You Always Remember Your First Time....In The Winner's Circle
I've been in a Thanksgiving-induced reflective mood over the holiday weekend, thinking of the past, present and future concurrently. Old friends, opportunities gained and lost, past decisions made and new ones yet to be made... lots of stuff.
My boss and I took the afternoon off from work in New York City to make the relatively short drive to Belmont. We stood in the paddock with the horse, took pictures, watched him being saddled and then "jockeys up!" Pinch me if I'm really here!
A mile and three eights on the turf, non-winners of 3 other than, with my newly-acquired NY-bred colt. In 1993 the purse was $34,000 but New York State-breds ran for a 50% bonus to stimulate breeding in the State (a program that has had spectacular results over the ensuing years, culminating with 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide), so we were actually running for an effective $51,000 purse with the bonus. In those days I expect WP founder and President Terry Finley was wondering if he and his company would ever win a purse of that magnitude. No really - EVER!
The gates opened and Realm took his usual position at the rear of the field. He was 6 to 1, had Chris Antley aboard, and was the reason my heart was pounding almost out of my chest. On the far turn he starts a move that was breathtaking. Now I'm both about to have my heart explode and I can't breath in the same moment. "Down the stretch they come...and here comes Out of the Realm gaining with every stride." He veers in deep stretch but finishes two lengths in front at the wire. Stunned silence, then explosive cheering from the group of partners bearing witness.
Stewards inquiry, followed too quickly by a jockeys objection from the second-place finisher! "Oh shucks," or some other comments of that type. This combination of inquiry and objection was the kiss of death in New York racing at that time. It seemed to me that there would be about a 10-15 percent chance we would stay up, since the jockey on the second place horse did very acutely and dramatically pull up on his horse as we passed. I'm in the winners circle already wondering if I should be praying, crying, or just passing out. Chris Antley walks two feet in front of me, looks directly in my eyes and asks, "How did it look?" My immediate response was, "I think you were well clear (of the other horse)!" Antley gets on the phone and relates to the stewards, "I'm sure I was well clear..."
We stay up! We start to drink and keep arguing, for an hour or so, about who will buy the next round. Everyone was buying that day! God bless his soul, Chris Antley at his best was among the great jockeys of all time. He was the best jockey in the world that day for sure.
When Sunrise Smarty won the Grade 3 "Fall Highweight Handicap" on Thursday at Aqueduct, adding yet another graded stakes victory to the now-extensive ledger of WPT, I was thinking of his Partners and how they felt about his stunningly spectacular performance. From Out of the Realm to Sunrise Smarty, there have been countless unforgettable moments. Stay tuned for the next one, it could happen at any time!