Recently in People You Should Know in Racing Category
When I was a little squirt, my Mother nicknamed me both "Mare" (how prophetic) and The Barefoot Contessa. (I had no idea that she got the phrase from the title of a hotsy-totsy film starring Ava Gardner.) For some reason, Mom associated my penchant for going naturally-footed with my Italian ancestry on my Father's side. I think she thought I'd grow up to be Sophia Loren. When she was feeling fanciful, she'd wave her arm and pronounce grandly that I was La Barefoot Contessa Ahl-TYE-ree, attempting to properly pronounce my foreign surname which (in the 1960's, in upstate New York) sounded to the locals to be tres exotic.
To me, shoes were an unnecessary cultural construct, created solely to be tolerated on Sundays as I sat cross-ankled, wedged between Mom and Gram in our stark, white Presbyterian church.
The minute church was over, I ripped off the white patent leather Mary Janes and tossed them into my Mother's waiting hand. She never tried to cut off the call of Nature to my wild-child heart, for which I am grateful. I rode my cousin's Quarter Horse barefoot, also--a singularly remarkable experience.
My favoritest, most freeing thing to do was to wear a long skirt and run out into our overgrown grassy yard. Grabbing a bunch of lilacs as they clung desperately to Grandma's huge, treasured lilac bush (they saw me coming, and ducked their fat little heads)--I relished that first big sniff. Then, my head full of that fragrant opiate, I commenced to twirl 'round and 'round in the tall, soft green beneath my liberated toes. I'd spin until I dizzied out, and collapse into that grass, under the sacred purple bush. I can still feel the cool dampness of the unmown grass as it wrapped itself around me like so many tiny green angels' wings. Staring up at the clear blue skies, my young spirit knew absolute freedom--the kind of bliss for which adults pay millions of dollars a year to self-help gurus and bookstores. I often go back to that place and that time in a frail attempt to recapture some of that unbridled bliss...
Resort destinations like Saratoga Springs often fall prey to carpetbaggers and snake oil salesmen who come to town when the number are high, and stay only long enough to cash in on visitors' craving for reminders of their time spent in the Spa City. Hawking cheaply-made t-shirts, shot glasses sporting scandily-clad, winking Hawaiian girls and birds that utilize the pendulum theory to dip into a glass of red water--there is nothing worse than a cheesy souvenir shop. Just being around one of these smarmy types makes one feel dirty somehow.
Saratoga has seen her share of these joints, hastily rented and open just-long-enough to catch the racing season. The owners then blow out of town, never to return. The word, "accountability" is not in their lexicon. Neither are "neighbors," "friends" or "respected" used to describe these takers.
How many times have you gone on vacation, and of course, wanted to get something that will bring a smile to your face every time you use or see it, because it represents a great time in a fun place? But then you scope out the stores or kiosks that sell souvenirs, and you cringe because the products are all nasty, subtly (or not-so-subtly) sexual or just really poorly-made. And you decide that maybe you can just commit to memory all the good times, and call upon your brain anytime you want to think about your vacation. At least your memory doesn't have "I Went to __ with Stupid" written all over it. Or rats in the basement.
When I was in high school in Watervliet, New York, I had friends who lived on Easy Street in Maplewood, a small enclave of the town populated mostly by Russian-Americans. (It was because of this delightful community of Eastern Europeans that my school was one of only two, I believe, high schools in New York State that offered Russian as a language option.) But I digress, per usual. (Hey, cut me some slack: it's the holidays, and I'm in the process of my annual hibernation. I can't physically just curl up and sleep 'til the first day of Spring--which, in my world, is Opening Day of Belmont's Spring Meet--so I start sentences about one topic and meander through the woods, always ending up where I intended to go...but the circuitous route seems more interesting when I'm weighed down by the heaviness of Winter's spiritual and physical saddlepack.)
Ah, yes. Easy Street. I wanted to live on Easy Street. Who didn't? Easy Street is the mythical place where life is sweet: all needs are met. Love abounds. Friendships flourish, and there's always a helping hand. Many Americans work like dogs for 40 years, hoping to at least retire to Easy Street, if they can't figure out how to do it earlier in Life.
If you're a horse, getting to Easy Street is often harder. When you don't have thumbs, you have to depend on the kindness of others to provide for you. Birds are lacking that fifth digit, but they manage to forage and build cozy nests and find all the food they need. But horses are another story. For some reason, many humans feel a need to starve, beat or otherwise be cruel to horses. Why, I've so often wondered angrily, are so many people intentionally rotten to God's most beautiful creatures? We've heard entirely too many stories recently of horses in the hundreds, found starved to death or near-death. Horses who've been beaten with chains, left to bleed out. I believe, truly, that animal cruelty of all kinds--but most notably on the part of those who torture or abandon horses--stems from an innate jealousy of the archetypal Horse.
Travers Weekend always offers the opportunity to experience something new: someone, somewhere, sets up shop in or around the famed Saratoga Race Course--and before you know it, your heart has stopped dead in its tracks; your imagination is running wild and you fall in love with a horse, person or form of expression which--just ten minutes ago--was foreign to your life and experience.
Your spirit is renewed: you see the universe around you with eyes and a heart that has been regenerated by the pure soul of another. That other may become your best friend; favorite horse or guru--regardless of the relationship that is forged, your Life after that first chance meeting is never again the same.
A human who has fallen in love--but it's so-much-more than mere "love," it's a spiritual awakening--a person who, once awakened from the sleep of ordinary life--is forever changed for the better. Eyes sparkle from the place deep within, from that place from which you originally bellowed the announcement that you were born, and that the world should welcome you with open arms and hearty relief that you're finally here.
This category, "People You Should Know in Racing," is really a subdivision of Racing 101. The people in racing whose jobs we'll discover are essential to the smooth and safe operation of a racetrack, a Thoroughbred breeding farm and other industry-related businesses. Their jobs are essential--so you should know about them.
But precisely because they're so important, I decided to give them their own category here on Saratoga.com. As you read through the entries and meet these extraordinary humans who go to work every day and make the sporting world go 'round--you may gain new perspective. You will come to respect and admire someone whose very existence was, just yesterday, below your radar.
You may even find your own vocation, your calling.
At the very least, I'll use these pages to introduce you to folks who are so darned good at their jobs that too often they become invisible. Like actors who convince you that they're not acting--these people are so good at what they do, and they move seamlessly through the workday--and most of the time we, the observers, don't notice them.
We hope you enjoy People You Should Know, and that, if you don't already--you come to understand more fully how much it takes to get a horse to the racetrack, and to run that track smoothly. I hope that you will walk up to someone who works in one of these jobs, and that you will thank her or him for performing a vital service. And I hope that you stop and look around the next time you go to the races, and realize that, truly, it takes an entire city, perhaps a small constitutional monarchy--to make this sport happen, day-after-day, week-after-week, year-after-year. (For 141 years here in the United States, so far.)
Please enjoy this new category, and do send in your comments. If you know of someone or a group of someones in racing who should be acknowledged--drop me a line. I'd love to do the research and give kudos to those who deserve it. Your input is valuable to us, as are you and all the amazing people who make Thoroughbred racing happen.
And now, for our first entry in this category, we ask you to hold your buddy's hand, and slip into a hole in the six-ton starting gate. You're about to encounter the Cowboys of Horse Racing. Ready, set--run!