Candy, carrots, and kisses.
For alliterative purposes, it works. And sums up my first visit to “The Big A” admirably.
Joe Parker was generous enough to invite me out to visit his barn at Aqueduct, and so I was up at five a.m. on a cold (for me!) New York City morning to navigate the subway to the racetrack.
Talk about a dream! For a seriously displaced city girl like myself, I couldn’t imagine anything much better than a stable full of racehorses at the end of a subway ride. I went underground from a dark, cracked sidewalk in Brooklyn. I emerged into a pinkish-gray dawn, onto a nondescript concrete platform, and as the train rattled on towards Far Rockaway, I was greeted with a view of the grandstand, beyond a plain wall that blocked my view of the track proper. I raced from the platform, under a deserted tunnel beneath the tracks, and ahead of me, in the pink dawn, was the white railings of the racetrack, and horses jogging by, riders perched above their withers. I felt a thrill of recognition. City girl, city horses. It was all coming together.
Betsy, Joe’s wife, arrived and whisked me around the racetrack and back to the stables. Aqueduct’s stabling is small and neat, sandwiched between the backstretch of the track and a residential street of tidy little brick houses, and the horses’ comings and goings from barn to track are punctuated by the crowing of chickens and the greetings and conversations of the people who work there. Everyone had a smile for me, everyone had a kind word, everyone had a joke to share.
And in the Parker shedrow, best of all, every stall door had a lovely face poked over the rubber guard, waiting to say hello, waiting for a candy, for a carrot, for a kiss.
Amidst all these friendly faces, surrounded by such energy, it was easy to feel at home. It was like the bustling training barns I had ridden at in Ocala, but a hundred times more so.
Everywhere there were horses – horses being walked around the shedrow, horses headed out to the track, horses being bathed, horses with their heads out, begging for treats. A striped tabby darted about, secure in her position as barn cat, and a green-tailed rooster haunted a corner near the open door to the backstretch, clucking and strutting importantly whenever a dancing Thoroughbred came plunging around the shedrow, on its toes and looking for trouble as only a robust young racehorse, bursting with health, can do.
It was heavenly – all those fine horses, all the talking and whistling and laughing, and in the thick of it all walked Joe with his candies and his carrots, spoiling every horse rotten. A chestnut with long mulish ears pawed incessantly at the boards in front of his stall whenever he saw us walk nearby. “What does that horse want?” Joe demanded, and Betsy was quick to answer, “He wants you to give him carrots.”
“Give that horse a carrot, will you?” Joe called to a passerby, and the man grinned and ducked into the tack room to break into the treat stash.
A tour is nice, petting horses is nice, and I was on top of the world – but kids, I’m a rider as well as a writer. And there is only one way to adequately experience a racetrack.
But that’s a story for another post.