I arranged to meet Gary West at 6:30 a.m. for my excursion. Upon arrival to the backstretch, I immediately discovered some startling facts:
1. If you show up for work at the backstretch at 6:30 a.m., you are really late. There is a flurry of activity: horses, trainers, grooms, jockeys, exercise riders. The track is open from 6:00 – 10:00 a.m. and since Texas summers are notoriously hot, there is motivation to get the horses on the track as early as possible.
2. The proximity of the backstretch to the grandstand is approximately 12 miles. Okay, it is not actually 12 miles, but my first impression when I approached the track with the Professor, I boldly pronounced my most scientific observation, "This is a long way away!"
3. There is not a Starbucks on the backstretch.
4. Mrs. Dallas Keen is the best-dressed woman associated with the sport. On race days, Dallas Keen’s wife is immaculately dressed and has impeccable style. She is very striking and many women except maybe Oprah, would love to have her sense of fashion as well as her manicurist on speed dial. The same holds true when she is on her horse at 6:30 in the morning.
5. The barn area is roughly the size of Maui. What I always thought was a "smattering of buildings" is actually a small village that stables about 1200 horses, and any given morning 800 of them may be on the track, be it workouts or gallops. And then there’s all the people who are associated with those 1200 horses, many of whom are probably not Republican.
The Professor provided a wonderful education of morning drills and the intricacies in training racehorses, peppering his stories with anecdotes about different trainers, some notable, others with two-horse stables.
During the renovation break, Gary informed me that a little chat with Steve Asmussen was in order. We headed over to his stables, and Steve Asmussen was conveniently sitting in his car, which apparently converts to his office when he’s not on a horse. Gary waved his hands and Steve Asmussen rolled down his window. It was an interview that could’ve taken place at a Sonic instead of the barn area:
Gary West: What are your plans for Curlin?
Steve Asmussen: Haskell. Classic.
Gary West: How do you get Curlin to be Horse of the Year?
Steve Asmussen: Win the Classic.
Their discussion then launched off to remarks about the Belmont and 46.4 and 23.6 and other numbers and coming in second to "the filly" and could Curlin beat "the champion" in the Classic and how Steve Asmussen was anxious to see how Curlin runs after an eight week layoff and so forth. Feel free to read Professor West’s column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Up next: The clocker’s stand expedition, complete with instructions on how to operate a stopwatch.