Heroics At The Saratoga Starting Gate

It’s not often that the Twitterverse is of a like mind, but for a few minutes before the fourth race at Saratoga Saturday, opinion was unanimous:


When Scribbling Sarah broke through the gate and lunged forward, assistant starter Mike “Pup” McMullen hung on, flying out of the stall with her. She didn’t get far, mostly because he wouldn’t let her.

Scribbling Sarah is named for turf writer Sarah Mace, whose work is regularly found at New York Thoroughbred Breeders, but she doesn’t yet have her namesake’s aplomb.

“She’s high-strung and alert, and there was a lot of stuff going on in the gate around her,” McMullen said between races later in the day, holding his wrenched back in obvious discomfort.

“She hears everything, and a couple of the other horses acted up.”

His memory of exactly what happened was a little fuzzy, but he thinks one of the horses nearby hit the gate. Scribbling Sarah reacted by rearing up, getting the doors open.

“She ended up lunging out and I just kind of went with her,” he said.

“Once I realized she was going to get out, I tried to hold her so she didn’t get loose and have to get scratched.”

Scribbling Sarah did get scratched, but only because her jockey, Junior Alvarado, was injured when he went off the back of her in the gate. The filly reportedly came out of the incident without a scratch.

Alvarado was said to have dislocated his shoulder and taken off his mounts for the first of the day; the Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that Alvarado pushed his shoulder back in its socket and hoped to ride on Sunday.

McMullen knows the filly well, having handled her in the gate for nearly all of all her starts. Trained by Tom Morley, she’s been gate-schooled regularly and been, said McMullen, “really good.”

“She’s extremely sharp and today she was razor sharp; it’s race day and she was ready to go,” he said.

“She was standing really good, but with all the noises she heard, it sets her off.”

McMullen said that he’d probably get checked out by First Aid later in the day and that he planned to work the rest of the card.

Given the circumstances, keeping Scribbling Sarah safe took split-second decision-making and courage, attributes that most assistant starters display daily without much notice. But uniting the Twitterverse? Buy that man a beer.

Photo credit Tom Keyser. Photo may not be copied or used elsewhere without permission.

Photo credit Tom Keyser. Photo may not be copied or used elsewhere without permission.

4 thoughts on “Heroics At The Saratoga Starting Gate

  1. Hell of a commentary, Teresa. You are undoubtedly the best pen at the moment on this story!

    Thank you.

  2. So far as I’ve seen, you’re the sole observer and I’m not surprised. Media coverage of horse racing these days tends to concentrate first upon pari-mutual results; second, upon “Today’s best bet”; third, upon stakes race press-release promotions and race recaps; fourth, upon on-track tragedies; fifth, upon backstretch illegal drugs/aliens embarrassments; sixth, upon who’s who in the box seats; seventh, upon “What’s wrong with Racing?”; and, at least eighth, “What’s right with Racing?”

    Your efforts to enlighten your readers stand out as paragons of knowing revelation in support of Racing’s enrichment to our general well-being. It is for this reason I so thoroughly enjoy reading what you have to say about my business and hope to do so for a very long time to come. I sincerely hope you are in the game for the long term, and it would be Racing’s loss if you should back away.

    Last year, you and Barbara Livingston concentrated upon Hialeah Park in such a way that I came away feeling hope for the future of that much-compromised race course, hope enhanced by your (the two of you) heartfelt experiences in support of that “race track.” Your (plural) feelings enhanced the Hialeah Park review beyond compare, absolutely uniquely, and with a special creativity that I find nowhere else. Both of you are special to Horse Racing, each for her own talents, but it is you I address with these thoughts.

    That you have probably been “the only pen on it” justifies my appreciation for your work. Please stay the course!

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