Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wait, that's your two year old?????? Mister Baby (Part Deux- that's Two in French)

A good friend of mine who owns the most amazing pizzeria in Lexington, mentioned to me on one of my "will you feed me I'm broke" visits that he was interested in getting a racehorse.
The Keeneland September Sale (that's the sale for yearlings) was going on and he had always been a sideline enthusiast, especially since many of his guests were coming through his restaurant during the sales. Most of these were fellow countrymen of his (and sort of, of mine), hailing from Turkey.
They'd fly in town, go to Keeneland, generally spend a shit ton of money, stash the horses they bought at Quarantine Farms (Horses leaving or entering the United States have to go through quarantine). As an aside, let me mention that I always wished I had a huge farm with one barn for enough away from the others to be able to offer quarantine services because you make mega-bux with quarantine, as in $35 per day on the average bottom end.

In any case, the few years I had been in the Bluegrass, I always wished that I could land some of those Turkish clients because they
1. have good money,
2. are good paying clients and
3. it's a narrow market with word of mouth predominating, ergo, more business down the road,
and 4. I speak the language.

Alas, as many Turkish friends as I have here in the Bluegrass, the majority of which are not into horses at all, the very small handful that are into the Thoroughbred business in any way whatsoever, are basically a group of greedy egotists that would never dream of sharing business contacts.
Over time, I suspect, too, that my being female does have some bearing on the way they have handled any requests for business. While I did not grow up surrounded by the kind of Turks that ever discriminated against women, there are plenty who still do, albeit not overtly, because, well, that just wouldn't be cool nor acceptable.

I digress.
Over a pizza and my friend mentioning about buying a horse, I informed him that buying a yearling would take at least a year before he would be able to race his new horse and throughout this conversation, I broke down the costs to him. I also mentioned that if he wanted to get a horse to race, I had a very nice two year old, who would be much better suited to the task and that I would love to get him going. I offered 2/3 of little dude for sale to my friend for cheap enough to drop my own jaw, just to make the offer sweeter. He said he had another friend who wanted to be a partner, so that in the end, the three of us would be equal partners in the horse, with me training him.

One thing I still haven't learned over the years is that my labor and my expertise is actually worth something. Who in their right mind offers to work for free? Have you ever stopped a cop or a librarian or a teacher to ask whether they would like to work without pay and they agreed?
Of course not!
But you see, us horse people, we tend to be incredibly stupid when it comes to getting a horse to the races. We get desperate. We're willing to bend over backwards, pay part of the expenses and settle for just 1/3 of the purse monies. It never occurs to us that the daily labor, never mind the gas money to get back and forth, should be considered in our most asinine of decisions. And when I say us horse people, in this case, I mean me.

To make a long story short, little dude went under contract (that much I have learned over the years) and off we went to the Thoroughbred Center to start his training to become a racehorse.

Now, let me preface this next part of the story by explaining a few things.
When a youngster (a two year old heading to the track to start training, we race track people call them babies) first ships to the track, there are many new, different, sometimes scary things going on.
There are horses everywhere, horses with people on top of them!
There are people everywhere, lots and lots of them. There is noise. There is activity. When a baby (or any horse of any age, for that matter) first gets to a new place to stable, such as a racetrack, you generally want to give it a day or two to adjust to its new environment. The way I deal with this is to stable the horse in its stall after shipping in and letting it partake in everyone else's routine for the rest of that day. Let him/her watch. The stall in many instances becomes the safety net. The next day, the new baby should probably take a nice stroll around the barn (cold walk- which means to walk instead of go to the track that day), and take a good peek around not only the barn area, but also walk to the track and graze a little around there, see what's happening on the track. Course you have to keep in mind the individual horse's personality and ability to handle stress.
Depending on how that day goes, baby can probably go under saddle the next day, or if needed, have another day of exploring.

Little dude shipped into TTC (The Thoroughbred Center, which is a Training Facility owned by Keeneland), had a day of exploring/adjusting and the next day, got to shedrow.
Shedrowing a horse is when you let the horse be ridden inside the barn, around the shedrow.
Little dude seemed to think that piles of shavings and stacks of hay or straw may be suspect- wide berths should be cut around them. While chickens, cats and even a dog running around his legs, as well as the huge flocks of pigeons roosting in the barn, were completely acceptable and no cause for any spooking, wheelbarrows were a whole other story. And there are a lot of wheelbarrows in the large concrete barns at TTC that have stalls for around 100 horses.
We decided sticking around the barn for some "under saddle training" wasn't a bad idea for a few days.
Once little dude, who I took to calling Baby, or Mister Baby, adjusted to shedrowing without having his eyes bugging out of his head or jumping at wheelbarrows, it seemed like a good plan to send him to the lower training
track the next day.
More Shedrowing
Shedrowing in both directions

It's generally a great idea to find another horse to send a baby to the track with for the first few times. Seasoned racehorses make incredible hand-holders for babies. Alternatively, if you have a group of babies that ship to the track together, they can also go out in the group together for the first time.
You know, we're talking horses here. There's safety in numbers.
Our well laid plan of sending Mister Baby in company completely fell through. The company never showed. It started getting late. We really wanted to make the track before it closed, so I made the executive decision to send Mister Baby to the track by himself. Executive as in, I talked to his rider, who also thought it should be fine.

In order to get to the small track, which lies below the larger track, one has to travers a tunnel that cuts under the main track. It's sort of the same as when you go to the races and have tickets to the infield- you get there through a tunnel.
The tunnel tends to be a fairly scary thing for a baby. There are some babies who never like the tunnel. Others take a day or two to adjust going through it. Getting them into the tunnel the first time, is generally the biggest challenge.

We left the barn, hung a left downward, veering down from the upper track and kept on until we got to the tunnel. So far, Mister Baby was walking very easily, quite relaxed and busy looking around, looking everywhere except where he was going. This resulted in his stepping on my feet a couple of times. Being smacked for that didn't phase him. I don't think he even noticed, he was so busily craning his neck looking around at everything in sight.

Tunnel up ahead
When we arrived at the tunnel, he stopped. I grabbed his reins and started walking forward, the rider was urging him and Mister Baby wasn't moving. At all.
I've learned one thing about handling babies. Or horses, period. I don't engage in arguments with them.
In a track environment, a horse's best friend and confidant is usually his groom. Or, as in my case, since I don't have a groom but rather do all the work myself, that confidant would be me.
The single best and easiest way to get a horse to cooperate in any situation that's new and requires movement, is to pretend that, well, you don't actually want anything from the horse and you're not asking him to do anything at all. You go about your business and keep moving. If horsey doesn't want to be left behind....

I looked at Mister Baby, walked on and entered the tunnel. It echos in the tunnel. Every single sound is hugely amplified. I turned towards Mister Baby, who was still rooted in place outside of the tunnel:
"Mister Baby. Come on. Let's go."
Body language is obviously as important. By turning towards him and then turning back facing where I was going and just looking back and tilting my head towards the direction again, I let him know where I was going and that I wished for him to come along.
And so he did. The rest was uneventful.

We got out to the track, I asked my rider to jog him one round and then gallop him one round, just easy to let him get his bearings and get a chance to look around and see where he was and take in the sights and other horses.
When you jog a horse on the track, you generally jog it clockwise. Galloping is done counter-clockwise. On a really busy track this can make for a lot of movement everywhere.
The lower track that day wasn't crowded. There couldn't have been more than four, maybe five horses. Since Mister Baby wasn't a seasoned track goer yet, we decided to jog himself in the same direction as the gallop, that way, it was less for him to potentially get confused about.
And off he went.
The first couple of furlongs, he wasn't jogging quite straight, a bit over here, a bit over there but he eventually figured out to stay in one path by the time he came out of the first turn.
The gallop was about the same.
I was standing next to the pony shack, talking to Kelly, the Outrider and our conversation was, of course, about horses. Kelly knew this was a new baby and it was his first day on the track. We discussed the weather and how we hoped that snow would never come. Yeah, right.
This whole time, I was following Mister Baby's progress around the track, pleasantly surprised that he was not only doing so well but also doing it like he had been doing it for years.
As he came out of the turn galloping, he settled on his haunches and showed me his big, floaty stride that I always watched in the pasture when he was a weanling. His stride was HUGE. He was putting absolutely no effort into this gallop and was just enjoying himself the way an Englishman would enjoy his cup of afternoon tea- leisurely. I couldn't help but grin.
I pointed and said "Damn, that's nice!"
Kelly looked and agreed. "Yeah, that's a nice way of going."
My grin got bigger. "Yes it is. It sure is."
Silence. A second passed as we both watched Mister Baby progress down to the lower turn and enter it, circle around it and come out to our left down the stretch.
"Yep, that's really nice", I said.
"Sure is", Kelly said.
And then:
"Wait, that's your two year old?????"
I burst with joyous laughter.
"Yes!! That's my baby!!"
"Damn, girl, THAT is a nice baby!"

Mister Baby came off the track very pleased with himself. He wasn't tired or sweaty. He wanted to do more but when you're first starting with a baby, well, less is more.
He had his bath. I hotwalked him and we negotiated a cease fire with the wheelbarrows in the barn. Sort of.

"Yep." I thought. "I was right. He's got that something."
 He's got that been-there-done-that attitude and at that moment, I felt like Mister Baby, well, he must be the reincarnation of an old seasoned racehorse.

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