WoodWard Weekend Thoughts - Part I
What will this weekend be like I thought to myself as I boarded the plane, heading from Little Rock to O'hare in Chicago, looking at all of the travelers who were making their way from terminal to terminal boarding flights to destinations. All of these people were probably heading to holiday destinations and have had their trips planned out for months. The flight from Chicago to Albany didn't take that long, but a nice interesting conversation began with a woman who was from Saratoga Springs and had seen a number of the running’s of the Travers and the WoodWard Stakes. "Why are you heading to New York", I was asked over and over again by a number of passengers, "To see history made in the Woodward Stakes at historic Saratoga Race Course", wow was the response from about 5 or 6 patrons on the plane, they all looked as if they knew I wasn’t just coming to see a horse race or two. “Isn’t that girl horse running against the boys?” “Yes”, I replied, as one of the ladies told me that she was from the Saratoga area and that I needed to take in all of the sights and sounds of Saratoga Springs. She stated that her father had taken her to see the running of the Travers and Woodward ever since she was 12. She knew exactly where I was going and why, I knew that this was going to be a special weekend.
The Morning Of. – The morning of the Woodward came very quickly, into the shower and then dressing for the day, there was this excitement that was pulsing through my veins. It has been a very long time since I felt like that. Walking out the door and down the corridor to the elevator people were talking about “Rachel”. “Rachel Who” I asked jokingly, they looked at me and said: “The filly running today, it’s going to be special,” riding through the country side in New York and seeing the sign that said Saratoga Springs led me to think back to the very first time I stepped into a race track. My hometown Oaklawn Park, known for developing Champion 3 year olds that go on to become darlings of the horse racing world.
At Old Saratoga – The sign said Saratoga Springs, and I could feel how close I was to such a historic venue, I thought back to my great grandfather who introduced me to the sport, I thought about all of the people who had a hand in giving us the opportunity to watch these majestic creatures strut their stuff. I thought about the legendary race track known as the “Graveyard of Champions”. Could that possibly have an effect on Rachel’s career, would she leave today known as a Champion Race Horse, or as another horse that couldn’t quite get it done due to a number of different factors. What I thought about most was one thing “Rachel being able to walk back to her barn after the race, and enjoy the accolades of a wonderful historic win, or a very well respected effort on the track.” Either way the only thing that stood out to me at that time was the fact that we were pulling into the parking area of Saratoga Race Course.
Union Avenue- As we exited the vehicle, we could see down a path, a path of barns, and it felt so surreal to be so close to the living quarters of these champion race horses. We walked the path down a dirt road and came to a security guard, and asked how close we were to Steve Asmussen’s barn. The guard advised that we were not far from Asmussen’s barn but that we would need credentials to be able to visit the area. Then it hit me that I was on Union Avenue as we came to a clearing, at that point I looked to my left and there was the most handsome horse heading to training at the main track. He walked slowly past us and all traffic stopped as they allowed for the horses to have the right of way. He pranced slowly across the street and was led into the track area, we stopped for a moment to take in the sounds of the horses that were already mid flight and in full gallop around the main track. What a sound that was to hear the power of these animals as they went about their business doing something they love so very much.
The Saratoga Entrance & Rachel Pins – Looking up at the entrance to the track, I realized and it set in that I was here, a place that I had watched plenty of times in the past on television, I recalled in my memory the sound of Tom Durkin’s race calls and thought to myself, in not but a few hours I will hear this legendary announcer call a live race. I walked up to the gate and paid my general admission fee and I received my pin. My friend walked through and paid and received his also, I turned around and thought about all of my message board friends and thought some of them might want to partake or have a little piece of something, a day that is going to go down in history as a legendary day for the world of horse racing. Politely I walked back to the admissions window and stooped down low and asked the man, “How much for me to get, let’s say 15 of the Rachel pins”, he looked at me and said “what, what do you have going on”, I said “message board friends”, he said “how many do you want”, I said “15”, he pulled a hand full out of the bag and gave them to me. I felt so good that I would be able to share this special day with my friends. Both from http://www.rockportharbor.com/ and also http://www.horseracingmania.com/in-loving-memory-of-eight-belles-t172.html. I walked into the gate and it was time to get focused.
Training Ends – The last horses that were out during training hours were wrapping up their workouts and gallops. The jockeys brought the horses close to the rail and the gate to allow onlookers to be able to see the horses up close and be able to see what it’s like to deal with these large individuals. Families are there early, its only 11 a.m. and children are running around enjoying the vast expanse of the standing room only area. People were walking in with their breakfast food and finding their seats. The sun was out in full glory and it was a beautiful day, we found our seats and watched the videos of some of the greats that have run at Saratoga.
Famous fillies on display in the video were: Davona Dale, Lady’s Secret, Shuvee, Personal Ensign, Go For Wand, Azeri, and at the end of the video every race of Rachel’s current Win Streak was shown on the big screen. It was great to see all of the all-time great fillies and mares that had run at Saratoga that they were featuring. To see the mystique of such incredible champions all of the female version, and to realize that the filly “Rachel Alexandra The Great” was the reason we were all there.