ULLL Majors & AAA Assessment Postponed Rain Date Cancelled. The weekend is officially a rain out. That time of year.
Saturday, February 27, 2021.
The race sheet needs two columns for all the races worth watching. Lingfield at 7:55 to Sam Houston at 9:42. The Fountain of Youth to the Southwest. The Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton to the bumper at Fairyhouse. Totally Jimbo to Beaver Hat. I emailed it to my dad, a couple of clients. "You're watching all these races?" "Most of them. Most of them."
Pleasant neighborhood walk Friday evening, in the misting rain, past 200-year-old trees, between two herds of inquisitive cows and a drink or three in the barn loft, staw bales as chairs, horse coolers – Mason Dixon Steeplechase and the 1984 Federico Tesio – as warmth. I'm dusting off the dart board and my grandfather's snooker table for next week. Do more with less. That's the theme of Covid.
Friday, February 26, 2021.
It's simply a missing element of conversation in the U.S.
Our training facilities. Or lack of training facilities. Most are restricted to a mile dirt oval for a few hours to breeze, gallop, jog all the horses housed there. Sure, there are a few venues with training tracks and a few with different surfaces, but for the most part, we lack proper facilities to train our horses. Until we invest more time, money, research and thought into our training facilities, our horses will suffer.
Take a break and watch this. Sir Mark Prescott's tour of Newmarket.
Thursday, February 25, 2021.
Miles: 106. Books: 7.
Working on Ray Dalio’s Principles, hoping that’s number eight. To stay on the 52-week target, it needs to be finished by Sunday. OK. Monday morning. I’m a long way from finished. I’m on page 63. It’s 552 pages. Miles has altered his plan, delaying a Midsummer Night’s Dream and putting Brave New World in its place. But only after Principles. Annie gave Dalio’s book to me for Christmas in 2019 and it’s been on my nightstand ever since. She read it. I have not read it. On a 52-book quest, it needed to be one of the books.
Let’s just say reading Ray Dalio is a little different than reading Mike Eruzione (book seven). Although, both are inspiring. One is a hedge fund manager, the other is a hockey player. You definitely can’t – and shouldn’t – skip through Dalio for fun. As soon as you drift, it’s worthless, so I’m constantly regrouping, refocusing.
I like this part.
My “Intractable” People Problem
One winter day in 1993, Rob, Giselle, and Dan proposed taking me out to dinner with the stated purpose of “giving Ray feedback about how he affects people and company morale.” They sent me a memo first, the gist of which was that my way of operating was having a negative effect on everyone in the company. Here’s how they put it:
What does Ray do well?
He is very bright and innovative. He understands markets and money management. He is intense and energetic. He has very high standards and passes these to others around him. He has good intentions about teamwork, building group ownership, providing flexible work conditions to employees, and compensating people well.
What Ray doesn’t do as well:
Ray sometimes says or does things to employees which makes them feel incompetent, unnecessary, humiliated, overwhelmed, belittled, oppressed, or otherwise bad. The odds of this happening rise when Ray is under stress. At these times, his words and actions toward others create animosity toward him and leave a lasting impression. The impact of this is that people are demotivated rather than motivated. This reduces productivity and the quality of the environment. The effect reaches far beyond the single employee. The smallness of the company and the openness of the communication means that everyone is affected when one person is demotivated, treated badly, not given due respect. The future success of the company is highly dependent on Ray’s ability to manage people as well as money. If he doesn’t manage people well, growth will be stunted and we will all be affected.
Some memo, huh?
I’ll read further to see how he fixed it.
Wednesday, February 24, 2021.
Three weeks until Cheltenham. Well, that was yesterday. Twenty days today. Time ticks.
By now each year…
I’ve negotiated with my teammates here, Miles’ spring break, Annie’s trips, an ever-changing publishing schedule. I’ve applied and received my press pass, already stowed in my backpack. Charged the camera battery, found the binoculars, pulled out the big suitcase. Booked two flights, deciding on Sandown Saturday or a slow Sunday arrival, a quick Friday or a languid Saturday return. I’ve pulled out the suits, selected five ties (always need an extra), my favorite overcoat and tan suede shoes which come out once a year. I’ve reached deep into my closet for the stash of pounds (did I ever tell you about the late double with Tiger Roll and Tully East?!). I’ve checked in with George and Candida Baker, hoping for an extra day of racing before or after the four days – the Plumpton/Kempton double of 2019 remains a highlight. Texts and messages from my see-once-a-year friends, a few invites to boxes, a badge or two in the mail. Hey Matt, Adam, Pete, Richard, Daniel, Adrian, Charles, “Guinness Tuesday…”
Obviously, none of this happens this year. Another pandemic victim. Last year, we slid under the tag, wondering if we had been tagged. It was strange, surreal. I don’t want to go to Cheltenham or to anything like that again. It was uneasy, uncomfortable, a pall over the passion.
Here’s to next year, my friends, here’s to next year.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
The sun is out. It's 54 degrees. Canadian geese roam the back field. The horses flit around, picking at winter grass. I'm going for a run.
I'll leave you with something light after yesterday's heaviness.
Monday, February 22, 2021.
Baker Martin Driskill was born today. Annie’s niece, Katherine, and her husband Dave, their first. That’ll make it better. A bit of joy on a dismal day.
I call Dad. Call Mom. Call Joey. Call Sheila. We talk, all knowing what the other is thinking, just by the pauses. I tell them about the 10-pound, two-ounce newborn. It brightens what is a dark day. Shelter from the storm.
Life gives, life takes.
In 1980, I watched the USA Hockey team take on the Soviets on this day. I don’t think I knew it was the day we lost my sister. Michele, six years earlier. I had put it out of my 10-year-old brain, unprocessed. I watched alone, from the end of the couch, left side if you’re facing the TV in a tenant house in the hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Perhaps, my sister Sheila was upstairs, maybe Joey was playing hockey on the frozen pond over the hill or chasing girls at the Country Place Deli. My parents? No idea. On tape delay, evidently, that was news to me, it was the most alive sporting event – event – I had ever seen.
I remember their faces, their impish grins, their whipsaw moves on the ice, their joy for the game, their innocence before, during and after. The goalie, Jim Craig, so quiet, so brilliant. Mike Eruzione, the fire, the stoker, the catalyst. Mark Johnson and his speed. Ken Morrow and his brawn. McClanahan. O’Callahan. Dave Silk. Buzz. Baker. Broten. Strobel. Verchota. Mark Wells. Steve Janaszak, the quiet backup. Dave Christian. Pavelich. Rammer. Bah Harrington. And Herb Brooks, the genius, pacing the bench, pulling the impossible strings.
And Al Michaels and his clarity of words. “…Do you believe in Miracles…”
I’m reading “The Making of a Miracle, the Untold Story of the Captain of the 1980 Gold Medal-winning US Olympic hockey team.” Eruzione and Neal E. Boudette.
In Eruzione’s words.
The crowd, once so loud, had become hushed, tense, nervous. They probably figured we’d put in a good effort but anytime now the Soviets were going to kick into gear, score two or three goals, and take over the game. I wasn’t nervous. I had spent six months playing for Herb Brooks, and every single week I’d thought I was about to get cut. Every time Craig Patrick had said Herb wanted to see me, I had felt a jolt of fear. You want pressure – that was pressure. Playing the Soviets, that was a hockey game.
Magic whipped the puck at the goal. Myshkin couldn’t get his pads down in time. The crowd erupted. Mark jumped into the air. All of us on the bench jumped into the air. Starikov slammed his stick onto the ice. It was 3-3. Now it was a hockey game, a game anyone can win.
In an instant, the game had taken on a whole new perspective. It wasn’t the Soviets skating circles around the college guys. It was tied. It was anybody’s game. Anybody who’s ever played sports knows the danger of letting an underdog believe. When a team that’s supposed to have no chance suddenly sees that victory is possible, the chemistry changes. Intangibles take over – pride, heart, commitment, things you can’t measure. It becomes a game of emotion. Talent, speed, and experience suddenly don’t matter as much. The underdog is skating faster, running on adrenaline and energy. Small plays become magnified. Even a blocked shot or a good check fires up the team to make more plays. The other team, the one that should be winning, tightens up, feels the pressure. When that happens, destiny sometimes trumps talent.
Eruzione made it 4-3. And there it stayed – the Miracle. A bunch of kids rocked the world, destiny trumping talent on the greatest stage, the grandest arena.
One day, I’ll tell Baker about it. And maybe tell him about my sister, too.
Sunday, February 21, 2021.
Quiet Sunday morning.
Ticked past – to – the 100-mile mark on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge with a liberating and laborious 10 miles yesterday. The big loop. Right out of the driveway, across St. Louis Road, past Beaver Dam Farm, past the Piedmont Kennels (the hounds are staying warm as they offer no encouragement). Along the woods, blocked from the wind, it’s almost peaceful.
Left over the one-lane bridge, up the steep, winding hill, picking my spots between patches of gravel and tire-pocked ice, slowing to a walk at the most treacherous passages. Back in the wind, past the Kansteiners, left on Willisville Road, I pull over for the first car to come toward me after 5 miles. Past Welbourne, oh, I how I miss stickball and the Cupcake and Nat, across St. Louis Road again, feeling very different this time.
Up the long, gradual hill to the Middleburg Training Center, a soft right, past Centennial Farm on the right, down the hill onto the short patch of pavement, left, up the unrelenting, steep hill at the corner of the Goodstone, going up the down escalator. Left at the stop sign and straight into a headwind, with 9 miles leaden in the legs, 28 degrees and falling, the podcast volume simply doesn’t go high enough to drown out the biting, howling February gale that has slowed me to a crawl.
It’s torture. I grunt, groan, I want to spit but have nothing to spit. The Benton tree tunnel offers escape and knowing I’m almost home offers encouragement. Another left, the gravel road still rising as I pass Pot House Road on my right, still rising, past the Fletchers at the crest, then the slow downhill, the Garmin says 9.33 as I pass the driveway, yeah, pass it. I’m getting to 10 and getting to 100. A short up and back, ticks to 10.33 and that’s enough. I slow to a walk. Border, Blue and Teddy, three pensioners, look up from their hay manger. I wave. They eat.
Oh, our beautiful, historic, defining dirt roads. America's Routes' The Long Road Home.
Saturday, February 20, 2021.
Choices on Saturdays. What a concept. I guess, that's been a positive to pandemic...
Looks like a good day for the Winter Farmer’s Market in Warrenton, time to restock the Cold Pantry pizzas and vegetables from the local farmer. An icy run somewhere, not sure where, but trying to roll past 100 for the year this weekend, as Tom Law says, get those miles in during the winter so you can enjoy the miles in the spring.
Before, after and in between, we’ll enjoy and analyze Lingfield, the Saudi Cup, Wincanton, Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park and everything else on the docket. The list of races worth watching has been typed and printed, some of those races are highlighted on The Saturday Special. You know it’s a big day of racing when the sheet goes to two columns. It started with Midnight Legacy, a decent third, in the 7:15 at Lingfield, will wind through the Saudi Cup at 12:40, the Laurel Sprint Festival all afternoon and will finish with the 7:37 at Golden Gate.
Tulfarris, a Clancy Bloodstock/Stroud-Coleman Bloodstock, graduate, originally slated for Norway, makes his American debut in the 10th race (4:44) at Gulfstream. Beyond Tulfarris, I’m intrigued to watch Bestrella make her American debut in the opener at Santa Anita (3:30).
Friday, February 19, 2021.
“If you came back to the newsroom and you didn’t smell like smoke, you hadn’t done your job.” – Evan Brandt, the last reporter at The Mercury
Another snow day here. Miles and Annie sleeping. When I’m on the road at a weekend race meet, when I’m in Saratoga for two months, when I’m trying to make a morning set at Todd Wyatt’s or Jack Fisher’s, I do miss the mornings from home.
Coffee, today’s it’s Peets House Blend, by the single brewed cup. Emails first, scan who's entered on the Racing Post Tracker, sometimes I read the poem of the day, other times I don’t, I keep a few, delete most, instant gratification with a clean plate. Fluff, the stray cat who now only eats organic, farm-raised, free-range…has come and gone. The house holds a quiet, peacefulness, the heat turning on and off, that’s it, that’s the stereo. I wander back and forth between George Baker’s blog to Twitter for a couple of quick hits, to the New York Times to see if something will carry me to the Racing Post for a headline or two to the Washington Post and maybe the Wall Street Journal if I’m wild. I dabble at writing, depending on the mood, the muse, a couple of independent thoughts on my blog, some more demanding ones for other projects, a race from Lingfield, another from Chantilly, waiting for better, more interesting fodder from Kelso and Fakenham.
This morning, I think about my friend Laura Thiel Shull, inevitably, gone way too soon. A loyal friend, a tragic figure.
Thursday, February 18, 2021.
Started the day with Goldbelly’s delivery of Russ & Daughters bagels, salmon and cream cheese. Good start on a shut-the-shutters kind of day. The day didn’t get particularly better.
Someday, I’ll tell you about it.
Wednesday, February 18, 2021.
Hereford on one screen. Cagnes-sur-Mer open on another. Happy Valley on the TV.
As Annie says, ‘Horse racing, the wallpaper of my life.”
Jump card at Hereford. Two kids lean into the outer fence, peering through the posts to catch a glimpse of the juvenile hurdle. Green Book runs OK in his debut. Winner just a little more polished, a little slicker in the air. Gus Brown and I ventured to Hereford, a country track, several times on our British adventure back in 2003. It’s where we met Jonjo O’Neill and secured the ride on Saitensohn at Cheltenham. “It doesn’t matter to me, lads, it’s up to your American owner and American trainer.” Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner.
Night racing at Happy Valley, a venue and occasion that I’ve visited twice, in 1997 and 2000. The vibe. The energy. The crowd storming in from speed trains, stowing their cell phones in lockers (do they still do this?) and attacking the high-stakes game of horse racing. Twice a week. Wednesday night at Happy Valley. Saturdays at Sha Tin. A well-organized machine. When you walk around Hong Kong, the signs greet you everywhere, “Hong Kong Jockey Club,” on parks and buildings and projects that are at least funded by the HKJC. From the balcone on the sixth (seventh, eighth...?) floor just past the finish line, it's like the horses are running underneath you, don't drop your wine glass.
As for Cagnes-sur-Mer, it's on the bucket list. It looks picturesque and quaint on the screen, turf and synthetic ovals with the Mediterranean lapping along the backstretch. Winter racing on the French Riviera? Sure beats Penn National. I wonder how many Pierre-Charles Boudot will win today…two so far.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021.
Missed a few days posting. Never fear, I was writing, see below.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream stares at me from the corner of my desk. Book Seven. Thank you, Miles.
“Do you remember anything from our play?” Miles, my librarian, asks about the 5th grade play and the upcoming book.
I remember the play, just not the story.
“I’ll help you,” Miles says.
It might be time for The Best American Sports Writing 2020 or maybe the Jumping Game by Henrietta Knight, as a break between Dickens and Shakespeare.
Monday, February 15, 2021.
Barn day. Wet. Muddy. Cold. Remind me again about the joys of having four seasons in Virginia.
It was about to be three days without running so I garnered the enthusiasm, well, at least tempered the dread and set out the driveway after the afternoon barn chores. I’m at the stage when I don’t – can’t – plan a route. All depends on how I feel, gauging pain and soreness, in the first few strides, the first few furlongs. I hit my Garmin watch and let nature decide, maybe a 3-mile down and back or 5-mile around the block or a half-mile aborted mission. We’ll see.
I complete the 5-mile Training Center Loop. It’s the go-to route. Dirt roads for the most part. Hills, unavoidable. No podcast. No music. Just my thoughts. I tick past 83 miles for the year. My compatriots on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge are well, way, ahead of me. It’s the journey that counts.
Sunday, February 14, 2021.
No running. Icy today. Not on target.
“Don’t round the corners.” – M. Night Shyamalan.
Saturday, February 13, 2021.
Finished Oliver Twist. Number 6. On target.
Miles asks me every day, “How’s Oliver Twist?” It’s a running theme of our house, a dialogue, a source of conversation, a shared experience. I finished it late Friday night, stacking it on the nightstand with the other finished books. It’s starting to become a pile. Miles asks me what I thought of it.
“It was good. Parts of it were riveting, other parts, Dickens gets a bit wordy, long drawn-out sentences, you know what I mean?”
“Oh, Dad, that’s not the only Dickens I have on your list. That’s just the easiest one.”
It was the best of times…
Friday, February 12, 2021.
Long week winding down.
Productive day today, unlike many days lately. Interviewed, er, talked with jockey Junior Alvarado on In the Room, which airs Saturday morning on HRRN. Solid, consistent jockey who has carved out his spot in a tough colony. Beyond riding, Alvarado couldn’t be more professional, gracious, thankful, sincere. Loved our talk today.
Logged another 3 miles today to climb past 77 for the year. Well behind schedule but hopefully going in the right direction.
Strong racing tomorrow. The Saturday Special has it all for you.
Ticking past 10,000 words here in 2021. That’s a good start.
Thursday. February 11, 2021
3.04. Miles. 10:14. Pace. I’m back on the iRun Local 1,000 Mile Challenge. Slowly, but surely. After two weeks on the bench, as the pain subsided, I decide to test it. Throw the line in the water. I dig up and pull on an old 5K running shirt, a North Face long sleeve shirt (it went around the New York City Marathon in 1997) and my Pearl Izumi jacket of the same vintage, shorts, black running pants, ankle socks and new shoes and take a deep breath. Hit the watch and begin a slow, methodical, left-right, left-right shuffle down the driveway.
I utter “I can’t f’ing run” as I start down the driveway, my ankle tottering, wavering, then the uncomfortableness, uneasiness subsides and I begin to lope, like an old claimer backing up on the Oklahoma, gradually, slowly, methodically, it starts to get easier. Not easy.
Left on Snake Hill, to the corner of Millville, turn around, up the hill, past the driveway and turn around at the Mortgage Hall driveway (where Alphabet Soup honed his craft) and back to the driveway, creeping past the 3-mile barrier and the 74-mile barrier for the year.
I’ve been hurt many times. The first few moments of a comeback can feel like the most important moments of your career, your life. The first time you gallop a horse, when you lean over and can sit and hold, trusting your strength, your balance, your body. Whether you’re coming back from a broken ankle, or a broken arm, or a separated shoulder or even a concussion, the moments when you know you can do what you used to do, with confidence, with conviction, with instinct…it’s a good feeling.
Now, a sore ankle on an old, out-of-shape, amateur runner is a long way from a broken limb on a real athlete, but those first few steps, the first few miles feel the same as they always have, laborious and liberating.
We’ll see how I feel tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Janet Elliot texted. Charlie Fleischmann called.
Hokan had died.
The 28-year-old son of Trempolino, long since retired from the flat, from steeplechasing, from the Pennsylvania hunt field, walked feebly to his feeder Saturday morning, Jan. 30. Fleischmann could see his wobbliness and darted to the field to check on his comrade, his compatriot.
“What’s the matter, old man?”
Hokan looked at Fleischmann and laid down and died. Always an independent, Hokan had a way of telling you what he thought, telling you he was in charge. In charge of the 1998 New York Turf Writers Cup, in charge of his death.
I read Janet’s text that Saturday morning. Shook my head at the memory of the Turf Writers so many years ago. Late that afternoon, Fleischmann called, I sat down on an old stump in the back yard and talked about a horse who changed my life and changed his life.
I rode him in one race.
From Saratoga Days…
I see it. Right there. A hundred yards away and I recognize it like my written name. The long stride. Hokan makes the same discovery. We accelerate with every move and nail it, soaring through the air together.
The perfect jump. The greatest feeling in the world.
There is a split second that decides that perfect jump in a steeplechase race. I rode Hokan around the turn at Saratoga as hard as I could ride a horse.
Straightening for home, I pause to see when the last fence is coming. I don’t stop riding, but freeze enough to see that perfect stride. Or at least that what I’m looking for; sometimes that perfect stride never shows and no-stride-at-all is the only thing I see. The perfect stride is when my horse reaches the fence without having to slow down, and he can accelerate and launch off the ground in a long powerful motion, making up time in the air. The perfect stride means I win the race; the no-stride-at-all means falling on my head.
The one moment of hesitation comes when I’m trying to see what stride my horse is going to be on when we reach the fence. Sometimes I see it a long way out. This was one of those times. I saw it, the most amazing site. I wouldn’t trade the sight of the long stride at the last fence at Saratoga for the view from the top of the world.
Man, what a view.
I saw it on Hokan in the biggest race of my life.
The story goes from there, from meeting Hokan as a rogue flat horse, to begging for the ride, to celebrating at the Parting Glass, over 11 pages in the first book I ever wrote.
Thanks, Hokan, you changed my life.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021.
Todd Wyatt asked when I was SOTA president. All I could remember was hosting one of my first board meetings from a rental car pulled off a highway in Arizona. Six years. Six short and sometimes long years ago. I delved into the archives and found exactly what I was doing six years ago.
February 9, 2015.
The hiker leaned on his walking stick, sweat dripping from each eyebrow, off his nose like an old barn faucet, "You're about a third of the way there."
Huffing, verging on puffing, I stammered out, "Great." It was part spit, part response as I grabbed a rock with my right hand and lifted through a worn ledge of desert. The sun rose to my left. A dog flitted past. Two hikers passed me, smiling, on their way down, a woman corrected my route, "This way," as I wandered off course and wished for those eight strides back. On I walked, trekked, staggered, over rocks, past cactus, scree sliding beneath my light running shoes.
The sign did warn us...
Welcome to Black Mountain
Warning: This is a steep rocky primitive trail
Please help keep Black Mountain Beautiful by staying on the designated Path
Distance: 2.2 miles Round Trip
Enjoy your hike
I gave it little thought. Now, a third of the way to the top, I started to become a believer, as I thought about the last three things I drank, two local draft IPAs at the Buffalo Chip Saloon last night and a cup of room-brewed coffee, complete with non-dairy creamer this morning. I yearned for water, as I watched a water bottle slosh from a woman's pack, a few hundred feet above me. Hiking shoes would have helped, water might have saved.
I twisted through natural crevices, snaked around boulders, navigated like a mountain goat, pulled off a long-sleeve running shirt, finally seeing the top, or what I thought was the top.
"How much farther?" I asked a descending climber.
"Another mile or so."
I grunted. He laughed.
Onward and upward, I reached the top - a flat, scraggly, roundish platform of peace. I ascended about 10 minutes later than I expected, well past 8 o'clock. You should never hurry a hike, but I needed to get back to the Carefree Resort to listen to the final conference on medication at the National HBPA convention. Yes, medication, I felt a long way away from a conference on medication. It was nice to feel a long way from a conference on medication.
I took a long, deep breath and slowly turned 360 degrees. The sun burst above the horizon, creating an artist's mist between the mountains and the sky. Cacti jutted like buoys in a frozen ocean. Rocks and boulders laid and leaned everywhere, like they had fallen off the back of a delivery truck and were forgotten, centuries ago.
All I needed was a guitar.
"Whew," I said, trying to slow my breathing.
"Welcome to Arizona," a woman said, sharing a rock with a friend.
I didn't even know they were there.
I snapped a photo in each direction - east, west, south, north. The "Welcome to Arizona" girl asked if I wanted her to take a picture of me at the top. I almost said no, but am glad I said yes.
"Be careful going down, it can get slippery," she said, handing my phone back to me.
"Thanks," I said, sliding my phone into the back pocket of my sweat-stained khaki shorts, and headed down, hurrying and relaxing all at the same time, content to have pushed away my laptop and pulled on my sneakers. At 44, I find myself observing more than participating, I thought of this as I descended, the euphoria of the climb replacing the arduousness of the climb.
There is nothing like going downhill, after going uphill. I reached a paved road at the bottom and arrived at my rental car. I looked back at Black Mountain, my new friend, standing in splendid isolation.
If I squinted, I could just make out the path to the top.
Monday, February 8, 2021.
Miles has discovered the Andy Griffith Show.
Mr. Tucker’s car broke down, needs spark plugs, eight of them. Gomer and his brother Goober are fixing it. Andy peels an apple in one swipe. Barney goes home for a nap. Mr. Tucker paces and puffs on a cigar.
I need to be less like Mr. Tucker.
As for us, Monday barn chores are complete, only night check still to go.
I’m going to try to run tomorrow. As Coach Tom instructs, “When you think you’re ready to run, wait another day.”
Tomorrow is the day.
Sunday, February 7, 2021.
The Boys in the Bunkhouse. Number five. Week five. On target.
Great book. Chilling, haunting. Dan Barry reports with naked abandon and writes like it’s coming out one way or another, the faster, the better for him, a bursting hose of staccato obvervation.
On page 345 of Oliver Twist. Dickens isn't exactly a bursting hose.
Saturday, February 6, 2021.
Went for a walk with George Grayson and Chris Ambrose, up and over a long, steep hill, past what was once a winery, now a shack with old broken-down furniture and weeds growing where vines once grew, to the stop sign, left or right, “you decide,” Ambrose says. We go right, past flaking sycamore trees, an old walnut tree that it would take the three of us to complete a hug, no hunting signs posted to trees, stonewalls, some standing, some falling, the relentless vines choking out the trees. We stop at a shared, silent decision and turn back, up and down the hill, past an old Christmas tree discarded, tossed aside like a mannequin after the closure of another department store. “Was that there before?” Nobody seems to know.
Too much pavement. Jarring to old joints.
We talk. Nobody looks at a phone, if they even have one. The last year of our lives, upheaval and unknown, and politics, yeah, politics, briefly, as oversized pickup trucks blast past us without tapping the brakes. We talk about our parents, our drinking habits, our travel plans, and, sure, our hopes, our dreams, our fears.
George wrote his college term paper on how Route 66 would ruin the country. Forty years later, we nod our heads, knowing the pressure on a cherished land.
We go 5.6 miles in one hour and 45 minutes. Nothing but a stroll. A mild jaunt. No goal. No deadline. Just three old men getting out of the house, sharing a moment of escape, a momentary calm from the storm.
Friday, February 5, 2021.
Cheltenham can be a challenging place.
An American tourist in a closed shop. I have grown more comfortable there over 20 years, making friends, establishing routines, sharing the passion for a sport which burrows into your bones. My annual trek, the Strides of March, has been one of the highlights of my life.
Lord Vestey died yesterday. The former chairman of Cheltenham was 79. Managing director, Edward Gillespie, introduced me to Vestey on one of my early trips to Cheltenham. Somewhat starstruck, I was immediately put at ease by Vestey, it was like I had just walked into his living room, the fire warm, the drink warmer. He asked questions about American steeplechasing, asked me where I was staying, who I liked in the Supreme. He simply made the world a better place.
Thursday, February 4. 2021.
Meetings. Winter meetings.
Wednesday, Feburary 3, 2021.
Finished the second edition of In the Room yesterday.
This time with Trevor McCarthy. Worked on limiting how many times I said I mean and think I cut in half, down to 103 times. Tricky. I’ll improve. McCarthy doesn’t have to improve, he’s a talented rider and a sweet, honest, humble kid who has built a strong career on those attributes. We knew him when.
It will air Saturday morning on HRRN.
Still sidelined with a sore ankle, although, it’s improving. R.I.C.E. Rest. Ice. Compression. Elevation. I can handle the latter three but rest, on a farm, impossible. Mucked stalls and shoveled snow Monday. Climbed around in a well pit yesterday. Today, inside, so far. That could change in an instant.
Read another 50 pages of The Boys in the Bunkhouse, nearing halfway. Have you ever read Dan Barry? His collection of columns in “This Land” is a must. A gift from my brother, Joe, it sits next to my bed. When you can’t handle 50 pages and need just two or three, wow, you can’t do much better. The Boys in the Bunkhouse, Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland is a good read, a wrenching read, but a good read.
How did we get so lucky? Think about it.
Tuesday, February 2, 2021.
Nothing like a two-hour delay. Found money. Bonus coverage. Miles sleeps upstairs. Fluff, once a stray cat, sleeps on the floor next to me. I read, write, type, scan, dream, brew a second cup of coffee and then a third. The house is quiet. Like snow-on-the-roof quiet.
Then it gets loud.
“The dryer repairman is on the way…”
“Miles has a fever of 100…”
“The water’s not working…”
I climb into the well pit, with a page of instructions and a nozzle to an air pump. It’s like going into the catacombs, cold and damp, spiders and their webs, Virginia clay oozes above the treads of my boots, gauges and levers stare back at me like I missed the punchline.
“Antique,” Jose says.
I sit on a cement block, read the instructions, fiddle with gauges. Breaker off (key). Water spigot on. Blue lever to the left. Air tank on.
Hours – days – later, I climb out of the well pit. Like a miner after an all-day shift. I blink.
And hear the news.
The dryer needs three parts, they’ll be delivered by UPS, the repairman will be back Feb. 23.
Miles still has a fever of 100.
The water is working.
Monday, February, 1, 2021.
Miles sleeping in while Annie and I trudge to the barn, navigating tire tracks strategically placed last night as the snow was tapering. Eagle Poise, Kissin Conquest, Apse and Gameboy waiting for our arrival to the barn. Sliding the barn door to four faces hanging over the yokes in their screens, four yearning faces, wondering and wishing. Routines. Routines. Usually, Eagle Poise, Kiss and Apse spend nights in the big, back field. With the snow, they stayed warm and dry, but now, they look at us with disdain. Well, Eagle Poise with disdain, Kiss with anxiousness, Apse with dismissiveness. Gameboy, always in at night, offers little in approval or disproval. They’ll be out after breakfast, standing by the gate before dinner.
In a year when appreciating what you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have has been a clear necessity and difficult objective, I try to appreciate winter. It’s what makes Middleburg distinct, special. Four seasons. We have four seasons. Of course, spring and fall are the best, summer is tough, winter is tougher.
Miles and I play the simulated Super Bowl in the backyard. I’m all-time quarterback, Miles draws up the plays. Gronkowski has a big game. Two point conversions, no extra points. Patrick Mahomes wins it with a touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, Miles diving for an over-the-shoulder catch near the corner of the garden – with four seconds on the clock.
It’s the highlight of the snow day.