old bay filly in the barn of Del Carroll, and in the last ten days, she’s been entered and scratched three times, as race after race has come off the turf. Her connections are hoping that the fourth time is the charm, as she’s scheduled to make her oft-delayed début in today’s ninth race.
Grodsky purchased Miss Saul as a three year old last summer. At first it was physical setbacks that pushed back her first start; now it’s the weather. Grodsky is hoping that her first race will be as auspicious as that of the very first horse he owned, as part of the Pont Street partnership.
“His name was Distinct Pleasure,” Grodsky told me, “and his first start was at Saratoga, in 2006. I went up there, I got all dressed up, and just before the race, there’s this terrible downpour. The horse is 15-1, and he’s last, and I’m thinking, ‘I ruined my suit for this?’, and all of a sudden, he comes up the rail to nail the win. I collected big, and I said to myself, ‘Gee, this isn’t bad!’” Nearly three years later, there is still wonder and amazement in his voice.
Like many before him, Grodsky was seduced by the racing gods; he bought into a “bunch of horses—too many,” and as the losses mounted, he became known to his partners as KOD: Kiss of Death.
Grodsky grew up in Brooklyn and put himself through college, selling programs on the road to Monticello. “It was a great racket,” he reminisced. “I’d sell these programs, and people were always asking for tips. So I’d tell the first person, ‘The #1 horse,’ and the second person, ‘The #2 horse.’ That way, I was always giving out winners, and people would come back the next day.”
As an adult, Grodsky brought his uncle to the races. Uncle Saul wasn’t a bettor. He never married and had no children; a “very frugal” man, he worked for the United States Postal Service. Though he accrued a small fortune over his lifetime, he never lost a certain child-like naïveté and awe, an ability to be impressed. In an e-mail, his grand-nephew Michael recalls a stakes win by Quantum Merit, owned by family friend Joe Gioia. Following stakes victories at NYRA tracks, the horse’s connections adjourn to sip champagne and celebrate, as guests of the track. “I remember how excited he got when Joe won a stakes race with Quantum Merit,” Michael wrote. “There is a private little reception for stakes race winners at Belmont and Uncle Saul didn’t want to leave until the last drop of Moet was poured, not to mention the ancient plaid green suit he was wearing.”
As Steve Grodsky tells it, Saul was so excited about having his picture taken in the winner’s circle that when his copy of the photo came, he brought it to his gym to show all of his friends.
Steve heads to the barns nearly every Sunday morning; he visits his horses and he helps Carroll feed. “It’s great therapy,” he declared. For many years, Saul came with him. He loved the Morning Line Café, the small cafeteria on the backstretch, and he loved that the people there knew him, remembering his order from visit to visit. Another Pont Street partner, Kathy Hammond, noted, “Saul knew everyone, knew the names of all the grooms. He had a great memory, and he loved being here.”
When Steve bought Miss Saul last summer, he changed her name to honor his uncle, who loved the races so much. He never got to meet his namesake, though; he died suddenly last summer, at age 89. “I get too emotional when I talk about him,” Steve admits.
Miss Saul is entered in a $25,000 claimer today. “I know that you’re not supposed to fall in love with the horses, I know it’s a business…” His voice trails off. “But I’d hate it if she got claimed.”
For the Grodsky family, getting Miss Saul to the track is about more than recouping the investment. It’s about memories of a beloved uncle, about honoring his commitment to their family, and about celebrating a man who loved the racetrack. Miss Saul is 15 – 1 on the morning line, and I know that there are a few Grodskys out there who are doing desperate anti-rain dances today. As Michael wrote to me, “Maybe with Prado riding, a little racing luck, and of course a little help from above, she might hit the board. From the sentimental side, I think my great uncle would take great pride and joy if somehow she crossed the finish line first tomorrow.”
Here’s hoping that dry weather, good luck, and a safe trip bring Miss Saul to the wire first this afternoon. The racing gods smiled on Steve Grodsky once; who says they can’t do it again?
Thanks to TrackMaster for past performance information.