Trainers, exercise riders, spectators—all gradually shed layers as the sun rose higher. “It’s HOT!” was overheard more than once. A lone horse trained on the turf course.
But instead of the blue sky setting off fledgling green leaves, the colors of the trees along the backstretch were burnished. And instead of backside conversation dwelling on the Kentucky Derby, all the talk was of the Fall Classic. And I’m not talking about the Yankees.
In the barns as in the blogosphere, Zenyatta vs. Rachel reigned. Encountered on the way to the track, Allen Jerkens asked, “So what did you think of her?” Unprompted, he called out, “They should both get Horse of the Year.” He recalled 1957, when, he says, both he and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons were honored as top trainers by the New York Turf Writers Association. Hmm…which is Zenyatta, and which is Rachel?
Another trainer, on his pony near the rail of the training track, said unequivocally, “Give it to both of them!”
Casual conversations spurred amicable arguments. “She never left California!” “She won the Classic!” “Who’d she beat in the Woodward?” “She beat colts three times!”
Trainers freshly returned from California updated reporters about their horses, about next races, about next year. One raved about the quality of the event at Santa Anita, how well everyone was treated, the beauty of the surroundings. Another bemoaned the suggestion, raised by Joe Drape in yesterday’s New York Times, that Santa Anita become the permanent home of the Breeders’ Cup. The work of the assistant starter who held on to Quality Road earned lavish praise.
Florida travel plans were discussed; Payson Park or Palm Meadows? When are you leaving? On a gloriously warm autumn morning, cold and dark New York racing seemed an impossibility. Who needs Florida?
But the calendar, if not the weather, tells us that it’s autumn, not spring or summer. If it were, we might still dream that they’d meet on the track, that we’d see Rachel go west or Zenyatta come east, or maybe they’d meet somewhere in the middle.
Training hours are over; the stable area is quiet. But still, in smaller pockets of conversation, still… “Who’dya think they’ll give it to?” “She was terrific, wasn’t she?”
Yes, she was. Both of them.