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HRN Original Blog:
The Weekly Tout

Memories Of Ma

Secretariat 615 X 400

With the holidays and her birthday approaching, I think of Ma often these days. Ma was the reason why I got into the sport of horse racing. She was a little crazy and she loved going to Saratoga, pretending to have old money when she got there. Why it was important to have old money when I could have blown through a new fortune just as easy was beyond me. For those August days when we went to the track in the early 1970’s, she was the Queen of Saratoga. She was the second coming of Marylou Whitney only Ma had an age appropriate husband.

 

Every year, Ma and Dad went to the track to celebrate their wedding anniversary, which always happened around the time of the Whitney Handicap. Mom would have us kids run for the benches in the clubhouse area along the outside rail by the finish line. It was our job to place newspapers in our seats. A Saratoga tradition indicating that you are the rightful owner of that seat and beware if someone else sits there. It was ten o’clock in the morning when the gates opened and three hours away from post time. And I sat there in the hot upstate New York sun and humidity waiting for Ma to take a walk.

 

With a whiskey sour in her hand, we would walk the backyard or picnic area of Saratoga talking about Count Fleet, Citation, and Native Dancer. She talked of the present day superstars such as Riva Ridge, Key to the Mint and of course Secretariat. She spoke of the jockeys that she saw and the jocks that I followed from the scales at the finish line to the jockey room. Mom spoke of Eddie Alcaro, Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Belmonte, while I followed Angel Cordero Jr., Ronnie Turcotte, and Braulio Baeza. They were the stars of my childhood. Angel Cordero could do no wrong in my eyes and once had me carry his riding crop back to the jockey room for him, pretending it was too heavy.

 

Here was the routine that we followed. Mom wouldn’t go to the bar because a lady in white gloves (which she always wore) didn’t do such a thing, so she sent my father for her refills. We then went to the paddock for a look see at her choices, noting that a gray horse, no matter the odds, would always get her money. After the trip to the paddock, we went to the windows where she placed her bets. As I got older, I would go to the window for her. And if she collected, I got a tip. I was big for my age and was collecting and cashing tickets at 16 for Ma, but don’t tell New York State that.

 

They were great days. We had Triple Crown champions, superstars on Time magazine, and Cappy Capossela, the announcer for the NYRA way back when. Ma loved Cappy because that was her name. She was called Cappy since she was a little girl way back in the 1920’s. Yes, Ma taught me a lot about the sport of kings. I’ve seen the sport thrill her and I saw it break her heart. I saw her cry over victories and I saw her cry over defeats. She sobbed when we were present on the day that Onion shocked the racing worlds by beating Secretariat. And she was even worse after the death of Ruffian, who broke down in a match race against Foolish Pleasure at Belmont in July of 1975. It sucked the life right out of her. She was never the same after Ruffian.

 

She was not only a bettor, having an OTB phone account back in the early days before such things were popular, she was a fan. She loved, like I do, a horse that can come from behind, and she loved the Saratoga air and tradition that it presented. I miss those days, and of course I miss her. But she lives on through me and her love of horse racing hasn’t died, it’s with me and I’ll carry the torch until I can’t do it anymore. Happy 93rd birthday Ma-wherever you are.

 

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Older Comments about Memories Of Ma...

You were lucky to experience the sport of kings at the most historic racetrack in America, Johnnie. Living in Vermont, Saratoga is the first track I visited, filming Questing win the Alabama gate to wire. Please share more accounts of racing with us. This was excellent.
I liked this blog very much, Johnnie. Please write more like this one.
Wonderful!
I think Ma is right there with you!
So well written. I love Saratoga, my mother brought me there in her womb and I have been a regular ever since.
I think I would have liked to have gone to the track with her.
Very nice, Johnnie ... I think I would have liked your mom.

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Meet Johnnie Carrier

 

With 10 years of writing a humor column for his home town paper under his belt, Johnnie Carrier has decided to try something different. He is a graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College Class of 1977 and traveled the West with Circus Vargas in 1979.

 In the 80’s, Carrier lived in New York City and Boston, but he settled down however in the smallest city in Massachusetts late in the decade and married Dawn Luskin in ’88. David was born in 1991 and has been blessed with his father’s sense of humor, but luckily his mother’s good looks.

 Racing has been more than a casual interest having lived so close to Saratoga. He started going to the track at a very young age with his parents and has tried to instill that passion into his son by taking him at the same age. In 2003, Carrier started to write as a freelance writer with the North Adams Transcript and can be followed there at the paper’s website.