The night is cold. It is only 15 degrees and the wind chill is 5…. It is windy, and the sky is darkening from snow on the way. Most have gone home for dinner, to watch the big game, or play with the kids. For some, it is time to get to work.
The next time I hear a player yell at a rider, or curse the daylights out of some bug-boy, we are going to take them to the jocks room to saddle up… They can wear the silks that John Candy wore in that movie when he came into the paddock to mount up a talking horse… That should shut up the tough guys.
Here are a few of the good folks that I have spoke to on an average day. All names will be held back except one. His name is Justin Vitek. He just left our world the other day to ride legendary horses in heaven. He had leukemia, and passed away at the young age of 26-years-old. The riders all knew him, and just last Valentine’s Day, he rode a mount at Turfway Park. He was tough, kindhearted, and will be missed; most of all by his daughter Bree…
The room was warm as the riders played pool, and watched TV… I spoke to a man wh0 is young and cannot speak but 8-10 words of English. He kept calling me “papi.” He was tough and hard, and ready to brave the cold in a crowded jocks room, where mounts are tough. He is on top of his game, and his future looks bright. Trust me, you’ll hear his name someday when he wins the Derby. By then, he will speak better English.
In the corner, smoking a cigar, was an older rider who is a fixture on the circuit. I don’t think they could open the doors without him. It just wouldn’t be the same. I guess I am showing my age, as I start remembering more riders who have hung it up and watch new faces hang their tack. He wins enough to live a comfortable life. Each year, he wins a few less. He will battle the cold and ride two mounts. “Tough game. I remember when things were better.” So do I, and he was that young guy in the corner as tough as they come.
There is an older rider who walks around the room. He doesn’t have any mounts, and the track pays him two mount fees to stay the card in case nobody wants to pick up that old mount in the last. They call this position “The House-Jock.” He is optimistic all of the time, as he buys candy for all of the riders. He buys every rider a gift at Christmas, and for any auction that benefits a disabled rider, he donates art, and other racing memories. He is the greatest. His voice is scratchy from smoking two packs a day for thirty years. I asked him how he was doing, and he told me things weren’t so good… This guy wouldn’t complain if an elephant were sitting on his chest. I knew that things were bad. I asked him if he wanted to grab a bite, and he changed the subject quickly to how good things will be next week. Some people just brighten up the darkness just by being in the room. I listened, and smiled, and wished him all of the luck in the world… As I walked out, I saw him sit down and light up a smoke in a far away corner. It looked as if he couldn’t get far enough away. I sure hope he gets a mount tonight.
On the way out, I saw another young gun ready for the post call in the cold. “What’s up my man? He just said I am just running around in circles dude.” Thank God for that, huh?
The bell rang, and I watched many riders walking toward the door with lightweight silks on. I had a big coat and could feel the cold to my bones. But this is what they do. Some call it work, and others just run around in circles.