Edit Two: Pictures!I wrote this a few days ago, but haven’t had a reliable internet connection to post. There are pictures to be added, but I’m not sure when that will happen…
As I write this, I’m sitting in history, a barn maligned and unwanted, the monitoring barn at Belmont. It’s hot and humid, and every horse stands before an industrial fan. Grooms are dozing on straw bales, folding lawn chairs, one on a white padded chair that looks suspiciously like it once occupied a hotel ballroom. It is a place for reading text messages, gossiping, and drinking sugary drinks to try and stay awake. It has earned the name, “detention.”I was never actually in detention, but I’ve seen movies. And this is pretty much how I would have imagined it. Minus the horses.
The detention barn ends today. It ends getting a horse over to the racetrack six hours before its race, ends the stress of a new barn, new stall, new horses, just before a race. It ends certain rituals that have fallen into place; new ones will form over time. The racetrack is ever full of its own rituals.
The van brings over the horses by two or threes from Aqueduct, grooms hanging out the windows, watching Queens roll by, the Thoroughbreds peering into windows of city buses at traffic lights, startling the populace. It is the most bizarre juxtaposition of urban and rural imaginable. It is the epitome of the racehorse experience, horses in the city.
(A realtor asked me what I did for a living. “Oh, what brings you to New York City?” she chirped. “I ride racehorses,” I told her. Her expression of disbelief was typical of the response I get from New Yorkers who have no idea of the equines in their city.)Killing time is an artform, especially in the first few hours when no one has to prep for a race. Yesterday, I got a haircut in the shedrow. (Getting my hair hosed down with cold water behind the barn was SOME experience and I can’t imagine the audience that I had.) I watched a man smoking and staring into a tree for a while. Didn’t ask what he saw. There are books to be read and, in my case, blogs to be written. Speculate about who is who in the length of brown and white faces stretched over the shedrow, disfigured comically by their anti-straw-eating muzzles.
You can discuss at length just what the P.A. announcements sound like: I’m sticking with “Charlie Brown’s teacher.” Your best bet for knowing when to groom and bridle your horse for the walk to the paddock, really just to know post time and set your watch.
But these are valueless lessons I learned this weekend, because today is the last day. The bags are packed for Saratoga, the horses have been leaving in herds for upstate, and when Belmont closes at the end of the day, NYRA’s detention barn experiment closes with it.
Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.