It could have been worse…my mom, when she was alive, used to tell me that all the time and, I suppose most times, it’s true.
Those words could not have rung any truer after a sequence of events that occurred about three weeks ago. Yours truly was involved in one of them, while the “the worse” happened 6 days and some 700 miles later.
It started on Sunday March 3, when I got off the plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York to watch the racing debut of my 4 year old filly, Bell Notes, at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, NY. Since this race was important to me, I had to book the flight on short notice and paid the $459 (regularly $200) to take the measly 1 hour 17 minute flight.
After “mortgaging” the money for the flight, I arrived promptly at 10:47am EST to find there was some confusing as to how I was getting from LaGuardia to Aqueduct and quickly found myself stranded.
It was an easy fix however with 10,000 yellow taxis and 9,000 black mini- limos near by. So for $42 plus tip, I hopped in a black Lincoln Town Car and I was on my way to the Big A.
My excitement level, which had been building for the three previous days, was really beginning to gather momentum. I arrived at Aqueduct at about 11:30am EST.
I entered the first level of Aqueduct and realized several things. I had 1 hour and 20 minutes to first post, about 5 ½ hours until Bell Notes was going to run (she was entered in the 9th race) and about 2 hours until my partners in the filly arrived as well.
I was trying to figure out what to do with myself until the day really got going, so I decide to go into World Resort Casino, located right next door to Aqueduct and play a little video poker…..well, that didn’t work out so well either as about 30 minutes and about a good amount of money lost later, I left the casino and went back to “the Big A” to start handicapping the day’s races.
Before I knew it, between meeting up my partners in the filly, a sibling and scores of friends, we were up to the 9th race.
I went into the paddock and the minute they led Bell Notes in behind me, I knew there might be an issue. She looked nervous, but as her handlers walked her around she seemed to calm down…slightly.
She stood fairly well for the saddling process and several minutes’ later, “riders up” was called. Apprentice Julissa Laredo was given a leg up our filly. Bell Notes then took three steps, reared up (looking like the Lone Ranger aboard Silver) and dropped Ms. Laredo on her left hip. After quickly rising to her feet, Ms. Laredo was once again was hoisted aboard our feisty chestnut. She quickly took our tall, slender filly out of the paddock and onto the track where she warmed up very well….I was relieved, albeit temporarily.
As our tandem approached the starting gate, the filly froze dead in her tracks. Ms. Laredo encouraged her to move but to no avail. Another horse came up along side Bell Notes and spooked her in the process….our filly once again, reared up and once again, threw her rider to the ground.
Bell Notes, who was 20-1 morning line but pounded down to as low as 3-1 at one point, then wheeled and took off running, in the wrong direction, around the track and back towards where we were standing (By the finish line).
When she saw us, with the outrider in close pursuit, she began to slow down before coming to a complete stop near the finish line. I thought the nightmare was over…well…I did until our “nervous Nellie” tried, unsuccessfully, to hurdle the outer rail of the racetrack. She slammed her chest against the rail pushing herself backwards, flipping over and falling on her back. I honestly thought that she either killed herself or was going to kill herself. It took every bit of restraint I could muster not run out there and grab her myself.
To me, and about the other 8,000 to 10,000 people that were there’s relief, the filly quickly returned to her feet and dashed off again this time in the right direction.
By the time all that transpired, two other outriders were in the vicinity and, about a quarter mile later, the now three outriders were able to wrangle in our rogue filly by Read The Footnotes.
She immediately became a veterinarian scratch and we could not have agreed more with that decision.
Cut up, sweating profusely and scared, our filly was brought back to the paddock. I approached carefully, pet her nose and whisper “easy momma”. From there, she taken back to her barn and other than several abrasions and bruised on her chest; she is fine and actually returned to training on Monday, March 13.
Several well wishers, some I knew and some I didn’t, all said the same thing…”That could have been worse”. I just nodded my head in agreement; If she had even gotten even one leg over the outer rail?… the outcome could have been nothing short of catastrophic, so yes, it could have been worse.
Needless to say, it was not a good day from start to finish.
I thought I had it bad but perhaps the connections of another first time starter Joseph the Catfish, who was entered in TurfwayPark’s tenth race on March 9, had it worse.
Unlike our filly, Joe the Catfish actually went into the starting gate and, after breaking slowly, he settled at the back of the pack early on. Entering the turn for home, jockey Eddie Zuniga urged his mount to try to get into contention in the race but evidently Joseph the Catfish took exception to his rider’s instructions.
Joe the Catfish, who went off at 32-1 odds in the race, basically made a dead right turn at the quarter pole and (in the process) threw Zuniga off.
Like our filly the week before, Joe the Catfish, by Mineshaft, zoomed away rider-less.
After passing the grandstand, Joe the Catfish, unlike Bell Notes, actually leaped over the paddock fence, maneuvered through a gate and sprinted across the parking lot with track veterinarians close behind.
TurfwayPark starter Steve Peterman was in his car at the intersection of Turfway Road and Thoroughbred Drive, when he saw the disturbance in the track parking lot.
Peterman saw the horse get loose before he left the track, but he figured outriders would catch him.
“I didn’t see him at first, but I saw people in the parking lot pointing,” Peterman said.
“When I finally did see him, he was on (Hansel Drive) headed toward Houston Road, and the veterinarians were trying to stop traffic. The horse headed toward the on-ramp to Interstate 75, and I don’t know how he made it through the intersection at Houston Road without getting hit.”
The track veterinarians managed to get their car in front of Joseph the Catfish, then jumped out and started shoo-ing him away from the interstate. The horse stopped, wheeled and came towards Peterman.
“They did a wonderful job of getting him turned around, because, if he had gotten onto the interstate, there’s no telling what could have happened,” Peterman said.
Peterman pulled over, reached up and grabbed the obviously scared colt as he was headed back toward the Houston Road intersection.
“I tried to pull him to slow his momentum, and, when I did, all four feet came out from underneath him,” Peterman said. “He pulled me down with him, but I held on.”
While all of this was happening, Emilie Fojan, the owner and trainer of Joseph the Catfish, hitched a ride from a man leaving TurfwayPark.
“I jumped in some man’s car and said, ‘Follow that horse,’ ” Fojan said.
“I had no idea who the man was, and he finally asked me to get out because I kept yelling at him. I can laugh about it now, but my heart was in my throat then.”
Just like Bell Notes, Joseph the Catfish, who is blind in one eye, came through the ordeal mostly unscathed.
Fojan said she expects Joe the Catfish to be ready to make his return to the races by the “end of March.”
So, in comparison, I guess mom was right….it could always be worse. I mean at least Bell Notes didn’t jump the fence and head out towards the Belt Parkway and over to JFK Airport which is located right across the street.
I guess it wouldn’t have matter even if she did, I mean…. she didn’t have a boarding pass or anything.
Thanks for reading…